According to a recently published article in the Wall Street Journal, stress is the number one workforce risk issue, ranking above obesity and physical inactivity. What’s more, there seems to be a disconnect between what employees say stress them out and what employers focus on when it comes to stress. A Catalyst work report shows that most employees feel stress in four main areas: workload levels, interpersonal issues, job security, and juggling work and personal life. Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s time to examine what you might be tolerating in your life; those things that may be driving some of your unhappiness and lack of productivity.
Here are the top ten:
Burnout is the chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life, and the result is a loss of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. If the causes of your burnout are not immediately addressed, your physical health and mental well-being will likely deteriorate.
People often get stuck because of fear, guilt, or simply not knowing which way to go next. In order to achieve bigger goals, take smaller steps. If you are staring down a goal that seems overwhelming, keep breaking down the goal until you can say with confidence, “Of course, that’s so easy I can get that done!”
Given how hard the professional world is today and how often you are barraged with negative information, it’s easy to be tuned into pessimism and negativity. Fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009).
Disorganization is a barrier to productivity. If you continually say, “I don’t have time to do x,” you can get more organized by creating schedules and systems that become habitual. The business book E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, does a wonderful job of describing the importance of systems in the business world, and the idea is transferable to non-work situations as well. Good systems are fluid, measurable, and can and should be changed as better methods are established or as missing pieces are learned.
We have long heard that chronic stress is bad for us, but we are now learning that it actually ages us down to the cellular level. Our chromosomes are capped by these little things called telomeres (TEE-lo-meers), which look like the plastic ends on your shoelaces. Telomere shortening is a marker of aging, and high levels of chronic stress actually cause your telomeres to shorten (meaning you age faster!) (Singer, 2011).
This was illustrated by researchers Elissa Epel and Elizabeth Blackburn who studied moms who cared for chronically ill children. Each participant in the study was given a Perceived Stress Test and various biological measures were taken. What they found was that those moms with the highest levels of perceived stress had telomeres that were far shorter than those moms with the lowest levels of perceived stress; in fact, those women in the high stress group were found to be physically a DECADE older than the women with lower rates of perceived stress!
Keeping up with the Joneses.
It is our natural tendency to want to know how we stack up to others; it’s not enough to know our own performance, but we also want to know how we’re doing in comparison to other people. When it comes to having material possessions, people think those possessions will bring us more happiness than they actually do. In 1940, Americans reported being “very happy” with an average score of 7.5 out of 10. Fast forward to today, and with all of our iPods, Smart Phones, computers, fast cars, and an income that has more than doubled, what do you think our average happiness score is today? It’s a 7.2. Not only does materialism not bring happiness, it‘s a strong predictor of unhappiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007). One study examined the attitudes of 12,000 freshman when they were eighteen, then measured their life-satisfaction at age thirty-seven. Those who had expressed materialistic aspirations as freshmen were less satisfied with their lives two decades later (Nickerson et al., 2003).
Thinking that perfect exists.
It took me years to realize how destructive the pursuit of perfection really is. Thinking you have to do things perfectly and/or be perfect is like carrying around a heavy weight on your back, and it absolutely crushes creativity. According to research professor, Brene Brown, “Perfection is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.”
Everyone’s opinion of you.
Oh the time and energy I have wasted caring about what other people thought of me. Was I wearing the right thing; did I say the right thing; did I handle that situation correctly? When I had to create a new path after I burned out, I decided to stop caring about the opinions of everyone other than a handful of key people in my life. I decided to be in charge of what I wanted and didn’t want.
A job that you hate.
According to the most recent Gallup survey on employee engagement, 50% of workers report being “not engaged” while another 20% report being “actively disengaged.” That means 70% of employees aren’t working at their full potential! If your circumstances prevent you from changing jobs now, start putting the pieces in place to transition when the time is right.
Being financially illiterate.
I know the importance of saving and planning for my financial future, but I find the world of finance about as fun as a root canal. Despite that, I’ve forced myself to understand the differences between a 401(k) and a 403(b), Roth IRA’s, plain IRA’s and SEP accounts, and what exactly a no-load mutual fund is. If the world of finance isn’t your cup of tea, get some help. There are many resources out there from books to blogs to certified financial planners.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Too many people die with their music still in them.” Maybe that is due in part to our tolerance of the wrong things? What would you add to this list?