Is Your Job Killing You?
Quieting the mind in a high stress world of 24/7 communication
I am struck this morning by the news of Martin Senn, CEO of Zurich Insurance, who took his life over the weekend with the apparent cause being job-related stress. This comes three years after the same company’s former CFO, Pierre Wauthier committed suicide. Pierre’s death, disturbing to note as well, was preceded by the suicide of CEO of Swisscom, Carsten Schloter. In an interview a few months prior to Schloter’s death, he was quoted saying “I notice that I have a great difficulty getting some rest” in response to a question about being able to switch off in a world of constant communications.
The 24/7 communications onslaught is sparking interesting legislation around the world. France’s recent labor reform package makes it unlawful for any company (with more than 50 employees) to send emails outside the traditional workday. Contrast that to America where a 2014 Gallup study shows 38% of the hourly workforce works over 40 hours/week and 50% of the salaried workforce works 50+ hours a week. For the salaried workforce, that likely doesn’t even take into account checking weekend emails. I recall often doing this and never considered it part of my “work week”.
While blurred lines between work and personal life might not lead to the extreme life-shortening actions as reported above in Switzerland, scientists are conducting extensive research of the effect stress has on lifespan. Without getting into a biology lesson, the length of telomeres in the body are widely known in the scientific community to identify DNA lifespan, aka, human lifespan. While extensive research continues, many studies are showing that psychological or emotional stress is impacting subjects by accelerating the shortening of telomeres, thereby shortening their lives. Although protecting telomere length involves multiple variables, stress is becoming a dominant factor in the world of understanding toxic effects on the body.
If the influx of demands continues to increase pressure on already over-stressed humans, what’s the remedy to preserve our telomeres as well as our mental well-being? One seemingly simple but challenging word: MINDFULNESS. Mindfulness is simply described as being actively present in the moment. This present awareness allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. In other words, releasing the control your thoughts have on you and taking control by just being present. Sounds easy, huh? Not so much. Meditation is one of the most commonly prescribed actions to be present and yet is one of the top things people say they just can’t do.
Solution? For all of those “I can’t meditate” sufferers out there, there is a one minute counting exercise to quiet your mind and help protect the precious telomeres in your body. You can literally set the timer on your smartphone if you fear giving more than a minute to mindfulness. Once you hit start on your timer, close your eyes and count up to 10 and back down again. For each number inhale a deep breath and exhale a deep breath. As you count each number, breathing in and out, mentally repeat “I am in control” in your mind. It’s that simple. You may find by number 7 that you want to bail, thinking “this isn’t working”, but don’t give up and finish the sequence. Whether you consciously recognize the impact of your one minute counting/breathing exercise, your body, subconscious, and telomeres will still reap the benefits.
You are the only person in control of how you react to the constant pressure and stress in your life. You may be doing things like exercise, fun time with friends and family, or simple walks in nature, which all have positive effects, particularly on your conscious mind. But until you can effectively quiet the subconscious mind through meditative exercises as described here, you aren’t complete in your true mindfulness quest for internal peace. So try it now, surely you can spare one minute of your time. Your telomeres will thank you.
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