Are You Working to Live or Living to Work? And How This Impacts Your Health

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Person working but sleeping on tractorThe modern world has given many people an opportunity that few other generations have ever had. For a lot of people, life today can be whatever you make of it. You can work all hours and rise to the top or you can cut down and find other ways to make money. But not everyone takes advantage of the new opportunities. Some people are working more than ever and this is taking its toll mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you need to find a better balance in your life, here’s what you need to know about overwork.

Finding a Balance Between Working and Living

Working too much can have a devastating effect on every part of your life. If you want to be happy, you need to find a balance between your work and your personal life. People who can’t find this balance often experience unhappy relationships with their partners, mental or emotional upsets, and unhealthy lifestyles. And this can affect the people around them as well, resulting in more unhappiness and widespread problems.

You can’t overcome this by trying to be more productive or by reading books about the subject. In fact, the solution is very simple and can be summed up in three simple guidelines:

Know when to stop

People who work long hours often bring their work home with them in the form of paperwork or just a lingering bad mood. If you’re working too much, then this needs to stop. When you’re finished with work, your focus needs to shift so you can get the most from your time off. And this applies to how much you work as well. Ask yourself, how much money do you actually need? And is there another way to get it? Because all too often, people find themselves with all the money they could ever spend and nothing else. And you don’t want to end up like that.

Say no

You need to learn to say no to extra work, extra responsibilities, and extra hours. Just say no and find more rewarding things to do with your extra time.

Do other things

If you find yourself working on the weekend because you don’t have anything else to do then this needs to change. Hobbies teach you valuable skills, they engage your creativity, and they lift your mood. So if you don’t have much in your life besides work, it’s time to try something new.

This is all about shifting your focus. You need to prioritize your activities at home with the same dedication with which you prioritize your work. That might sound a little too regimented for your time off, but it’s really the only way you’ll get anything done.

What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

For some people, working too much can have far-reaching consequences. This is especially true if you have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). AFS is caused by prolonged stress, which causes damage to the various circuits and organs in your body. This activates what’s known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which makes changes that reduce or eliminate the damage. But this system is only meant to be activated on a short-term basis, and when you experience ongoing stress, it can result in a whole new set of problems.

Young woman very tired and yawning from working too hardThe adrenal glands are a key part of the NEM stress response because they secrete cortisol, a hormone that’s essential for your body’s defense against stress. So when the NEM stress response becomes overworked, the adrenals are the first to start breaking down. When this occurs, it affects your entire body and all its circuits, causing a range of symptoms and troubling problems that often seem to have no apparent cause. For some people, this can be a confusing battle that goes on for years as they look for a remedy for their many and apparently unconnected problems. Most of the time, the solutions they find only address the surface problems and not the underlying issue, which is stress and how much damage it can do to the human body.

How Working Too Much Affects AFS

The NEM stress response was designed to deal with life or death threats. That’s why the body’s first response to stress is to secrete cortisol, which prepares the body to fight or to run from a physical threat. But today, most stress is lifestyle based. It’s caused by work deadlines, overwork, and other workplace stressors that you might not even notice. This is a very different type of stress, but your body doesn’t know that and so it reacts in the same way. This is why working too much can cause or exacerbate AFS.

Even without AFS, working too much can cause a host of symptoms and problems. People who work too much often suffer from fatigue, excess weight, mood swings, and chronic stress. But when this experience develops into AFS, it can become so much worse. The negative symptoms of overwork can become long-term problems and be worsened by AFS symptoms. These can include digestive problems, palpitations, mood disorders, brain fog, general fatigue, and blood sugar problems. If this situation isn’t reversed, it will seriously affect the quality of your life and perhaps even result in a physical breakdown, which can affect your very life. That’s why it’s so important that you take an honest look at your life before that happens, and make changes if you’re working too much.

The Takeaway

Elderly man working and smilingLife is short, and if you spend it stressed, working, and doing things you don’t like doing, chances are that you will miss it. This will not only decrease your enjoyment of your life, it may also have physical consequences as well. If you’re overworked, it can depress your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections and viruses. It can also worsen conditions such as AFS, which is usually caused and exacerbated by stress and overwork. So, if you’re looking for an effective way to improve your health and life satisfaction, have a look at how often you work and consider making changes.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Yes, definitely. Lots of people are working too much these days and this is more damaging than you might think. Not only does it steal time from all the other things you can do with your life, it can also cause stress, which worsens conditions such as AFS.

5 - "Dr. Lam,"
Dr. Lam,

I am sitting here crying while reading your message. I have searched for years for an answer because I am somewhat young but feel like I`m 90 years old. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was probably not going to live very much longer, and so I`ve been getting my affairs in order for my children. This is the first time I have had hope that all of the damage could possibly be reversed. Thank you again so much.