How is your job affecting your brain? Overly demanding work can create too much stress, releasing hormones that can quite literally kill brain cells. However, work that demands no thought, thereby not sufficiently engaging the brain is just as bad. Boring, mind-numbing work may actually be just as hard on your brain as unrelieved stress. Work that doesn’t challenge your brain can cause it to actually degenerate or atrophy.
Therefore, you must avoid excessively demanding work as well as insufficiently demanding work and strike a happy medium somewhere. To be happy and healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, you need to feel a sense of purpose and a feeling of having mastered at least a part of your job, but still have enough of a challenge to be stimulated. That will allow you to have a healthy brain.
What are the hazards in your workplace? While there have always been occupational related hazards on the job, such as painters in danger of inhaling fumes from the materials they handle on a daily basis, the current era has probably produced more toxic dangers than ever before in history. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), all have tried to make our lives safer and healthier, testing virtually everything we could be exposed to in the performance of our jobs.
What keeps these organizations from being totally successful in protecting our bodies and our brains? It’s the sheer volume of compounds they have to test every year. Thousands of compounds and toxins are synthesized every year and there’s just no way to get them all tested.
When it comes to your job, how hard is too hard? We’ve left the pre-industrial society with it’s “it takes a village” philosophy and unfortunately, entered the competitive “work, work, work” society, with its risk of identity loss.
Back in 1979, Americans worked an average of thirty-eight and a half hours per week, as compared to the forty-two hours per week in 1999. Most don’t have a lunch “hour” anymore; it’s more like thirty minutes. Once upon a time, workers could actually go home for lunch, but now there is simply not enough time for such luxuries, especially since most people now work so far from their homes.
Job stress is not necessarily the number of hours you put into the job, but the type of work you do too. An emergency room nurse has more stress than the receptionist does at a bank. The working mom may put in a forty hour week, but how about the extra fifty hours she puts in after she gets home, taking care of her children?
Stress at work can mean high levels of glucocorticoids assaulting your brain. Those with special stress such as doctors and surgeons or soldiers in battle are even more at risk. However, there are other mitigating circumstances that cause stress, such as:
• Changing jobs
• Working exceptionally long hours
• Conflicts on the job
• High noise levels during the workday
• Unfair compensation for work done
• Constantly changing hours
• Abusive conditions in the workplace
All these things can cause high levels of GCs to flood into the bloodstream, showing that job related stress could damage brain cells.
Ask yourself these questions about your job.
• Do you find your heart pounding from excitement about your job, or from stress?
• Do you find yourself sweating from exertion or frustration?
• Do you have a chance to pat yourself on the back for a job well done or do you feel frustrated at not being able to get everything done each day?
• Are you appreciated by your peers and supervisor, or is every job criticized, so you cease to care about the job you do?
• Do you work well under pressure or does a deadline throw you into a panic?
• Do you have trouble focusing on the key points of a problem you are trying to solve?
• Do you become anxious and confused when faced with a problem and a deadline for solving it?
• Do you begin to feel that you’re incapable of solving the problem?
If you enjoy your job, feel real satisfaction in doing it, and are made to feel you’re an invaluable member of the team, you will experience much less stress in your life, and that’s another way you can save your brain.
As long as we’re discussing how work can impact your brain, let’s also add another topic that could be adding to your stress levels. While technology has enabled us to make remarkable strides in the fields of medicine and communications, it has also brought with it a new form of stress—that of Information Overload! Information can bombard you from every direction now. Just one issue of the New York Times contains more information than the average person from the 17th century encountered in an entire lifetime.
Not to mention that bad news seems to dominate the information flowing towards you. Unfortunately, bad news sells better than good news. There you go—more stress coming at you. Besides the newspapers, there are thousands of magazines, television, radio, email and snail mail bombarding you every day.
The good news is that the field of communication has taken giant leaps in our society too. The bad news is that everyone seems to feel the need for a cell phone, a pager, a blackberry, and a laptop computer. Why do we feel the need to be connected every minute of the day? Unless you’re a doctor, is it really necessary? Are we really just trying to impress others with our seeming productivity? At what cost? More and more people are experiencing burnout, chronic fatigue, and nervousness. All because they can never escape this information overload.
How can you handle this overload and not let it control you? That’s going to mean leaving the computer at work, turning off the pager and the blackberry. Avoid the email once in a while. Take a break from technology and give yourself a much-needed vacation from the overload. Reduce the stress and learn to relax and your brain will thank you.
“The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.” – Robert Frost
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