A new study, published in Lancet Psychiatry on May 10, 2018 , suggests that occupation alone might cause as many as one out of every 7 new cases of depression, anxiety, and other common mental disorders.
Even after adjusting for lifestyle factors, stressful life events, temperament, personality, family history and personal history of mental illness, researchers found that job strain alone was responsible for a statistically significant number of mental illness cases over a lifetime.
14% of all common mental disorders that onset in midlife was attributed purely to job stress.
Researchers looked at over 6,800 participants, ranking job strain at age 45 with risk of mental illness at age 50. The results were astounding.
- Having a job that is highly demanding increased mental diagnosis rates by 70%.
- Having a job that causes high strain (moves at a fast pace, or is highly risky, for example) increased mental diagnosis rates by 220%.
- Having a job in which the employee had very little control over decisions increased mental illness rates by 89%.
All in all, researchers estimate that simply having higher job stress increased the overall likelihood of subsequent mental illness significantly, accounting for 1 out of every 7 new cases of mental illness in midlife.
Forget the usually-thought-of triggers such as divorce, bereavement and serious medical issues… job strain alone can put you at significant risk for mental disorders.
What constitutes a stressful job?
A job that requires high intensity, a job that moves at a fast pace, a job that has high risk, a job that gives you very little control over your duties, and/or a job that doesn’t allow you to make your own decisions were all factors that contributed to job strain.
If you are thinking… yes my job is stressful but I really love it, it’s not enough.
Job satisfaction is not protective of the strain that job stress can put on mental health.
Although ideally we would all have meaningful soul satisfying jobs… even when they are super fulfilling soul careers, they can actually still be toxic, stressful, high paced, and put us at high risk for mental illness.
And let’s face it, many times jobs simply are not in the slightest bit soul fulfilling at all and yet still are so stressful that they raise mental illness diagnosis, all for a job you don’t even enjoy. But there are ways to help protect yourself and your mental state. Lots of them. Read on.
Is your job stressful?
Have you been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness since being employed? It is worth taking a moment today to consider the effect that job strain truly, honestly has in your life.
Is your job contributing to mental health risk? The study I reviewed for you today would say definitively yes, so it’s a good idea to run through the following list of ideas to help — because there are lots of things you can do to reduce job strain and boost your mental health.
Here are some ideas to help you decrease the negative effect of job stress on your health:
1. Factor job strain into your career choices early on whenever possible.
If you have a family history or a personal history of mental illness, it is absolutely imperative that you protect your mental health by choosing jobs that give you autonomy, or at least allow you to participate in decision making.
Or… if you want to work in a tightly regulated job field where you don’t get to have control over the decisions, then select a job where the pace is slow and relaxed and/or the job is low intensity, low stakes.
If one out of every 7 cases of mental illness in midlife comes from having a stressful job, it is absolutely something to take into account when selecting between several possible career pathways.
Look for a job that allows you to be a part of the decision making process, or look for a job with lower intensity and a slower pace if you have an option and want to be protective of your mental health.
2. Modify existing job parameters.
If you are already in a stressful job that you want to stay in, consider small ways to modify your current stress levels at work.
There are three different ways you can lighten your job strain: increasing your autonomy (getting to make more job related decisions,) lightening the pace of the job, or lightning the demands on the job.
Even choosing just one way to modify your current work load, even just slight modification, can help reduce mental illness risk:
- Ask to be part of decisions whenever possible… if there are committees to be involved in, if there are meetings you can speak up during, if there are opportunities for a leadership role — this study shows that even in a highly stressful job, having some sort of say in what decisions are made allows the job to cause less strain over all.
- Negotiate terms whenever possible… not just the classic example of asking for a raise, but speaking up over anything you can… such as negotiating when you take a break, what shift you work, what snacks are stocked in the vending machine, or what the dress code is can help give you some say in your work day and reduce strain.
- If you can’t make decision and you can negotiate terms, sharing the burden is another way to reduce job strain. Asking for help, getting co-workers involved, turning individual tasks into group tasks, forming alliances, delegating and and all tasks that you can delegate — these are all ways to reduce job strain even in jobs that are highly stressful and where you have little control.
3. Recover fully when not at work.
Create clear boundaries around time spent working vs. time spent not-working each day.
One of the worst habits you can get into is taking your work home with you. I should know, doctors are the classic “on call” occupation but every doctor I know makes this occupational stress a hundred times worse by bringing work home even when not on call.
I have strained myself beyond capacity for years (decades actually) staying up in the middle of the night on my computer, returning emails from my phone at the wee hours of the morning, packing and shipping shop orders literally around the clock… and I know I am not alone. In many — if not most — jobs these days, there really are no designated off hours since technology can reach us anywhere, and this can create a situation where there is no down time, no recovery time, no off time.
So you have to be proactive and protective to ensure — for your own mental health — that there absolutely *is* time off from work and time away from all work related activity.
