death by burnout

August 21, 2015

Death by Burnout: A Study

It’s 9:27 am. I already have one 500 word piece written today, so you could imagine I fall somewhere into the Type A personality spectrum. Forcing myself to stay connected more regularly throughout the day, I take a brief moment to grab some coffee, pull myself out of my laser-focused writer’s trance, and send out a quick Instagram of that necessitous beverage that keeps me clocking my typical 100 mph pace. As Gmail refreshes my inbox, I spot an email from a client.

Aha! This is why I can’t allow myself to completely power off the outside world when I’m writing…..and then I see the link. This isn’t a request for a piece! They’ve attached the latest article from Yahoo Finance which I, of course, don’t have a second to read. The article is entitled: Working longer hours increases stroke risk by up to 33%.

Yikes. You have my attention. The study found that in comparison with those logging a standard 35-40 hour work week:

“Those working between 41 and 48 hours had a 10 percent higher risk, while for those working 49 to 54 hours, the risk jumped by 27 percent. Working 55 hours or more a week increased the risk of having a stroke by 33 percent.”

First things first. Name one person you know who works a “standard” work week…. (Right, it’s Friday, and we’ve all got things to do. You could sit here all day, and your list wouldn’t include more than 5 people…..and at least, two of your five are your retired grandparents- and even they still have jobs.)

So…even after taking other risk factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity level into account, working long hours and exposing yourself to repetitive stress seems to have a frighteningly significant increase in your risk of stroke and even heart disease.

Then, shouldn’t we all be racing to make immediate lifestyle changes? Well, it’s not always that simple.

Just last night, my husband and I had dinner with friends, and the topic of work-life balance came up over a slice of Jules Thin Crust. FYI, all four of us are college educated, we all work in completely different industries, and we represent a diverse range of income levels. My incredibly unscientific study shows:

  • None of us work the “standard” work week. No surprise there.
  • ¾ of us work 55 hours a week or more.
  • ½ of us work some weekend hours each month.
  • ¼ of us works six mandatory days each and every week!

While I’m clearly not going to be writing for The Lancet or any other medical journal anytime soon, it seems like the majority of people- at least those in my circle- are living lifestyles that are drastically increasing threats to their health.

What can- or, depending on your outlook, what should- we do to restrategize our lives and protect our health? Should we just keep banking on it not happening to us?