I was feeling frantic.
It was almost 7:30 pm and I was still at the office. The lights were dimmed but a few people typing away. I was at work for almost twelve hours now and I had spent the last three hours calculating data for a project request that landed in my inbox at 4:30 pm.
Finally, I was ready to start drafting up my last email of the day.
“Dear Boss, please find the attached document…”
I felt a sense of relief as I sent off the document. I quickly tried to pack up my things before anything else came in. However, my inbox pinged and I couldn’t stop myself but to open the new email as I was putting on my jacket.
“Wow, thanks, Vanessa, I didn’t expect you to finish all this tonight since the data is not needed until next week. Appreciate it though!” wrote back my boss.
Great. I guess I misjudged my boss’ expectations and could have left at a decent time. However, my neurotic self couldn’t help but leave unfinished business until the next day.
As I started my commute home, I felt completely withered like a wilted flower. Not having eaten since noon, my brain and body felt drained. Forget about all my plans to be productive after work; all I wanted to do was crash on my couch the minute I walked into my home.
Eventually, something would have to give; I was spending about 10-15 hours a week working overtime and had no more energy to give to other parts of my life. In turn, my health was suffering.
But how do we define “working too much?” How do we know when to stop?
The 40-hour workweek is standard in North America. However, I can tell you that according to my friends and colleagues, putting in some overtime is the norm in salaried positions.
Keeping that in mind, here are 4 serious health effects you need to know, caused from working too much.
1. Heart and Stroke Risks
Work stress is very real. The constant stream of emails, pressure to meet deadlines, office politics and demands from your boss, can all start to add up and make you feel very overwhelmed.
When your body faces stress, your hypothalamus (the tiny region at the base of your brain), alerts your body to release nerve and hormonal signals, including cortisol, otherwise known as public health enemy number one.
In one study, elevated levels of cortisol in urine were found to be linked to a dramatic increase in death from cardiovascular disease (heart attack, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease etc.) years later.
In addition, if you work over 55 hours a week, your chances of suffering from a stroke are 33% greater compared to those who work 40 hours or less.
2. Panic and Anxiety Attacks
Other effects that stress can have are panic and anxiety attacks.
For example, Kristy from Millennial Revolution mentioned that when she was constantly in a high state of stress from being overworked, she ended up being on all kinds of medications and would even have panic attacks in the middle of the night. (However, she ended up retiring at the age of 31 so I’m sure she is sleeping just fine now…).
In other cases, death can result from working too much. This actually occurs so often in Japan that they have a word for it: “karoshi”.
With some of the longest working hours in the world, nearly a quarter of Japanese companies have employees working more than 80 hours overtime a month. Their government came out with one report that ⅕ of workers were actually at a risk of death from overwork, which includes strokes, heart attacks, and suicide.
Working too much and not taking enough rest days can definitely be a deadly recipe.
3. Back and Neck Pay the Price
Having a desk job might not seem to be as physically demanding as someone working on an oil rig or as a lumberjack. However, the sitting position can actually have a serious musculoskeletal impact.
The fact is that human body is not designed to sit upright for a prolonged amount of time. The longer we sit, the more we tend to slouch. This, in turn, creates pressure on the discs in our spine to press onto the nerves which cause pain.
It’s no secret that, after a long working day and being glued to our swivel chair, our back and neck will pay the price. Back pain is such a serious issue that it is the leading cause of disability and work challenges. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, approximately ¼ of adults experience a minimum of one day of pain in a three month period.
4. Greater Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
I think we’re all pretty familiar with factors that increase your chances of becoming a Type 2 diabetic such as being overweight, having hypertension and lack of exercise.
Now, just add job strain to the list.
According to the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, working too much actually results in a 45% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, independent of traditional risk factors.
So now that we’re aware of the very real, negative effects working too much can have on our health, what can we do to improve this? Any suggestions to counter these effects?
Hang tight for an upcoming article where I give my own tips on how to leave work on time.