Last week, we started talking about work related stress and its direct impact on your health and life longevity. I am sure all of you have been stressed at work before – stress before the major deadline on a project, new job stress, stress from an unexpected negative performance review, just to name a few examples.
Well, these are stressful situations that you are aware of. What about hidden stress? By its very name, it’s stress in your work life that you are not aware of. It’s every day stress due to the type of jobs you choose to have and type of decisions you make about how you work. What do I mean? Well, I can tell you from my own experience that I had no idea how much hidden stress I had everyday when I worked for McKinsey and Deloitte. Consulting is a highly stressful job, especially for overachievers like me. How did I find out I had hidden stress? Actually through my husband when we first start dating and ultimately my body told me.
He commented on it one day early in our relationship and said “you probably have one of the highest tolerance for stress I have ever seen.” I asked him, what he meant. He said “well, it seems like you are stressed everyday, but you are barely aware of it.” At first, I dismissed what he said. Years later, I realized how right he was. There is constant stress every day in consulting – am I performing well on this project? Am I on the “beach” (not on a project) too long? Is this new partner / senior manager going to value my work (as we change teams every project)? Am I on track for promotion?…. This is just a beginning list. As a result, there is a pretty high level of stress every day of my life while working for the major consulting firms. And then of course, the stress increased even more at major project deadlines, new client meetings etc… I was so conditioned after years of being in the same industry that I just accepted the stress as normal.
Well, eventually I paid a price. I pushed myself so hard, that I injured my body for 3 years from a chronic syndrome called Repetitive Strain/stress Injury (RSI). I got it due to too much computer work while being stressed and bad ergonomic conditions. It was so bad that at one point, I couldn’t put on own my seat belt, be on the computer for more than 30 min a day and cannot hold a water glass with both hands. Long story short, I had a major wake up call that my body has its limits. While I was not as aware of my stress and just assumed I will recover, my body took the tore of years of constant stress. I got RSI and thankfully I was still young and was able to recover fully.
The question to ask yourself is how far will you let your stress take over your health and your life? Do you know when to stop before it has irreversible effects (e.g., ulcers, heart attack, cancer, stroke) on you? Disease by the very nature of the word is “dis” “ease” meaning lack of ease – another way to describe stress literally.
One way to avoid the hidden stress at work is to be in a career that is considered the least stressful. For those who haven’t picked a career yet or considering a career change, perhaps the following list will help. This is the 2011 and 2012 list from Careercast.com of the top 10 least stressful jobs
- Audiologist (average income: $63,144)
- Dietician ($52,127)
- Software Engineer ($87,140)
- Computer Programmer ($71,176)
- Dental Hygienist ($67,107)
- Speech Pathologist ($65,143)
- Philosopher ($61,221)
- Mathematician ($94,178)
- Occupational Therapist ($70,193)
- Chiropractor (68,358.00)
- Medical records technician.
- Hair stylist.
- Medical laboratory technician.
- Precision assembler.
- Furniture upholsterer.
- Electrical technician.
These two lists above are just examples. At the end of the day, you control how much stress you go through at work and in life. As for me, I am thankful to learn to how to make wiser decisions now to avoid unnecessary stress in my work and life. I work now 30-40 hours a week at the most, am much more conscientious about my health, and am thankful every day to have time to spend with my family. You can also find your path to fulfillment and a healthy life. Best wishes in your life and career choices. I am always in your corner.