Work stress is taking a toll on health
Sir, – The recent 2019 Sign of the Times survey suggests that the vast majority of people in Ireland are happy with life (“We all want a digital detox, (right after we check our email)”, Jennifer O’Connell, Analysis, April 27th).
As a cardiologist, I struggle to see all this “happiness” in practice. Instead I meet many young patients stressed about their health because of life’s pressures.
Recently I saw a 37-year-old executive with chest pains. She had several tests which did not show a lot. I reassured her that everything was okay. She seemed upset and we explored her story. She found work very challenging, with a difficult boss, huge expectations and always under pressure to deliver projects with few support staff, working long hours and also having home-life challenges (mortgage, children, bills). There was no real time to exercise, she was sleeping poorly and putting on weight. She came to me with chest pains because her mother’s friend died from a heart attack and she was scared that she would end up like this. She then told me about how she had to stop working in a previous job because of similar symptoms and was diagnosed with burnout. I was duly concerned for her mental and physical health. I believe that she came to see me looking for a doctor to tell her that she needed to do something about her work/life situation now before burnout could happen again.
I hear this story from patients in their thirties, forties and fifties every week and among friends. Some have serious health issues, frequently because of stress. All describe similar work environments and most blame their jobs but fail to do anything for themselves about it. In many jobs people at all levels are pushing themselves to unsustainable levels of achievement at every age, often at the cost of a healthy lifestyle and then they seek instant gratification from mobile phones apps that take care of “I don’t have any time to do that” challenges. People socialise less, binge-drink, exercise less regularly, eat more, stay at home and consume everything online, losing out on healthier, enjoyable, sociable and less stress-causing aspects of life. They sleep poorly and cannot cope.
These activities increase depression and that leads to future heart disease, cancers and chronic illnesses.
I firmly believe in the power of true happiness and positive psychology. It is an enormous opportunity to transform the health and welfare of our nation. However, something is missing between reported happiness and real-world stress and ill-health, especially in younger generations. – Yours, etc,
Dr ROBERT KELLY, MD