The Workaholic’s Call: How to Manage Stress in 4 Steps

The Workaholic’s Call: How to Manage Stress in 4 Steps

The world of journalism is in shock following the untimely death of Tim Russert, renowned for his role as NBC’s Sunday interviewer on Meet the Press. Tributes are flooding in from all angles for this exceptional journalist, loving family man, kind and generous human being, and devout Catholic who also had a passion for baseball. However, amidst all the praise, one question remains unanswered – why did he pass away so young?

At just 58 years old, Russert was in a vulnerable age group for conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart attack – all of which he suffered from. It is likely that he was taking appropriate medications and his doctor may have advised him to ease off and take a vacation. He had recently returned from a trip to Rome with his family. But did his brain also need a break? He had already completed his radio show at 7am and was preparing for the next task when tragedy struck.

One of the most significant legacies Russert left behind is a message to all workaholics – “stop, take note, and make a change. You could be next.”

I caught a glimpse of Tim Russert about three years ago as he hurried through Washington’s National Airport to catch a plane. As someone who enjoys observing stress profiles at airports, he caught my attention before I even realized who he was. Raised shoulders, a slight paunch, loose neck muscles suggesting sleep apnea, and a flushed face – possibly from high blood pressure or exertion – completed a familiar, yet not unusual, picture. Airports are often filled with workaholics.

Workaholics dedicate many hours to their work, with their brains constantly functioning 24/7. They crave their work and derive their highs from it, making them feel indispensable. They wake up early to get a head start on the day, even connecting with colleagues in different time zones. They often lack sufficient quality sleep and rely on coffee and sugary treats for energy. Their day is filled with problem-solving tasks, constant preparation, and worrying about future events, resulting in a continuous flow of stress hormones coursing through their veins.

Most of their time is spent sitting in meetings or in front of computers. Taking a short break for exercise may provide some relief, but it can also increase stress depending on their thoughts during physical activity. They often stay late to catch up and regularly bring work home with them. They may have meals without truly listening and convince themselves that multitasking is productive. Their lives revolve around a self-perpetuating drive.

Workaholism is an addiction, similar to any other. Something has to give, and unfortunately, it often results in poor health. In some cases, it takes a toll on the workaholic’s family, leaving them confused and perplexed. Seeking relief through alcohol or engaging in relationships with work associates only adds to the complications. Men, in particular, are more vulnerable due to their dose of invincibility and single-mindedness.

Workaholism can be fatal. However, like any addiction, it is treatable. The first step is recognizing the addiction for what it is. The second step involves addressing lifestyle changes that individually have negative consequences but collectively can be disastrous. Accumulative sleep deprivation leads to weight issues and can impact performance. Inadequately managed stress results in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, excessive drinking, or aggressive behavior. An unhealthy diet high in fat and carbohydrates, combined with sedentary habits, leads to obesity, diabetes, interrupted sleep due to snoring and sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and stroke.

The solutions include incorporating physical activity throughout the day – standing up frequently, finding reasons to move around, taking short walking breaks. It is crucial to avoid junk food like crackers, potato chips, sandwiches, donuts, cookies, or other office snacks, and lead by example.

When feeling anxious or stressed, taking a few deep breaths, pulling your elbows back, dropping your shoulders, sitting up straight, and relaxing your face by slightly dropping your jaw can provide relief. It is challenging to feel stressed with an open mouth. Make a conscious decision to sleep through the night in your bed. Avoid consuming food or drinks within an hour or two of sleeping. Don’t make or take phone calls an hour before bed, dim the lights, and avoid engaging in serious discussions.

The third step is learning how to take frequent breaks throughout the day, either with or without professional help. Your brain, in particular, needs downtime. Find a quiet space, close your eyes, and spend five minutes clearing your mind of any thoughts. The human body and brain can withstand almost any form of abuse if given the opportunity to recover.

If you prioritize living a healthy and fulfilling life, heed Tim Russert’s wake-up call.

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