Are You Willing to Die for That Job?Apr 17, 2023
"Are you willing to die for that job?"
Oof. That question is a punch in the gut.
I was recently catching up with a dear friend who is in the field of education. The last several times we've spoken, she's shared how incredibly stressed she's been. Her anxiety has been through the roof. She's been overwhelmed, scattered, trapped in an endless cycle of too much work yet not enough energy and focus to do it.
My friend is brilliant, talented, passionate, and willing to do a lot of hard work, but she's struggling. She has long operated on the assumption that the problem is her, that there is something abnormal about the way her brain works that makes it hard for her to do her job well. As such, she has sought out treatment, which I wholeheartedly commend her for.
This last time, though, her psychiatrist wisely posed that question, making the poignant point that maybe, just maybe the issue isn't my friend and her brain.
Perhaps the issue is her job.
She's being asked to do more than one human being's worth of work in a day, every day, and it's taking a toll.
Like so many, my friend has been sacrificing other aspects of her life to keep up. She's faced the increased work demands that come from staff shortages and limited resources. She has been living in a state of perpetual internal chaos while neglecting her basic needs, so far beyond burnout I don't even know what to call it. It's not sustainable and will actually, not even being a little bit dramatic here, hasten her demise.
It's a grim situation, and my friend is not alone.
Anxiety Is Astronomically High
Anxiety disorders have long been the most prevalent mental health concern, and the rates of anxiety among children and adults in many countries have flat out sky-rocketed over the past few years. Some studies estimate that nearly half of adults report experiencing significant anxiety, and nearly 20% of US adults have a full-blown anxiety disorder RIGHT NOW.
As a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, I am often asked about the difference between what we call normative (or natural) anxiety and disordered anxiety. In a nutshell, normal anxiety is what we are supposed to experience in threatening or dangerous situations. In contrast, disordered anxiety is what happens when our anxiety systems go into hyperdrive, producing a fear response when we're not really in danger. With anxiety disorders, people experience more anxiety than a situation warrants, the anxiety persists despite reassurances that everything is ok, and it interferes with their lives.
Is Anxiety the Problem Or the Result?
It used to be really easy for me to differentiate between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Now, it's kind of a different story.
If you're like my friend (and countless others), worry, stress, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, distractibility, catastrophic thinking, muscle tension, indecisiveness, forgetfulness, analysis paralysis, and procrastination are a part of your day-to-day experience. In short, you're living with heightened anxiety. The million dollar question, though, is whether the anxiety itself is the problem or whether the anxiety is a natural result of your circumstances.
Is anxiety the cause of your problems or the side effect of your problems?
We are wired to experience anxiety under certain circumstances, and it's our body's built in warning system that things are going awry.
Danger, abort! That's what our brains are telling us.
The chronic anxiety that many people are enduring is, at least in part, the natural result of our modern lifestyles. It's like our brains are trying to get us to recognize that we're in a bad situation, that we need something to change. Yet, many people just accept the anxiety as an inevitability or, worse, a sign that they are deficient or inadequate in some way.
Our Lives Are Making Us Anxious
As humans, we're actually designed to carry very high levels of stress...for very short bursts of time. We're not meant to be overly stressed on an ongoing basis. It's bad for business.
And yet here we are. More stressed out than we were even in 2020, when stress levels hit an all-time high as we were first adjusting to a global pandemic and all the other "unprecedented events" that happened that year. Despite some things settling down, our stress levels aren't one of them.
With zero down time to even get adequate sleep, let alone rest, exercise, and some well-deserved leisure activity, we're on the brink of boiling over a good chunk of the time.
It's not even just the busyness that is the problem. We place unrealistic expectations on ourselves (or accept others' expectations), then kill ourselves trying to live up to them.
We're misguided about what will make us happy, and we make the wrong decisions about what to put our time, attention, and energy into based on those misconceptions. We're constantly connected online and disconnected in real life. We're going through the motions but not fully present.
And the stressors and demands come at us from every angle.
This is probably no surprise, but numerous studies show that work is a big source of stress, and that managers have a bigger impact on people's stress and mental health than anyone else (tying with spouses).
That brings us back to that powerhouse of a question: Are you willing to die for that job?
I Just Have to Get Through the Next...
If you find yourself continually in a state of "I just have to get through this, then..." I've got bad news for you. Your lifestyle is not sustainable. Yes, technically, you can probably endure that subpar, super stressed out existence for quite some time, but trust me when I tell you that it is taking a toll. A very real toll.
I just have to get through this is a helpful mindset when you're going through a difficult yet temporary set of circumstances. That mentality can give you grit and help you be resilient. It's not intended as long-term way of life, though.
If you're in this state of perpetually just getting through the day, consider this your call to action. You must find a way to start to make some adjustments.
It's Time to Make Some Changes
It's time to start living like your life depends on it...because it does.
Please don't read that as a directive to quit your job. While that's certainly an option to consider, I understand that is not a realistic. and perhaps not even desirable, solution for most people. There are, however, some ways to reimagine what your day-to-day can look like. There have to be tiny tweaks toward sustainability that you can make.
1. Start by examining your assumptions.
What are your beliefs about the things you must do, have to do, or should do? And what are your fears about what will happen if you do not? Question where those assumptions and fears came from. Seek out the evidence for and against them. Better yet, test them out. Is it actually a fact that something catastrophic will happen if you - gasp - take a lunch break or don't check your email at night?
2. Pay especially close attention to any "I can't..." lines of thinking.
Those two pesky little words show up a lot...and they shut down any creative problem-solving. Literally. Our brains hear "I can't," then they stop trying.
Many of the can'ts we subscribe to are actually false walls. Meaning on first glance, it may seem like a brick wall blocking a particular path. If you stop to really push on the wall, however, you may find that it's not solid, that it crumbles easily with a little effort. You may also find that there are ways around the wall, so that path isn't truly off limits for you.
Push on those can't walls. Flip the assumption into a question. "How can I...?" Then start to really get creative with experiments to test out.
3. Take a cold hard look at your habits.
What are you spending time on throughout the day? Do you actually not have enough time to do the things you need or want to do, or is it the case that your precious, limited resource is being drained by sneaky time sucks? How can you reallocate your time and attention in a way that better supports you?
Stress Is Inevitable. Being Stressed Out Is Optional.
In honor of Stress Awareness Month. we're making our Stress Management Mini-course available to the public for a limited time. Better yet, we're offering a discount with code STRESSFREE2023 at checkout.
If you're interested in making this tool available to your entire team or organization, reach out or email us at [email protected]! Let us know the right person to talk to, and we'll make it happen.
"Live like your life depends on it...because it does."
- Dr. April, Peak Mind Co-founder
Written by Dr. Ashley Smith
Peak Mind Co-founder
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