Feeling tired, frustrated and more frazzled than before? It’s not in your head; most people over 40 seem to be getting more stressed out each year and it could be because of our work habits. A recent study done in Melbourne found that working more than 40-60 hours a week can be worse than not working at all.
Studies Show That You May Be Working Too Hard
The study was conducted on participants over 40 drawing from conclusions of the HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia) survey along with a series of three tests to challenge their cognitive function. 3,000 men and 3,500 women were asked to read aloud, recite numbers backward and match numbers and letters under the pressure of a time restriction.
What they found was those who worked an average of 22-30 hours a week received the best scores with an average of 18% higher than the rest. Based on the results professors at Melbourne believe that too much work can lead to stress and fatigue which is a key factor in the decline of their cognitive skills (no surprise there, right? But this is the first time researchers see such a definitely pronounced effect between part time and full time adults).
The results of the study support the “use it too much and lose it” hypothesis. Professor Colin McKenzie who worked on this study explains that “Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognitive functions.” Working isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to have a balance in your life to avoid getting burnt out. (1)
10 Ways That Can Help You Relax and Improve Your Cognitive Function
Exercise: this is a great way to combat stress. It is most effective when you exercise regularly as it helps to relieve mental stress and improve your quality of sleep. (2)
Essential Oils: Aromatherapy is a way to treat your mood using scents. Lighting a candle or using essential oils such as lavender, rose or bergamot are great ways to help you relax. (2)
Chew Gum: this one is super easy and works right away. Studies show that chewing gum helps people to have a greater sense of well-being and lowers stress. (2)
Don’t be Afraid to Say No: learn your limits and take control over the parts of your life that are causing you stress. Be selective on what you take on to avoid juggling more than you can handle (2)
Practice Mindfulness: this means anchoring yourself to the present moment which by doing so can help fight negative thinking that leads to anxiety. There are several ways to do this such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. (2)
Get Support: when you feel like life is becoming overwhelming it is a good idea to get an outsider’s perspective on your workload. This can help you to clarify expectations and work more efficiently. You might also benefit from talking to your boss for advice on how to deal with your heavy workload. (3)
Talk to Your Boss and Provide Solutions: if you feel like you are struggling to manage your workload talk to your boss offering a possible solution such as an extension or if a colleague can help you with a time-consuming project. (3)
Set Priorities: at work organize your projects by priority and when assigned more tasks then you can handle communicate to your boss what your priorities are. It also helps to ask them what they feel is most critical to finish fish. Communicating with your boss is the best way to make sure you that both on the same page and creates an understanding of each other’s responsibilities.
Avoid Procrastination: once you figure out your priorities it’s important to stay on top of them. People who procrastinate often find themselves scrambling to catch up at the last minute which can be very stressful. To avoid this create a to-do list with clear deadlines to help you stay on track.
Spend Time With the Ones You Love: when dealing with a stressful situation the support of family or friends can help release a hormone called oxytocin which naturally relieves stress. (2)
Overall make sure that your mental health comes first. Balancing your work and personal life can be hard so it is important to be able to take a step back, focusing on your needs and what is right for you.
Here are some other great readings on how to deal with stress:
1)MCKENZIE, C., KAJITANU, S. AND SAKATA, K.
Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 7/2016
McKenzie, C., Kajitanu, S. and Sakata, K. (2018). Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 7/2016. [online] Melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au. Available at: http://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2016n07.pdf
2) JENNINGS, K.
16 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
Your Bibliography: Jennings, K. (2018). 16 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-ways-relieve-stress-anxiety#section7
3) KNIGHT, R.
How to Tell Your Boss You Have Too Much Work
Knight, R. (2018). How to Tell Your Boss You Have Too Much Work. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/01/how-to-tell-your-boss-you-have-too-much-work