Does Your Brain Shut Down When You Sleep The Work-A-Holic’s Wake-up Call – Four Steps to Effective Stress Management

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The Work-A-Holic’s Wake-up Call – Four Steps to Effective Stress Management

The world of journalism has been rocked by the sudden death of Tim Russert, best known for his Sunday interview with NBC on Meet the Press. Tributes are pouring in from all directions for this excellent journalist, a loving family man, a generous, kind man, a devout Catholic, who enjoyed baseball. So why did he die so young? Not a word was said about it.

Russert was only 58 years old, a vulnerable age for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart attacks, all of which he had. He was definitely taking all the right medications. His doctor may have warned him to rest, perhaps to take a vacation. He had just returned from Rome with his family. But did his brain take a break, too? He had done his radio show at 7 am and was preparing for the next task. It wasn’t meant to be.

The most important legacy he left to all those workaholics was “Stop, notice and change. You might be ahead.”

Three years ago I caught a glimpse of Tim Russert speeding to catch a plane at Washington National Airport. Since looking at stress profiles is my pastime at airports, he caught my attention before I knew who he was. Raised shoulders, a slight jerk, loose neck muscles suggest sleep apnea, a flushed face – perhaps high blood pressure or running – looking anxiously at the board completed the familiar but unusual picture. Airports are populated by workaholics.

Workaholics put in long hours and their brains work non-stop 24/7. They love their work. Their height is associated with work that makes them feel indispensable. They wake up earlier than everyone else to go to work, perhaps connecting with someone in another time zone. They don’t get enough quality sleep. They get energy from coffee and donuts. The day is filled with problem solving tasks, preparing for the next event and worrying, adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones pouring through their veins.

Most of the day is spent in meetings or sitting in front of the computer. A token exercise break can help or lead to more stress depending on what thoughts go through their brains while pounding the treadmill. They are late to catch up, carry briefcases home, eat lunch without listening and it is called parallel processing. Then return to the computer. When these routines are not followed they are running to catch the next flight, drinking, junk food and having a restless night in a strange bed. Their drive is self-perpetuating.

Workaholism is another addiction. Something has to give and often does. With any luck it’s just poor health. Or it affects a confused and confused family. The comfort of drinking or having a relationship with a co-worker only complicates matters. Men are more vulnerable because they have a higher dose of invincibility and single-mindedness.

Workaholism kills. Like any addiction, it is treatable:

1. The first step is to identify what it is.

2. The second step is to address harmful lifestyle changes that have individually harmful effects, but collectively are devastating. Combined sleep causes weight problems and, in fact, can lead to poor performance. Poorly managed stress includes unhealthy coping styles such as overeating, drinking, or aggressive behavior. An unhealthy diet high in fat and carbohydrates and inactivity due to sedentary habits lead to obesity, diabetes, snoring and apnea, high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart attack and stroke.

Solutions include restoring daily activity habits such as standing up often, finding a reason to move around, walking up and down stairs, taking short walk breaks. Ban junk food, crackers, potato-chips, sandwiches, donuts, cookies or other favorite office fare and lead by example.

When feeling anxious or stressed, take a few deep breaths, pull your elbows back, drop your shoulders, sit up straight and relax your face with your jaw slightly down. You will notice that it is very difficult to feel tension with your mouth open. Decide that you will sleep in your bed all night. Avoid eating or drinking anything within an hour or two of sleeping. Do not call or pick up the phone an hour before going to bed; Dim the lights and avoid any serious discussion.

3. The third step is learning with or without professional help to take time out frequently throughout the day. Your brain especially needs down time. Close the door, sit in your chair for five minutes, close your eyes, and try to clear any thoughts from your brain. The human body and brain can handle almost any abuse if allowed to heal.

Listen to Rusert’s wake-up call if you want to live.

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