Your On-the-Job Burnout Could Be Wrecking Your Healthy Lifestyle

(Bicycling) Your workplace probably offers some good-for-you benefits, like wellness or weight management programs or discounts on gym membership. That’s all great, but if you’re feeling overworked, all those benefits aren’t going to come with the wellness results you’re hoping for, as a new study suggests.

To evaluate the relationship between workload, exhaustion, and key health behaviors, researchers at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health recruited 953 employed adults. They asked them questions related to how much work they were expected to do, and at what speed, and if they agree with statements like, “After work, I usually feel worn out and weary.”

Eating behaviors were also self-reported by participants, using a questionnaire that measured emotional eating and percent of calories from fat. They also reported on their physical activity frequency and intensity. 

The researchers found that workload and exhaustion were linked to emotional eating, uncontrolled eating, and a higher percentage of calories from fatty foods. Also, not surprisingly, more exhaustion was tied to lower physical activity levels. 

“Our results suggest that when a person has a high workload, they don’t have enough energy to make decisions about buying, preparing, and eating healthy foods,” said lead author Heather Padilla, Ph.D. “Fast food and convenience foods are all around us, and easy to access. They are also high in fat and often absent of many of the nutrients we need.” 

Although participants weren’t asked specifically about their access to workplace wellness program—Padilla noted that’s likely her next study—the research pointed out that many worksites are increasingly offering these kind of programs, as well as other strategies like installing walking trails, putting healthy foods in the vending machines, and hiring weight management coaches.

Yet the challenges of weight and inactivity persist, and burnout may be a big contributing factor that isn’t getting addressed enough, Padilla added. 

Piling up takeout containers and watching the dust gather on your bike might not be the only signs that you need to address an overwork issue, either. It’s helpful to recognize the early stages of work exhaustion before it becomes actual burnout, according to Jephtha Tausig-Edwards, Ph.D., a New York-based clinical psychologist.

She noted that big red flags can include: a low feeling of personal accomplishment, difficulty finishing tasks, ditching social time in favor of getting more work done, chronic low-level pain like tension headaches and tight muscles, and feeling irritated more and more often. 

That’s when you need to start implementing some downshift strategies, she advised. That includes scheduling some time to ride or hit the gym, sticking to a consistent (and hopefully earlier) bedtime, and increase break times. Get outside, drink some water, and do some deep breathing. And see a professional if you can’t seem to get a handle on the stress on your own.

Your boss may be a bit surprised by your switch from always-on employee, but your body and brain will thank you.


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