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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Work and Wellness

The first definition Merriam-Webster offers for the noun work includes the words effort, exerted, to do purposeful activity, labor, and toil. The next definitions include: employment, business, task, and duty. It's enough to tire you out by simply reading about it! It sounds so very serious and difficult - and that's often the crux of the problem with it.

We use work to give structure to our time and meaning to our lives, to earn our livelihood, to express our talents, our dreams, our creativity, to change ourselves and the world at large. As such, work is both necessary and desirable. But when it becomes hard and serious to the point of causing excessive stress, or depression, or a sense of personal frustration or worthlessness, it undermines both our health and our happiness. That's why we consider work in the context of wellness.

If you listen to yourself or other people talk about work, you get a sense of what it means for vast segments of the population. People describe work as:

  • The rat race - the grind
  • Dog-eat-dog competition
  • Publish or perish
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Killing themselves to complete a project

When Barry leaves his home each morning to teach at the local school, he talks of entering the madhouse." When Tina goes to the office, she leaves word that she can be reached "in the dungeon." Kids refer to school as "prison" - and in fact, many of our educational institutions look that way.

When work is this serious and this hard, it robs energy from mind, body, and spirit and contributes to the creation of an internal environment in which illness can easily develop. Work creates illness when:

  • It becomes so serious that we assume we can't not do it. ("If I don't teach these poor kids, who will?")
  • We allow it to slowly suffocate us because we think we have no choice, no alternatives. ("If I quit this job, what else would I do?")
  • It is based on unrealistic expectations and demands that ignore the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of human beings. ("My boss expects me to do the work of three people.")

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