Is Your Job Making You Sick?

Dan Miller —  July 12, 2012 — 3 Comments
Dr Carol Peters-Tanksley is a licensed medical doctor board-certified in OB-Gyn and Reproductive Endocrinology. She is also an ordained Christian minister, with a D.Min. degree as well. Some friends call her “Doctor-Doctor.” Most of her time is devoted to the Dr Carol Show (www.drcarolshow.com), a daily and weekly radio talk-show devoted to healthy living for body, mind, and soul. Join her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrCarolShow) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/DrCarolShow). Dan Miller will be joining Dr Carol for her Weekend Edition on Saturday July 14, 1:30 pm Central. You can listen live at www.drcarolshow.com.   If you’d like to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

People who hate their job get sick more often.

That really shouldn’t be a surprise. If you spend eight hours or more a day in an environment you can’t stand, your stress hormones are flowing overtime. That means more sick days, more headaches, more GI problems, more insomnia, more depression. And we are continually finding more evidence that chronic stress increases the chance of heart disease, cancer, immune system disorders, and more.

In one recent study, Concordia University documented how long-term job stress increases numerous physical and emotional health problems.

As a women’s health physician, a large number of the patients I see are suffering the physical effects of chronic stress, including physical pain, hormonal disruptions, and more. Certainly other life circumstances can cause stress outside of your job, but for many of us job stress is certainly in the top five!

Feeling out of control is perhaps the most damaging aspect of stress. Rats confined in a cage where they received random electric shocks soon gave up trying to escape and collapsed. When the rats received a warning light prior to the shock their stress response was less: they could prepare “emotionally” for the stress. And when they were allowed to jump to another “safe” compartment of the cage when the warning light signaled an impending shock, the rats could endure the stress indefinitely.

Which rat are you? Are you sitting in your cage (job) waiting for the next electric shock (conflict, impossible task, or unreasonable expectation) to stress your body and mind to the point of collapse?

Have you learned the warning signs of an oncoming shock, and developed ways to lessen the impact on your body and mind?

Or have you discovered a way of escape?

Leaving the “security” of the cage may take tremendous effort. But it will not be as damaging to you as staying in a job where you have little or no control.

There are at least three types of control you can choose to exercise in dealing with a destructively stressful work environment:

1.  Leave. Jump out of the cage. This may take the most planning and hard work initially, but just might lead to the best long-term health for your body and your mind – not to mention your relationships and your spiritual life.

2.  Control what you can in your present environment. Place reminders of what’s important to you in your work-space. Take care of your physical body (good nutrition, exercise, etc.). Stop trying to please people who can’t be pleased.

3.  Change your attitude. If leaving is truly not an option (at least right now), choose the attitude you will have. Determine your own mindset. Taking control of your internal environment will lessen the effects of a stressful job situation on your body and your mind.

As much as I love taking care of patients who need my help, I’d much rather NOT see you in my office with one of the many stress-caused illnesses. Don’t wait until you collapse to do something about an impossible job situation.

Hard work is not the most stressful aspect of any job or business. Being out of control is much worse. Don’t let your job make you sick.

You may just have to jump out of the cage!

  • http://www.brendadunagan.com/ Brenda

    This is so true…while in my previous job, my treadmill age was 61 (I am 49).  Now that I’ve jumped (thanks to Dan and Kevin!) 
    http://brendadunagan.com/work-2/i-jumped/ , most days my treadmill age is 31.  It is NEVER 61. :-)

  • http://www.liveyourwhy.net/ Terry Hadaway

    Great post and so true. Caustic environments take a toll on us that we often realize when it’s too late to do anything about it. We must make sure we are living our whys and not simply surviving in a job waiting for the day we can quit!

  • MarkJCundiff

    Dr. Peters, Thanks for your post! Really enjoyed learning the medical perspective to this situation. You are correct that it is not surprising that these medical side effects would arise due to our high levels of stress from being in such a situation. I really like your alternatives to dealing with the situation. Very practical and realistic ways to approach such a difficult and potentially life-threatening situation.

    It is also a reminder to those of us that employee, manage and lead people to realize these potential effects on our teams and make sure we are creating a positive environment to work in. It is also a reminder to make sure we follow Jim Collin’s principle of having the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Sometimes the best thing we can do for a team member who we recognize is in a  position that is not a fit for them and is stressing them out, is to help them move on to something else, whether inside or outside the organization. I have seen too many managers drag their feet in these situations and it damages the health entire organization as well as the health of the individual.

    Thanks for your great post!

    Mark J. Cundiff