A Journey From Work Stress And Sleep Disorders
Getting to rest and relaxation.
With the stress today’s economy brings about, rest and relaxation almost feels like an impossible task. With negative triggers bearing down on you, living your ideal life seems to only be obtainable by playing the game of the rat-race and being in competition with your neighbor to assert your worth. Repetitious routines of work, home, and some resemblance of sleep wears on anyone with a heartbeat. Project deadlines, making and securing deals, endless to-do lists, and all of the perils that surely come with any job that requires direct interaction with the public, like customer service, seems to have become the standards of living to achieve happiness.
The toll of forsaking rest and relaxation wreaks havoc on mental, emotional, and physical health. The consistent pressure aimed toward gaining a competitive edge or just keeping your head above water can be more debilitating than productive. Sleep disorders, whether it be insomnia or sleep deprivation, have been associated with work-related stress and the inability to rest and relax.
There are two models frequently referenced when researching the effects of work-related stress on sleep: demand-control-support (DCS) and the effort-reward-imbalance (ERI).
The DCS model is mainly measured as it coincides with work-related stress. The DCS model is characterized by “high demands, low decision latitude, and low support…” 1 And the ERI model states that “an imbalance between (high) efforts and (low) rewards leads to (sustained) strain reactions.” 2 Both models highlight an association between poor health and high-pressure work environments that place sacrifice over an individual’s worth, and leaving little to no room to implement a proper work/life balance.
The design of these models brings to light a distinct need to keep up with and align with the demands of life for acceptance — a never-ending cycle of pseudo-reward-seeking behavior, where a true reward is never in sight or obtained.
Although stress has not been directly correlated with the onset of sleep disorders, it has been researched extensively as a concerning factor for disorders like insomnia and sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been linked to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.3 Being sleep deprived means you are working against your body’s natural rhythm for restoration. Proper restoration can have a tremendous effect on an outlook of life, daily activities, and interpersonal relationships.
For example, a side effect of prolonged sleep deprivation, depression, is a common (and sometimes serious) mood disorder, and can bring on severe symptoms of feeling hopeless, anxious, helpless, irritable, and even lonely; an inability to concentrate, remember, or make decisions; and physical symptoms can include appetite and weight changes, aches, pains, headaches, or digestive problems.3
The symptoms of depression alone can affect aspects of livelihood like work and networking abilities needed just remain competitive in the job market, especially if your career is what’s most important for you.
In an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Derek Shepherd, a neurosurgeon, used brain mapping technology to pinpoint the location of a seizure in the brain of a busy attorney, and enlisted the help of two intern doctors to excite the patient and trigger a seizure. The interns tried an experiment of non-medical methods like playing video games, drinking alcohol, eating sugary snacks, etc. to excite the patient into a seizure. But none of the activities worked because the patient was so relaxed she was actually having fun engaging with the activities and the interns. Because the attorney intensely continued to work up until the interns conducted the experiment, the activities acted as a form of social engagement for the attorney; which allowed her mind to be in a restful state. It wasn’t until the interns began bickering and arguing with each other, did the patient have a seizure. Although the attorney was amused by the negative interaction between the interns that resembled her work situations, it was also her stress trigger. Literally, the attorney’s career was making her sick.
Unless you develop an addiction from your stress, if you get to a point where you realize your career and/or the things you value most in life are making you sick, there’s no reason you have to alleviate them completely; but little-by-little, break out of your comfort zone.
Breaking out of your comfort zone helps interrupt the monotony of your routine. Routines can be stagnating due to their repetitive nature like, going to work, performing the same duties, and going home. Even if you are a professional working on varied projects that require different skill levels from you to complete them, your function and role in that function is the same — and every profession comes with its limitations. Breaking out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel, small gestures to do something new everyday for at least one hour help.
Go to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to, alone, or introduce yourself to new people outside of your social network. Trying this can help change your thought pattern away from stress — it forces you to be present, in the moment, as you become more aware of yourself, your surroundings, and the person/people you are in a conversation with.
A change of scenery helps too. If you are able to take time off to travel, do it! But, try traveling to a place where the people speak a completely different language from you. Study the basics of the language before you go, and immerse yourself in the full language when you get there — you’ll be communicating with the locals while there, so you’ll have no choice but to be exposed to the language. Traveling helps you with being and staying present, yes, but it also makes you more appreciative of the differences in customs and creativity of the people, as well as the similarities.
Even if you don’t have time to travel, go to the park and rent a bike, go to the beach, or go to an amusement park. Amusement parks are great because they encourage you to have to interact with people. Many of the rides at amusement parks are designed to carry two or more passengers, so you are almost definitely likely to share an experience with someone; even if that person is at the amusement park with friends.
Just break your norm for at least one hour or more a day to help you refocus yourself away from the stress and strain of work, life, family, or friends. By refocusing you are relaxing and allowing your emotional and mental states to balance with each other to help you face and confront negative triggers causing your stress.
The ultimate end result is calm and peace of mind. Maintaining a synergy between rest and relaxation with a busy professional life is possible and manageable, but it requires some effort in the beginning. A change in mindset is like climbing a mountain because it challenges you to abandon preconceived notions and pre-conditioned thoughts and behavior to reach the top — pretty much releasing many of your inhibitions and opening yourself up to new experiences.
1. School of Technology and Society, Malmö University, SE-205 06 Malmö, Sweden. firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80.140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands. email@example.com
National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? Website: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd#