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

There are countless real-life examples that illustrate these attitudes and conditions and what they lead to. Take Dennis, for instance. He says he wants a meaningful relationship with a woman. He would like to settle down and have a family. But for the past twelve years he simply hasn't had the time or energy to pursue this goal. As a caseworker for a social service department in a large rural community, he has allowed his work to eat up his life. Even on his day off he is never without his cell phone, checking with his clients. If you ask him whether he is really happy in his life and work, he will candidly, and sadly, admit that he isn't. He simply doesn't know how to break the pattern.

Tom complained that he had had three colds over the course of one long winter. One cold had just barely cleared up when the next one happened. When a friend asked Tom if things were going well at work, he was startled by the question. Was his friend really implying a connection? As they talked, Tom disclosed that he hated his job as a reading teacher in a large city school. Work had become increasingly tedious over the past winter, and he was really looking for any excuse that would allow him to quit without feeling guilty.

Gene was employed by the US government and his own health and welfare were at stake on the job. He suffered a continual battle with stomach ulcers, had hypertension, and had trouble sleeping. The pressures on him were enormous, and he disliked his work. But he liked his large salary very much! He wanted his second car, he wanted his boat, and he wanted his financial security. He would have preferred to be healthier - but assumed that since that wasn't possible in his present job, he would simply tolerate the symptoms.

Changing our ways includes changing the way we define work, the way we compensate work, the ways we create work, and the way we let go of work and learn to infuse it with play and ritual. A paradigm shift requires a shift in the way we think about, talk about, and undergo work. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived that today's crisis in jobs is just about more jobs; it is not. The job crisis is a symptom of something much deeper: a crisis in our relationship to work and the challenge put to our species today to reinvent it. —Matthew Fox

Mary described herself as bored to death." She was a bank teller, but she wanted to be a pilot. She wanted to work in an environment in which her abilities would be challenged, in which she would be stimulated to grow, in which she could develop more in-depth relationships with other people. Most Monday mornings found her with a headache. But what to do?

Burnout is an all-too-familiar phenomenon in all jobs, at all levels. It happens when people are stuck in jobs they do not like, in jobs that fail to satisfy their needs. Burnout is quite common among those in the helping professions. The "helpers" often turn out to be "rescuers" who take on unnecessary and unrealistic burdens and actually undermine their own health.

Here are six ways to prevent burnout:

  • Self-care - nutrition, exercise, creation of a supportive environment
  • Regular deep relaxation and frequent mini-relaxations
  • Awareness of rescuing tendencies (doing for people what they should be doing themselves) and victimized feelings
  • Directly asking for what you want and need (especially appreciation and attention)
  • Regular exercising of your creativity
  • Acceptance of your limitations - with compassion.

Take one method that appeals to you, because you probably need it most, and focus on that one alone, drawing your awareness to it as you go through your day. Your awareness will build the foundation from which change will happen more easily.

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