Why Working So Hard (for someone else) Is Bad For My Health

And Probably Yours

Or What I learned in my 12 Days in A Row of Work

Today marks my 12th day in a row of work. Why? Cause I’m cuckoo bananas! I know what some of you may be thinking, ‘big deal, I work 12 days in a row all the time, sometimes 14 or 20, suck it up fool!’ But for me life is better when I work less and what I learned over the past 12 days allowed me to understand why my patients, friends, family, do what they do.

My supervising physician converted his practice into a hybrid concierge and insurance one on August 1st. I was left to pick up the slack as the other PA is on a 4 month hiatus (good for her!!). For those of you who know me, you know how easy its been for me to not work very much. Those 3 -4 day weeks allowed me to fill my well, practice with love and gusto and keep trucking on my own business. Well, like a fool, I dedicated full weeks to my doctor and his office so he could focus on his concierge patients. I did this in addition to my two other contract jobs leaving me to work 12 9-13 hour days in a row. Yuck!

This isn’t uncommon. People and patients tell me daily that they work 12-16 hour days sometimes 6 or 7 days a week. They laugh it off and say ‘I guess I’m just a workaholic’. When I ask them about their hobbies, those with kids and partners and those without, all say the same things, ‘I like to watch tv’ , ‘video games’,  ‘happy hour’.  Then I ask about self-care, “what do you do for yourself, to relax?” and I pretty much get the same answers, with the occasional “I get pedicures once a month”.  Unfortunately, most health care providers fall under the same spell. I know one doctor friend who works about 70 hours a week and when I ask him what he does to relax he says, “sleep”.

On my days off, which were plentiful before summer 2014, I would go for walks on Town Lake, go paddle boarding, coffee shops alone, coffee shops with friends, massages, farmers markets, rock climbing, dog walking, yoga, cook and eat healthy food, work on my business, road trips, read books, de-clutter my home, meditate, go to lunch with the boyfriend, did things I wanted to do. The motto I would hear regularly on my mid-Tuesday coffee shop trips would be “no one works in Austin”. Now, all I hear from patients and clients is no one does anything outside of work.

And for the past six years, I didn’t understand it.  Until today, day 12 of 12 in a row, brutal!

So these are my reasons to never work so hard (for someone else) again:

1)  I ate like poop. I indulged in candy and chips and fried food. The stuff that immediately delivers dopamine, calms the mind and lights up the same part of the brain as heroin or cocaine, I consumed in heavy doses.

2)  I didn’t have me time. Time to just sit and surf the net or read a book, discuss the meaning of life or just breathe or stare deeply into Ellie Belles eyes and have her figure it out for me.

3)  Driving and sitting so long caused me to start having chest pains, back aches, poor posture and overall malaise. Terrible. I couldn’t figure it out, but then realized they subsided today and I sit here joyfully following my bliss.

4) I shopped too much and spent too much money on material things I didn’t need, after work, on the weekends, and during lunch. (This is my addiction and I’ve been free of it for almost a year, until this summer)

5) I became really needy for human attention and interaction. Not in a healthy way, like a need to connect to others, but in a desperate someone else fill my void because I’m miserable way.

6) I went to the store and devoured gossip magazines and almost engaged in gossip myself. I caught myself every single time I wanted to talk about someone, complain about a patient, even printed out the Four Agreements and handed it out to every one in our office and wrote them on our white board.

7) I wanted to watch TV and I don’t even have a TV!

8) On my 11th day I came home zombified, craved a beer and indulged in fried fish, potato salad and grilled oysters, not terrible, but not my usual. (I’m sure I sound like such a food snob, but what I really craved was fried fish, french fries, mac and cheese, peach cobbler, bread pudding and beer).

9) I felt like I ‘needed’ a drink every evening, but only caved 3 times and had 2 drinks in the entire 12 days.

10) Neglected my business and friends and my daily Shiny Healthy People challenges. Really sad about this one.

11) Neglected much needed nature time. I get that there have been heat indexes of 104-107 the past couple of weeks, but when I have a day off I usually walk early morning or late night and its awesome, despite what you may think.

12) My sleep sucked. I usually wake up feeling well-rested and alert. For about seven days now that was not the case.

13) I was grumpy. I’m never grumpy. But it was probably due to #12.

14) I chopped my hair off today. I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world in every strand, so now they’re shorter and I feel lighter.

So physiologically what was happening? Well when we’re stressed, physically, emotionally, mentally our bodies transform for the worse. Cortisol, our stress hormone, is produced and causes a slow down in your metabolism and also forces fat to deposit right around that belly area. Cortisol and stress also cause you to crave fatty, sugary, salty foods more often because your blood sugar changes dips and rises just as your cortisol does.

Knowing there was an end to the madness allowed me to continue without going completely mad. The process allowed me to realize how hard it would be to jump out of the hamster wheel of chronic overwork. I tell at least one patient or client a day to quit their job, follow their passion, find their bliss, but now I can see how impossible this may sound to them.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know being on the other end for so long, life is easier from here. The life that allows me to be me and spend time doing what I love with the people I love is definitely more fulfilling.  My hope is that you find a place to create a space with less time dedicated to the rigamarole for someone else’s bank account and more time finding what brings you joy.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 replies
  1. michelle
    michelle says:

    i agree totally. i do think some of us will work a lot even if we have no traditional job… but i think it will be a healthier kind of work stress. i would like to know more about cortisol and stress hormones. is there a way to test our levels at home?

    • Erica
      Erica says:

      Working hard is good for the soul, the mind and body, unfortunately we work too hard in this country for the wrong things. Stress is the unquantifiable lab test. We can test cortisol but just like glucose, cholesterol, and other hormones its dynamic and constantly fluctuating. I encourage people to become super self-aware of their bodies and feelings and that leads to understanding stress levels. So if you are breaking out or gaining weight or having poor sleep or becoming more irritable then maybe eustress has turned into distress. Thanks for following Michelle!


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