My dream career in a Fortune 100 company ended when a massive health crisis landed me on a medical examination table.
In fact, I loved my job. I wasn't fired. I wasn't planning on quitting. But my health quit.
In the years since my health scare, I've completely changed the way I work and live. I no longer need to binge-sleep over weekends to become human again for the work week. I wouldn't even say I am seeking "work-life balance," but rather living my life, and working as part of it.
Unlike me, you don't need to wait for a "health disaster" to give you permission to put yourself first. We shouldn't try to — and can't afford to – put our professional ambitions above our health. When you're unhealthy and feel unhappy with yourself, poor job performance follows … and career implosion begins.
And let me tell you, it's a sneaky trap. In this post, I'll examine five signs that indicate that you may be falling into it.
1. You think you'll finally be happy once you get a promotion.
You might think that it's okay to pour endless hours into work right now because if you can just snag a promotion or get a raise, you'll be happy. News flash: you won't be.
A study by Princeton University researchers found that the more money you earn, the less each additional dollar impacts your happiness. If you're earning $10,000 per year, a raise matters. If you're earning $80,000 per year, it doesn't.
Behavioral scientists have also found that what really matters is how we spend our time. When you're off work, do things you enjoy, help other people, and spend time with your loved ones — that's how to be happy and healthy (instead of fixating over a promotion).
2. Your phone and email dictate your day (and your mood).
Keeping up with emails can feel like walking on a treadmill: you're never done — especially if you work across time zones. The difference here is that exercising on the treadmill boosts your health, but obsessing over your inbox does the opposite.
Plus, switching often between email and other work saps your time. The problem is that frequent distractions can deplete your brain power. It takes an enormous amount of energy to pick things up from where you've left and to re-establish your focus. The result? You lose your rhythm, do things half way, and end up even more stressed stressed.
3. Your willpower is bankrupt from exhaustion.
Did you know that exhaustion depletes your willpower? Willpower, or self-control, is a critical career skill — it lets you get things done.
It's also vital to your health. Researchers writing in the Journal of Personality found that higher "self-control correlated with ... fewer reports of psychopathology, higher self-esteem, less binge eating and alcohol abuse, better relationships and interpersonal skills, secure attachment, and more optimal emotional responses."
In short, exhaustion leaves you depleted and irritable. And the solution is pretty simple; you just need to be disciplined about doing it. Get at least seven hours of steady, quality sleep each night, instead of binge-sleeping over weekends. And make sure that you build in enough time for short "breathers" at work, as breaks are proven to increase overall productivity.
4. You use comfort food to 'self-medicate'
Eating that triple-cream cake can really soak up the by-products of stress, leaving you relaxed. According to a breakthrough study published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, many of us could be self-medicating with food to "dial down" the stress response.
But, isn't that a good thing?
Not really. Researcher Elissa Epel, Ph.D, tells us that "comfort food intake is a double-edged sword — leading not only to a dampened-down stress response system, but also to greater levels of risky abdominal fat."
On the other hand, doing moderate exercise and taking breaks for a brisk walk can help you recover faster from acute stress, anxiety, and worry, which also means less stress-eating. So push yourself to get out of your comfort zone in order to get more actual comfort in your life ... at work and beyond.
5. You have no weekends... and probably no life outside of work.
The Work Foundation reports that 41% of private sector workers in the UK identify long hours as a cause of stress. If you're working weekends or until the wee hours, that's a problem. Enough said
Besides, weekends and time off boost your health and well-being. You need time to recharge, do things that make you feel more relaxed and connected with yourself.
If any of these five signs describe you, you're in the 'danger zone', putting both your health and your career at risk. And it's time to pick yourself back up. You shouldn’t wait until you collapse to start looking after yourself.
Self-care needs to become a "non-negotiable" component of your working day. No matter what. Hydrate well, take breaks away from your desk, make time for sweat every now and then, nourish your body, and get enough sleep. These aren't luxuries, they are necessities.