overwork

Does overwork cause heart attacks?

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.
Bertrand Russell

The other day a client asked if I thought overwork caused heart attacks.

But what is overwork?

Let’s define overwork as mental rather than physical, since most of us here work with our heads.

Overwork is when we work, OR THINK ABOUT work, above the level that we can personally resource, causing exhaustion and distress.

We WORRY about work, even when we’re not working.

Our sleep, social life, relationships, nutrition/digestion, health, hobbies and exercise are impacted.

We used to call it a nervous breakdown: Throwing escalating amounts of self-will and energy at work, in order to wreak success, whilst determinedly focussing on failure, until we crash.

Why do we do it?

Anyone pushing habitually longer and harder at work, where this is voluntary, is trying to strengthen their sense of achievement. So, it’s the way we think about work that causes ‘overwork’ not the work itself. We’ve never done enough to feel OK.

If we practice overwork for long enough, our physical and mental health will deteriorate. If we worry ourselves in to adrenal over-stimulation, that’s where we’re causing health issues. Chronic stress pushes our minds and bodies to fail point.

I believe that the heart can manifest chronic stress as heart disease. When I had a heart attack a couple of years ago, after quitting a high stress job, my cardiologist said it was hard to understand why someone as fit and healthy as me was sitting in front of him. I’m lean, fit, have good sleep habits, don’t smoke, take drugs or drink, eat exceptionally clean food, hydrate, meditate, have low blood pressure. Only 56 years old and otherwise healthy. No diabetes. Ticking all the boxes.

But he said he’d seen 4 or 5 men like me, my age, come in with heart attacks.

All of them were high achievers, pushing themselves hard mentally and often physically too, and with a high stress profile.

Conclusion

Stress can cause heart attacks in me.

Neither I nor science will put money on what it does for anyone else.

BUT I doubt that mental overwork causes heart attacks. Simply because the problem is our RESPONSE to work, not the work itself. And we can fix that.

How to fix overwork

If you don’t want to experience overwork and you’re voluntarily pushing yourself to the limit, think again.

  1. Re-assess your real contribution.
  2. Re-train yourself to work effectively.
  3. Manage your time and your thinking.
  4. Stop blaming others.
  5. Build your confidence.
  6. Find more ways to value yourself.

All these are just new skills you can learn, once you decide who you want to be at work.

I can help, if you like.

A big part of exhaustion and loss of morale at work is avoidable, without changing anything about your job or the people.

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