We’ve all had those days where we walk into our apartment, drop our bags, crash on the couch, say “I’m dead” and call it a night. Between working beyond regular office hours, networking, meetings, client dinners, charity events and everything in between, our “work” days are becoming increasingly longer. All good – after all, we do want to get to the top, right? Problem is, sometimes that joking “I’m dead” can mask serious mental and physical career side effects that have major implications on our well-being and productivity.
We’ve talked a lot about burnout before. Perhaps the most common form of career-related illness among young professionals, burnout is the result of overworking and under-resting. Having a work/life balance is key when we’re all busy striving for success; burnout is the result of 99% work, 1% life. Predominately psychological, those who suffer burnout also run the risk of heart disease as the result of high stress. Common symptoms include isolation, the neglecting of one’s needs, denial of problems, depersonalization, social emptiness and various degrees of depression.
Solution: Take a break. Whether an extended absence from work for a vacation or by limiting your day to eight hours of work rather than 12, it’s important to find that critical balance between your personal, social life and career.
Though fatigue can certainly be a result of overworking and stress, we’re talking about he kind of lethargy you feel by being consistently under-stimulated and bored during your day-to-day tasks.
If you find yourself achingly crawling to noon (woo, lunch break!) the minute you start work, chances you’re just dying of exhaustion by the time 1 or 2pm rolls around. Four or five cups of coffee a day is fine if a) you love coffee or 2) you need the short-term energy to take you from meeting to office to meeting to client lunch, and so on. It’s not OK if it’s simply being used to keep your eyes open as you stare at the clock. Fatigue is especially concerning because it has serious implications on both your physical and mental well-being and shouldn’t simply be dismissed as being “bored” or “tired.”
Solution: Some jobs or even careers require you to perform menial tasks for long hours of the day. Find something that challenges you during these hours – it can be anything from Sudoku to switching up your routine. Keeping your mind sharp reduces the change of fatigue; likewise, finding time for exercise and fresh air during work hours is a great way to keep your body fit and blood flow moving. This might also be the perfect time to re-launch your ambitions and take on a new career route.
Long-term, chronic physical pain
Here’s where work-related illness gets serious and a little less easy to resolve. Staring at a screen all day can cause severe headaches over time; repetitive physical work tasks years on end can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome; working in a noisy, confined area can have long-lasting effects on your hearing; the stress of tight deadlines can cause severe chest pain, migraines and even nausea. Don’t assume these pains are temporary and will go away on their own – dig a little deeper.
Solution: It’s important to identify things at your workplace that could cause physical pain over the long-term and act on them immediately – it could be as simple as buying an ergonomic chair or downloading f.lux for your computer (provides a more natural light coming from your screen). If no realistic solution seems possible, perhaps it’s time to consider this a short-term job.
Mood swings, irritability
We all have mood swings and periods of emotional instability. Life’s challenges cause us to naturally become sad, angry, frustrated, heartbroken…the list goes on. While finances, breakups, natural disasters, deaths, whatever the case may be, are expected to impact us on an emotional level, we should never be put off by the prospect of going to work to the point that it affects our closest family, friends and other relationships. Prime example: Your alarm goes off and you’re already in a bad mood, not because you know there’s a 180-page document just dying for your read-through, but because the very notion of your work is conjures up a flow of negative thoughts. Whether it’s a boss and coworkers that you’re completely incompatible with, hours that don’t align with your lifestyle, or a dead-end career path in sight, you need a change of scenery.
Solution: As mentioned, you need a change of scenery. Be careful, though; the grass is not always greener on the other side. Identify what irritates you about your career, whether it has to do with you or your (unchangeable) surroundings, and what other options you have. Our interests, desires and goals change from when we entered post-secondary, eventually graduated, and became part of the workforce – there’s nothing wrong with being unsatisfied and needing change.