Stress and Work: Healthy Now vs. Happy Later

Photo by The Creative Exchange via Unsplash

Isn’t it easy to regret our expanding waistlines, expensive bar tabs, and ever-growing credit card statements?  Easier still is to blame these problems on work-related stress.  After all, overeating, excessive drinking, and uncontrolled spending do help us cope in the short term.  

Fortunately, more and more of us are growing up and learning to deal with anxiety in ever-productive ways. Nowadays, to release the pressure, we may stop at the gym or yoga studio after work.  Some of us may boldly sacrifice carbs in the name of clarity.  Others relish a long talk with a friend. And, if we’re lucky, our employers may even support these positive changes with wellness programs.

The result?  We’re happier and healthier. For now. 

If the act of coping solved problems this story would be over.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t.  We can improve ourselves in many ways and treat what immediately ails us.  But, at what price?  Are we truly fixing our problems or just delaying them? Let’s review both the benefits and drawbacks of some our most popular stress-busters.

The Benefits:

Exercise and Diet

Look no further for reasons why so many of seek better physical health. The improvements in mood, mental health, intellect, energy level, and life expectancy gained are well-documented. Additionally, both activities allows us to meet and connect with friends in new ways. 

Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness

These practices provide a serene, comforting environment in which to reflect or escape. Either way, one can emerge from a session with a greater clarity and perspective on life’s struggles. Some participants even claim to experience major life changes, others are just happy for the break from the maelstrom of life.

Support from family, friends, and co-workers

Most of us have at least one family member or friend who truly wants us to be happy.  Sometimes, they can relate to the angst that grinds us.  Other times, they can listen and smile.  For the some, this connection can literally make the difference between life and death.  It’s hard to argue against the benefits of both having and being a close friend.  Ideally, these people accept us unconditionally – not something we can ever expect from an employer.

The Drawbacks:

Meditation, Yoga,  and Mindfulness

While potentially effective, fans of these practices must make sacrifices.  Classes take time and effort to attend and they are not cheap.  One can spend $100, $500, or more per month.  Those of us with the resources may consider this money well spent.  For others, partaking in these activities means diverting resources from other parts of life – including family.

Exercise and Diet

It’s difficult to debate positive feedback loop of feeling better.  A wise man once said, “One thing that you can say about life is that it beats the alternative!”  Consider, however, are we treating the causes of stress or only the symptoms?  Running, one of the least expensive workouts, still requires requires the right clothing and time investment.  Hate running?  The cost of gym memberships can be as high as we’d like to spend.  Diets?  Programs like Weight Watchers also come at a price.  Even dieter’s going solo still face cost barriers. Compare the price of a trip to Whole Foods to the Arby’s carry out.  Unless one lives on a farm, cheap translates to unhealthy when it comes to food.

Support from family, friends, and co-workers

Despite the closeness of our bonds, the best of intentions don’t always create the best advice. Our friends may tell us what we want to hear in order to preserve the relationship.  No matter whether they employ a traditional or tough-loving approach, family members may do us more harm than good when they can’t understand or empathize with our suffering.  And, even further disabling, the overuse of this support channel can render us unable to solve our own problems.

The Two Part Stress Solution: Employers

In short, companies need to prioritize employees over investors. Management’s insatiable desire to impress forges dangerous expectations.  Costs must always go down and top-line sales must always go up. Like pennies dropped from a skyscraper, small, easy decisions made at the top, rain onto ground level workers like boulders.  In this way, the need for coping mechanisms, positive and negative, are created.  Companies might not need wellness programs if their employees were “well” in the first place.

The overly aggressive marking up of sales forecasts causes sandbagging (overly conservative downgrading of forecasts by salespeople) and vice versa.  Leaders can end this cycle by telling investors the truth and not what they want to hear. Why risk the health and livelihood of one’s own employees in order to maximize someone else’s return on investment?

The Two Part Stress Solution: Employees

If one needs to become a marathon runner or yoga expert simply to re-charge for one’s career, a change may be in order.  As employees, we need to be aware of the choices we make.  Our job. Our lifestyle.  Our career. We may not like them, but we still choose them.  

And stress? However violently we force it from our minds, we still tend to leave a door open.   No can force us to expect perfection.  Instead, we are to blame. We chase it like an addict chases their first high, alluring but never attainable.  Our best option is to make peace with our mediocre selves and enjoy the process of getting better.