Time to reassess

“Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.” – William Temple

I recently read “Wake-up Call” by Erika Lovley in Politico this week and my suspicions have been confirmed through anecdotal evidence: people working in Washington, especially those working on Capitol Hill, are extremely stressed out. Having moved to DC last June from California, I first noticed it back in 2008 when I spent a summer here as an intern. It’s the culture to work non-stop. And it’s hard not to. Just take a look around – people almost jogging to the metro because they walk so fast; reading reports on the metro and constant communication through their trusty smartphone, among others. The death of Paula Nowakowski, Chief of staff for John Boehner, serves as a wake up call for everyone in Washington. Slow down and relax, people. Paula passed at the age of 46 from a heart attack. Lovley describes that her lifestyle probably contributed to her passing because “she smoked, she didn’t always eat well, and she often worked seven days a week.” Other Hill staffers have developed health problems as well. From Type 1 diabetes to high blood pressure, the consequences of constant, unrelenting stress can take its toll. Despite one’s passion for the job and work, is it worth the health consequences you develop in return? Is there anything you can do?

A publication from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) recommends the following: maintain a balance between your professional and personal life; have access to a supportive social network of friends and family and maintain a relaxed, positive outlook on life. Early warning signs of job-induced stress include headaches, sleep disturbance, difficulty in concentrating, short temper, upset stomach, job dissatisfaction and low morale. If left untreated, the following health problems have been correlated to job-induced stress: musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, workplace injury, ulcers, impaired immune function, cancer , heart disease and suicide. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that it is there. From that point you can plan accordingly. Mayoclinic.com offers some ideas to relieve stress:

*Keep a log. Track everything you do for one week. Include work-related and non-work-related activities. Decide what’s necessary and what satisfies you the most. Cut or delegate activities you don’t enjoy and don’t have time for. If you don’t have the authority to make certain decisions, talk to your supervisor.

*Learn to say no. Whether it’s a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child’s teacher asking you to manage the class play, remember that it’s OK to respectfully say no. When you quit doing the things you only do out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll make more room in your life for the activities that are meaningful to you and bring you joy.

*Leave work at work. With today’s global business mentality and the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there’s no boundary between work and home — unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time. When with your family, for instance, turn off your cell phone and put away your laptop computer.

*Communicate clearly. Limit time-consuming misunderstandings by communicating clearly and listening carefully. Take notes if necessary.

*Fight the guilt. Remember, having a family and a job is OK — for both men and women.

*Nurture yourself. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as walking, working out or listening to music. Unwind after a hectic workday by reading, practicing yoga, or taking a bath or shower.

*Set aside one night each week for recreation. Take the phone off the hook, power down the computer and turn off the TV. Discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends, such as playing golf, fishing or canoeing. Making time for activities you enjoy will rejuvenate you.

*Protect your day off. Try to schedule some of your routine chores on workdays so that your days off are more relaxing.

*Get enough sleep. There’s nothing as stressful and potentially dangerous as working when you’re sleep-deprived. Not only is your productivity affected, but also you can make costly mistakes. You may then have to work even more hours to make up for these mistakes.

If you’ve been able to find a great balance between work and personal life, share your story with me at ramonl@menshealthnetwork.net!

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.


  1. TheresaFebruary 17, 2010

    Great piece! The relaxation suggestions are really helpful, just thinking about them made me feel more relaxed. I think we all need this reminder from time to time!

  2. Joe ZoskeFebruary 19, 2010

    While it’s hard to argue with these “wellness basics” all health promotion professionals toute on a daily basis, these are all reactive coping behaviors to a stressed-out life. All of which are more easily said than done. Instead, or rather prior to these, I find the admonition to “examine your life” to hold more potential for true change. In other words: “Reflect on your values; align your purposes with your principles; ensure that how you live your life holds deep meaning; be authentic to your core self.” In my counseling, coaching, teaching for many years, I find that the customary “good advice” too often has minimal impact because persons too often are driven by shoulds, or habit, or false expectations. When people can figue out their “true self” then the rest can more easily fall into place. Those living a 24/7 hard-driven, constantly plugged-in, unhealthy life are doing so by choice, not because they have to. But if they slowed down to let their true self catch up to them, they might decide their choice may just have been superficially conceived.

  3. Wordpress ThemesAugust 10, 2010

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