How Work Stress Can Kill You, Literally

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Stoics had a pretty solid philosophy. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, the forefathers of the Stoic school of thought, developed a way of thinking that is so profound and impactful that many of the world’s most successful people cite it as a contributing factor to their accomplishments. To boil it down, the Stoics taught that you shouldn’t let your emotions get the best of you, and to take everything in stride.

In other words, “this too, will pass”. Or, chill out. Everything will be fine. Most of the time, anyway.

What does this have to do with you? Given the rather remarkable amount of pressure and stress the modern world dumps on us on a daily basis — within the workplace, in particular — adopting a more relaxed attitude toward work and life may not only help you in terms of productivity, it could save your life.

We’re learning more and more about how stress negatively impacts our health. Recently, we wrote about how people who work longer hours are more susceptible to having a stroke. According to additional research, the threat goes much deeper than that. A recent study conducted by researchers from both Harvard and Stanford found workplace stress contributes to more than 120,000 deaths every year, and $190 billion in healthcare expenses.

We’re starting to see this first-hand. Recently, it has come to light that big companies like Amazon have fairly intense, cutthroat work cultures that burn employees out quickly. The financial industry is also famous for having long hours and high-stress positions. One intern literally worked himself to death earlier this year.

Clearly, something is out of balance here. Despite all of our modern conveniences, and a major shift away from hard, physical work over the past few generations thanks to technological innovation, you would suspect that we’d be making work less stressful. But that’s obviously not the case. In fact, in many cases, it seems like we’re headed in the opposite direction.

There’s really no getting away from stress. It is a part of life, after all, but saddling our nation’s workforce with undue pressures is going to have the opposite effect of what employers want. That is, it’s going to have a detrimental impact to productivity levels. This can manifest in a number of ways, ranging from missing work because of illness or injury, to taking frequent breaks to smoke a cigarette.

The question is, what can you do to mitigate the stress?

This is obviously something that a lot of people, and industries, are focused on. What do you think drives sales of tobacco and alcohol, after all? There are a number of ways that you can deal with stress, and one of them is to adopt a more relaxed mindset — like the Stoics. Of course, that’s not going to work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the philosophy, and others like it, to see if there are any lessons you can apply to your daily life.

Another relatively simple way to work through the stress is to exercise. Studies have shown that people who get a certain amount of physical activity in every day are able to better cope with stress, and even perform better at work.

Related to physical activity, if you’ve never tried yoga or meditation, it could be worth it to give either (or both) a shot. Meditation is becoming one of the more popular techniques among highly successful people to center themselves, work through stress, and stay on top of their game. There may be a bit of a learning curve, but it seems meditation keeps gaining more and more converts among those in the business world.

If that all sounds like a bit too much for you, you could try getting to bed earlier. There is a curious relationship between the amount of sleep some people get and their annual earnings — so that may be something to explore as well.

The point is, we’re stressed to a breaking point, and a lot of it is due to our jobs. While there probably won’t be any major changes or headway on this issue in the immediate future, you can take steps yourself to mitigate your risks of health problems. It may even save your life down the road.

Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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