If you are in a job that you can’t modify, can’t control, has high stress, and little autonomy, then the next best thing you can do to protect your mental and physical health is to make sure off hours are actually off hours.
- Make it harder to access work related tasks… leave your computer at work (if you work from home, leave your computer in a designated *home office* space and do not bring it into the rest of the house!)
- Put cell phones on airplane mode at night, or better yet turn them off completely.
- Designate a cut off time in the evening where you will no longer check emails or return business related calls.
- Prioritize sleep.
- Make the sleep you do get more restorative by sleeping grounded.
- Move your body in a non-job related way: exercise, stretch, get into a yoga routine, go on a long walk, have sex, even simple taking a hot bath in Epsom salts will help soothe tense muscles and get you out of “work mode.”
- Read a book that is absolutely 100% simply for pleasure and *not work related!!!*. I’m the worst at this because I typically read medical journals before bedtime instead of romance or mystery novels but this is one of my new goals.
- Schedule time for leisure activities — from a designated weekly movie night to a routine family date to time alone — off time is so crucial for balancing out the stress from your job and should be given the same weight (or even more weight) than your dedication to your career.
- Take time for friendships and relationships that are not in any way work related. Consider this… are most of your relationships with people in the same work place or career path as you? Be sure to go out of your way to nurture friendships and relationships that have nothing to do with work at all — if you have to join a knitting club or a book club or sign up for a gym class or introduce yourself to your neighbors — meet people that it would be literally impossible to “talk shop” with in your down time because they do not work with you. Having outside interests and outside relationships apart from work helps ensure you don’t think about or talk about work in your off time.
- Take vacation time — up to 1/3 of all vacation days are simply never even used!!!! What the…? No way. Please take those vacation days, every single one of them.
4. Be proactive about protecting your mental health in other ways.
Particularly if you know you have high job strain, you want to be sure you are eating foods, taking supplements, staying well hydrated, sleep well, and many other things you can do — even if you can’t modify your current job in the slightest — that will boost your mental health.
To that end, here are more blog posts I’ve written for you on holistic ways to support your mental health:
- What You Eat Is Making Your Anxiety Worse
- Missing Just One Hour Of Sleep Skyrockets Your Risk Of Depression, Anxiety
- Anxiety Doubles Cancer Mortality. It Doesn’t Have To… Here’s How.
- Reducing Background Anxiety Increases Mental Clarity: Here’s How
- Disrupted Day/Night Rhythm Increases Mental Illness Rates
- 2 New Treatments For PTSD You Can Use Right Now To Feel Immediatley Better.
- Grounding Instantly Helps Your Brain, Mood, and Sleep
- Incredibly Powerful Alternatives To AntidepressantsThat Work
- A Sense Of Purpose In Life Medically Proven To Help Your Body Stay Younger… 9 Powerful Ways To Do It
- Sleep Increases Your Recovery From Depression
- Resolving PTSD, OCD, Tobacco and Drug Addiction Too
- 5 Things You Can Do To Naturally Lift Depression
- A Supplement So Good For The Brain It Can Prevent Psychosis
- More Sunshine = Longer Life
- Emotional Stress Directly Predicts Heart Attack… 10 Ways To Prevent It
- OCD May Stem From Birth Trauma
- Higher Morale, Longer Life Span
- 7 Ways To Feel Hopeful Even Under Incredible Stress
- Probiotics An Alternative To Antidepressants
- The One Thing You Can Do Daily To Lift All Types Of Depression… Naturally
Or… consider letting me support you more personally, by joining in my Trauma Resiliency and Recovery Class.
You absolutely can stop past trauma’s from affecting your mental health… and there are tons of medical studies that prove exactly which methods of healing truly work.
Let me introduce you to the most powerful ways to release past wounds and get moving in an uplifting direction. Find out more about this beautiful online healing course right here.
This class has been hugely helpful in giving participants actionable, positive, enjoyable healing tools that are medically based and proven to work.
- One participant who just took my online classes said that the content on the very first day of the class alone far exceeded what she thought she would get out of the entire class, all put together.
- Another participant said she felt movement on old stuck traumas from childhood for the first time in her entire life.
- Another said that even though he had been in treatment for PTSD for years, he learned things he had never been told before about how the body holds on to trauma and how to let it go.
I would love to support you in this exact same way as well. Join me here.
I hope this idea list helped!
You don’t have to quit your job to save your mental health.
Even one simple change, like starting an omega 3 fatty acid supplement or a probiotic to increase your mental resiliency, or getting a half hour of extra sleep at night, or being strict about not checking emails after dinner, or joining a committee at work to help make work related decisions and bring more autonomy to your role at work, healing past traumas so you are no longer triggered by the stress of your job, or specifically choosing a job that has a slower pace…
…any and all of these things and more can help make sure that your are not letting your job get into your head!