Work, Life and Mental Health

An average individual will spend 1/3 of their life working.  For executives, entrepreneurs and other such individuals who do not work a standard 9 to 5, the amount of time spent on business related tasks is often much, much more.  As a result of living in a society that values work over many other life areas, more than 1 in 4 Americans identify as being “stressed,” and one can only imagine that this number is higher for executives, entrepreneurs and the like.  Even if you love what you do, everyone at some point feels pressured to complete a task, meet a deadline, face a challenging obligation, work when they are not feeling well, and engage in other such work related activities that can be overwhelming, and ultimately be harmful to your physical and mental well-being.

 

There is an unfortunate normalcy surrounding our culture of overworking and overachieving no matter what the cost.  The less talked about and less glamorous side of being an executive or entrepreneur is isolation, constant worries around the unknown, fear of failure, etc.  Many people work exhaustive hours day in and day out without meaningful human interactions.  Although most of us will “get high off” of unpredictable and exciting nature of business, being constantly on fight or flight mode bound us to be anxiety-ridden.  Human bodies do not differentiate the real threat versus perceived threat; so as we always say, “your body doesn’t lie” when it comes to your level of distress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions.

 

High levels of stress can wear down the brain’s ability to function properly due to the release of cortisol, which individuals often refer to as a “stress hormone.”  The impact of stress on the brain is detrimental, having effects such as killing brain cells and reducing the brain’s size.  Stress can especially impact the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for complex cognitive behaviors such as memory, learning, and decision making.  Over time, due to the impact of stress on the brain, an individual’s overall functioning will diminish, and will negatively affect all areas of the individual’s life including relationships, mood, and physical and mental health.  Untreated stress will most notably lead to physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Ultimately, it will end up impacting your most coveted asset, which is yourself!

 

As a result of the impacts of stress on your body, thoughts, and feelings, it ultimately impacts your behaviors.  For example, as stress builds up, one may take their stress out on their loved ones, and subsequently negatively impact their relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Stress may also lead one to “act out” by engaging in negative behaviors such as over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, over-using technology, or other such outlets where people may find temporary escape and relief.  It is common for individuals to “unwind” from work by indulging in alcohol or a large meal.  Such behaviors, while providing temporary relief and pleasure, will have negative long-term impacts such as depression and anxiety, among a host of other psychological and physiological issues which will be compounded and exacerbated by pre-existing stress.  Perhaps most important for an entrepreneur, stress will have a dramatic impact on one’s ability to function at work including slower functioning, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, diminished ability to focus, feeling overwhelmed, restlessness, and mood swings, ability to make critical decisions, among a host of other issues.  As such, it is important to recognize symptoms of stress and take proper steps towards healing.

 

Some symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to, being easily agitated, feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty relaxing, headaches, insomnia, changes in appetite,  increased substance use or addictive behaviors, nervous symptoms such as nail biting, mood swings, low energy, muscle aches, unexplained illness, loss of sexual desire, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, racing thoughts, and constant worry.  Symptoms of stress can also be part of a larger physical health or mental health issue, so it is always best to seek help from a professional if symptoms arise. Additionally, some important holistic stress management techniques include regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, journaling, socializing, self-care such as rest and proper hygiene, and engaging in enjoyable activities and hobbies. These suggestions may seem ordinary, but as we see more often than not, knowing is not the same as doing. We have encountered countless executives wanting and wishing to engage in more health promoting behaviors as well as quality time with loved ones, but most admit it has taken a back seat in their pursuit of success.

 

Additionally, striking a work-life balance is essential for success.  If you are not your best self, you will not be able to perform at your best level.  While some people may feel that they don’t have time to take away from their busy schedules to implement stress reduction and prevention techniques, the reality is that taking care of themselves will result in working more efficiently and effectively, subsequently being more productive and saving them time in the long-run.  By caring about your health as much as you care about your business or financial success, you will be able to work mindfully and energetically, taking advantage of your best interpersonal and personal characteristics.  The results of taking care of your mind, body and spirit will help you flourish and thrive in business, and will spread into all areas of your life.

 

Author
Lin Anderson & Aaron Sternlicht

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