Are you like some of my patients who get to work early, leave late, and bring work home over the weekend? Do you feel antsy, guilty, and even unwell when you’re not working? Are you going to be laboring this Labor Day instead of taking the day off to relax with your family and/or friends? If you answered yes to these questions, you could have what’s now being termed leisure sickness and you could be headed for some serious health problems or even a shortened life!
Leisure sickness is an actual set of symptoms that has developed from our “workaholic” culture – not unlike withdrawal symptoms. Webster’s Dictionary has even nominated it for the “2010 Word of the Year”!
Recent research has now shown that healthy work habits are just as important to your fitness as good nutrition and exercise. But you don’t need to take a week in the mountains, or an expensive trip to Venice, to add some beneficial relaxation to your life. Allow me to give you some suggestions on how to relax in small bundles every day so that you can reset a normal work/relax pattern and decrease your risk of serious health complications.
Take Micro-Vacations Every Day!
One of the easiest ways to adopt some healthy relaxation/work habits is to add some exercise into your work day. Calling on your “relaxation response”, even if it’s for a short period of time, will help you mentally turn off your job, re-energize you, turn off the “flight or fight response” from stress, and help you relax. Here are some things I tell my patients to try:
- Get away. From your desk/computer, or whatever your job is, for even 5 minutes a few times a day. Do some stretching exercises, run in place for a few minutes. If your place of work will allow it, bring a mini rebounder to work and use it 5 minutes here and there throughout the day. Share it with your co-workers!
- Go Outside. Take a walk, do 15 minutes of exercise outdoors if the weather allows. Many studies show that going out in nature around trees, flowers, and other plants, even for a short while, relieves stress almost immediately.
- Park Farther Away. If possible, park farther away from your work and allow yourself a few extra minutes to walk in and walk back every day.
- Take the Stairs. If you work in a several story building, take the stairs to and from your job, if possible. If you’re way up on the 57th floor, gradually work into this by walking a few flights every day and taking the elevator from that floor.
- Resolve Work Conflicts. Nothing can stress you out more at work than having conflicts with co-workers or even your work itself. Try to resolve as much of these problems as possible and learn how to leave the rest at work when you leave for the day.
Relaxing at home doesn’t have to take up the entire day either. Here are a few things you can do to give yourself a little vacation here and there:
- Take a nap. New research out of Harvard shows that people who take 20-30 minute naps during the day at least 2-3 times a week decreased their risk of coronary disease by 37%! Even confining your naps to the weekends, you can still reap the benefits!
- Just Be. For many of my patients, just sitting still doing absolutely nothing for a few moments a day is very difficult! However, New York University researchers have shown that this type of “wakeful resting” is beneficial to your memory and your mental processing functions. To be effective, sit still, take a few deep, slow breaths, count to 10, put a pleasant “picture” in your mind like a beach at sunset, the mountains, and just hold that for about 5 minutes.
- Regular exercise. As always, I recommend that you engage in some regular, “movement” exercise every day, like walking, riding a bicycle, swimming, golfing, for at least 30 minutes a day. Nothing de-stresses the body like regular exercise. You might even sign up for a Zumba or Tai Chi class!
- Get A Massage. Either go to a professional masseuse for a 30-60 minute massage or trade massages with your spouse or significant other.
- Schedule a Day Off. If you’re a workaholic and truly do get leisure sickness, you need to re-train yourself to relax! Take a day off from work here and there and learn how to pull away from your work one day at a time. Find something to do that interests you for the day and go do it! Don’t take work-related calls and don’t bring work home.
As I tell my patients, working more than 50 hours a week is not good for your physical or mental health. With today’s economy, however, many people have been forced into working 2 jobs to make ends meet. Even more important, then, is to take some “you” time and learn how to balance the demands of your work schedule with a beneficial relaxation schedule.
Start to think of relaxation as a necessity rather than a luxury, as it is necessary to relax and enjoy your life as much as it is necessary to work and support your life. The health benefits of relaxing, even in micro increments every day, are enormous and ones you shouldn’t overlook! Have a great and relaxing Labor Day!