How Does Overworking Affect Your Health?

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HK How Overworking Affects Health

Do you work too much? How would you even know if you do? Like many Hong Kongers, you probably place a high premium on your time and prioritise your work tasks over personal distractions. In extreme cases this could lead to you taking your workload home, cutting into quality time you should be spending with your loved ones.

You may not realise it, but getting too deep into your work could affect a lot more than your relationships at home. You may say, “well at least I know I’m covered by a comprehensive health insurance in case I get sick.” However, too much work doesn’t only harm your health and make yourself more vulnerable to sickness, it also affects your performance at work and your overall outlook in life.

Like millions of other workers across the city, it might be time for you to start taking your health more seriously.

Crash and Burn

Full-time employees are no stranger to work fatigue, but not many are aware of exactly what happens when it goes too far. Excessive stress from work could lead to a common phenomenon called burnout. This happens when you exert yourself to the point that your energy plateaus, and you become physically and mentally incapable of staying motivated. Burnout means that your productivity grinds to a complete halt no matter how much willpower you call upon.

Physical Risks

The American Psychological Association (APA) recognises the very real impact burnout has on the body, which includes many physical symptoms you’re likely to ignore every day. Research has shown that work-related stress can be just as damaging to your health as smoking or weight problems. Burnout puts you at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, and male infertility, as well as frequent body pain and sleep problems. Burnout can also lower your body’s cortisol levels, worsening your resistance to common ailments such as the flu.

Emotional Risks

Also worth mentioning is the possible toll burnout can take on your psychological health, which plays a huge role in how you cope with day-to-day stress. At worst, the effects of burnout can mimic those of clinical depression. Signs to look out for include decreased work satisfaction, feelings of failure and helplessness, self-doubt, detachment from other people, and an increasingly cynical outlook on life. Burnout can also lead to you having difficulty sleeping, which can leave you feeling irritable, drained, or unfocused the next day.

How to Deal

A survey done by the HK Department of Health in 2003-2004 showed that women are slightly more proactive against stress than men. To deal with the side effects of burnout, some people may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as procrastinating, overeating, relying on drugs and alcohol, avoiding friends and coworkers, skipping work, or losing their temper more easily. If you or one of your coworkers is showing the telltale signs of burnout, you should share your concerns with your superior to prevent any further damage. Strategically planned  time-off and a sympathetic support system consisting of family, trusted friends, and health professionals can also go a long way in nipping burnout in the bud.

Staying Wired 24/7

Even if you step away from the office and head straight for home, the constant stream of electronic correspondence from work could make it more difficult for you to relax. The simple act of sending a last-minute memo before bed can be harmful, as the glow of your smartphone/ tablet screen in the dark sends your body the message that it’s not time for  sleep yet. Making a habit of this could drive your sleeping patterns out of order, affecting your performance in the daytime. Learn to set firm boundaries when you clock out of work, and that includes taking a break from obsessively checking work emails and texts, too.

Whether you work in the rank-and-file or in a higher position at your company, don’t let your personal well-being take a backseat to your career. You can make things easier for yourself by maintaining a healthy diet, keeping a regular exercise regimen, and investing in a good health insurance plan in case of medical emergencies and other unexpected events. By placing the right amount of attention on your physical and emotional health, you can keep doing your job for longer and better.

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