A new study shows that  ” … people find work to be less stressful than their home lives. Work was, in fact, a haven.”  (    That same news report cited a poll conducted by NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health found that,  … “health problems, the death of loved ones and juggling busy family schedules often scored among the top sources of stress in people’s lives.

But isn’t this counter to how most of us think about the sources of  our stress?   People tell me that they want more time with family and fewer work demands– that will make them happier and less ‘stressed’ . It’s rare that I encounter anyone in my professional or personal life who describes work as a place where they can relax, a place to flee to.

When questioned about this, one researcher said  that she discovered that people find that work is one place where people think that they can say ‘no’ .  “If you’re really unhappy, you can leave.    Not so with your family — or your health.”

So then, is the message that work is actually good for you?  That was certainly one of the key points we made in our book,  Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! (side note:  the title was supposed to be ….” and Chronic Illness”  because we believe that the same issues applied to anyone with a chronic health condition.  But the publisher had a different agenda.)   Our message was when your body becomes the source of pain/fatigue, creates unpredictability, and represents the loss of what you could once do, work holds the possibility of being one place where you have the opportunity to take charge.  (But, hey, why don’t you buy the book and read more?)

Unfortunately for many of us, the actual work experience usually falls way short of our hopes.  Too  often it’s that place where you encounter pressure, difficult people and poorly managed systems.  And without support and resources to maximize their potential,  too many people with chronic health conditions are lucky to survive in the workplace.

It is useful to remember that the negative experiences from work pales when compared to a significant loss of a loved one, a marriage or one’s health.   As one researcher remarked, “No matter how urgent something is at work, you are not as attached to that urgency as you would be to, say, a health scare or the death of a loved one, because we are emotionally entangled at home in a way that we aren’t at work.”

So why do people talk about work stress so much?  Because it’s acceptable.  Everyone’s got it.  But if you’re struggling with unpredictable and difficult health,  now that’s a much tougher thing to talk about, isn’t it?

How do these issues stack up for you?



14 Responses to “Is work a safe haven for you?”  

  1. 1 Julie

    Sounds about right. I think often people become work-a-holics to escape the stress at home. On the other hand if you are living with someone who is chronically ill I can see where that would create more stress because of the guilt it would create, creating a bit of a circular issue.

  2. 2 Jane

    Would be interesting to read the actual study. It seems to fly in the face of research over the years about burnout and work and stress…that jobs with high responsibility and low autonomy can have negative effects on health. (For instance…many healthcare jobs). Also- people feel that they can “say no” at work???? Do the researchers in these studies have a grasp on the typical work environment? (one has to wonder what sort of subjects/ careers/ they investigated)

  3. 3 Rosalind

    I agree with your questions. If you click on the links to original article, you can see some of the original data write up although that’s not a data collection explanation.

  4. 4 Helena

    Great points Rosalind. I actually believe there’s a lot to this research. So many times when we’re working in high stress jobs, we fantasize about winning the lottery and staying home. If we’re fortunate to have a high income spouse where staying home due to illness is actually an option, well…sometimes the grass isn’t always greener. Sure there’s a lot more flexibility and time for managing the illness but other tasks and responsibilities soon demand attention too. Loss of self-esteem and purpose that often result from no longer using skills/talents coupled with loss of identity are also very real issues not to be overlooked. No easy answers but clearly worth the time and energy to do a thorough self-assessment before making big decisions.

  5. 5 Rosalind

    I couldn’t agree more, Helena. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. 6 Diane

    Work has always been my greatest source of stress. When I had an office job, I always felt like I was in a prison. I’m in a nonoffice job now, which is less of a prison, but still I don’t get enough vacation time and freedom to take care of my medical and personl needs.

    I actually was happiest when I was unemployed and dealing with serious medical issues. That’s because I had the freedom to sleep as long as I needed, exercise, cook, and see my family and friends.

    In the workplace I have has several abusive bosses, where I felt as trapped as a battered wife.

    I loved working for myself, but was never able to make enough money to support myself.

  7. 7 Ellen

    Despite the fact that I miss a lot of time and fatigue was a constant problem my doctors were very reluctant to talk about disability for me. I have Lupus, RA, OA and couple other little annoying diagnosis. Lots of doctor appts. But they still wanted me to work. Both of my main doctors said they have seen it over and over that people who leave work actually don’t do any better physically and emotionally suffer. It wasn’t until I hit 61 and it was a major fatigue issue that they agreed but it was with the promise that I would work part time. I agree that work creates a lot of stress and it isn’t easy to say “no” at work but the social interaction, no time to dwell on what hurts, financial benefits, and identity must offer something of value for most of us. Since I have now been retired for 3 weeks I can’t say how it will feel. Right now it feels great to be rested and relaxed and come fall I have a part time job lined up. I am exercising more. But I do miss the identity part and the social interaction. Nothing is perfect in the world of chronic illness.

  8. 8 Cynthia Armistead

    Happily, I’ve been able to arrange my life so that home is low-stress and I absolutely adore my job. It can be a little bit stressful at times, but it’s the sort of stress I can leave behind easily – and I have an incredibly supportive manager. The happiness from my work actually spills over into the rest of my life and increases my joy in everything else.

  9. 9 Rosalind

    Good for you, Cynthia. It sounds like you have done a terrific job maximizing the possibilities.

  10. 10 Rosalind

    The ambivalence around our choices are so understandable. But it sounds like you took time to make changes and it will take time to live with the results. I wish you well with it all.

  11. 11 Rosalind

    Thank you for sharing this, Diane. We’re not all the same and our needs and capacities vary. It sounds like you are realistic about what is possible.

  12. 12 Jane

    Everyone has some wonderful points. For me personally, I’ve felt that work worsened my health, and perhaps may have been part of the trigger in the first place. I do agree about social interaction…but work is not the only outlet for that. I work in healthcare, and it’s not the kindest field for those with health issues. I always feel healthier and happier when I am not working.

  13. 13 Jane

    addendum…to explain, working in healthcare with chronic issues can mean simply getting sick more often from exposure to others who are ill, such as in primary care- flu, colds, pneumonia, etc. Also it’s simply a punishing field for many of those in it- long hours, constantly busy, no breaks, often no lunch breaks, high stress, work overload. That’s not beneficial for a healthy person, let alone those with chronic issues. And there seems little to no understanding of preventative care for the caregivers themselves… for example, a “part time” schedule for a doctor is 40 hours per week.

  14. 14 Rosalind

    Your comments about those who work in healthcare resonates. I’ve heard it a lot. Industries that are being pushed from all sides, as healthcare is, is not a conducive environment to taking care of yourself. But that said, what can you do within the constraints? I find that there are ways to carve out space but it has to be strategic.

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