No one today would argue with me that most Americans are overly stressed. Technology, feeling the need to immediately return text and emails, and the pace at which we live today has created an epidemic of chronic stress and mental fatigue. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of doctor visits today are a result of this chronic stress. And of course, when we are stressed we make poor lifestyle choices. Which means we eat on the run, make unhealthy food choices, and take too little, if any, time to exercise, rest and do the things that bring us joy. The cumulative effect of all this stress? Burnout and chronic disease.
Don’t get me wrong, to be successful in a career, raising a family, excelling at a sport all take passion, drive and perseverance. Most of us have been taught to continuously focus on the destination and the resulting prize. But in the process of our endless sprint to the finish line, we often sacrifice our health, relationships and, ironically, the very happiness we are trying to achieve.
I look at my former profession in high-dollar sales. Most of my experienced colleagues are burned out. They’ve been at it for many years, and it’s no fun anymore. There’s no sense of fulfillment other than making money. They are emotionally exhausted because of increasing rules and government requirements, ever-changing technology, burgeoning competition and constantly having to be on call 24/7 to keep and get business.
Some busy professionals have learned to take time out for themselves but it never seems to be enough. And let’s face it, burnout for folks who do not know how to manage stress is NOT a personal failure. Most have a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to keep stress from zapping their joy and well-being from life.
We need to realize that some stress — if handled wisely — is a good thing; it helps us stay productive and working towards our goals. The key is to reward behaviors that improve our mental, physical health and sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Our chronic stress and the resulting illnesses are all symptoms of a national crisis of wellbeing. The Gallup-Healthyways Well-Being Index, which measure one’s sense of purpose, supportive relationships, financial security, connections to our community and physical health found that only 29 percent of employees in the U.S. are thriving in three or more areas.
We need a paradigm shift to realize that the real products of well-being come from our goals of performing better at work, earning more income, having meaningful and substantive social relationships, health and longevity. That real success is making well-being a measure of our personal wealth. Valuing self-care and good health as much as we value endurance and tenacity. Because when we feel good we keep our lives on track and balanced. Only then can we begin to reverse the epidemic of stress, illness and lack of life satisfaction.