Original title: They are working me to death!

This is how the story began and after a few edits and suggestions, you will find the published piece linked at the bottom of this article.

They are working me to death.

Who are the infamous they? It’s those other people our spouses, our friends, our children and most of all strangers. We tend to blame everybody except ourselves.

I was saddened by an email I received this week from an acquaintance. She wrote, “Four years and ten months ago, I gave my five year notice. The partners have just now figured out that I’m really leaving and they are working me to death.”

This has been an all too familiar confession from those who are searching for help in getting their life together.  Some who have been debilitated by some sort of disease? Others run to the gym after they have lost a loved one or someone else to a health crisis. Has this ever happened to you?

A little over a decade ago, I was guilty and fell under the spell of working long hours, wanting to do more than I could handle and taking my health for granted.

I was a 911 dispatcher and was faced with having to call an ambulance on myself while alone on shift one night. It was a decision that took me awhile to make as I wasn’t sure if it was a true emergency. That is until I was hit with pains so severe that I thought I was having a heart attack. If it was a stranger calling 911, I wouldn’t have second guessed them. What if this was a heart attack? I could die. Not exactly how I wanted to end my shift.

I took my job seriously and there were a lot of steps that I had to take to get myself out of the seat and into the ambulance.  If I made the call, I couldn’t just hang up the phone and walk away. I couldn’t just sit there and ignore it any longer.

I survived, but not without a health crisis to snap me into action.

I found myself overcome by tears, as I continued reading her words, “I’ve been having some health issues (lung problems, of all things) and I’m on oxygen 24/7.” She was only in her 50’s and this was an early retirement for her.

So I ask you, why do we tend to wait until something is so unbearable before we are made to face those life changing decisions? Our resistance is so strong that we put ourselves in harm’s way over and over again.

Is it our ego getting in the way?

Are we too stubborn to face the truth?

Is it denial?

Or is it fear?

In my case I would say it was all the above.

Ego sat on my shoulder and told me to woman up. People are depending on you, shut up and do your job.

Stubbornness told me this wasn’t happening, even though I had all the signs of neglect. I gained weight. I kept eating foods that were clearly not good me. I worked in a high stress position. I switched shifts every month and I didn’t sleep well.

Denial tried to rally my support by telling me I was foolish, or you’ll be okay. If that didn’t work, the little voice would tell me it’ll pass, it’s just a little heartburn.

Fear whispered a reminder in my ears, remember mother? She died of a heart attack.

We all have our excuses for not taking care of ourselves in the best manner possible. Although we are aware there is a high possibility that in our lifetime, death will happen to a loved one, a neighbor, a co-worker and yet we still try to deny that it won’t happen to us.

This email was a reminder to me and was written by the same woman who about five years ago, showed up at the front door of my home. A frantic knock preceded me opening the door to a distraught woman, standing in front of me, tears streaming down her face. I didn’t know her. She confided that she knew I was a personal trainer and asked for help. She said she felt horrible, was stressed out, kept getting sick and she was tired of being tired.

We talked and came up with a plan. She changed up her work schedule. She ate better. She started exercising regularly and worked on relieving her stress. She kept the promise to herself for a little over two years.

As I returned my focus to the email, I felt the regret in her words as I read the following sentence, “Keep thinking I waited one damn year too long to retire and start taking care of myself.”

Revelations are admittedly embarrassing and many times kept close to the heart. Sometimes shame is the elephant in the room and too hard to bring out of the shadows. I admire those who step out of their comfort zone searching for answers. One of the hardest things we fail to recognize is that waiting never helps.

Retirement should be fun and not the time to start taking care of oneself. But how do we get started?

Here are three things to take notice of, ask questions and suggestions on what to do about it.

Notice each time you make the comment, “I’m working myself to the grave or this job is going to kill me.”

Are you working so much that you are neglecting your health?

Look around at your coworkers. Talk with the ones that seem to have an easier time getting through their day. Pick their brains for ideas on what you can do to make your day better. Then do what works for you.
Notice when your stress level is so high that you think you’re going to explode.

What can you do right at that moment to calm down?

Take five minutes. Walk away. Meditation isn’t only for those who do yoga. It doesn’t have to be on a mat or structured. Find a quiet space, breathe deeply and release the pent up stress.
Do you work so many hours, that there is no way you can squeeze in one more thing, let alone making a workout an important part of your day?

Do you want to feel the same way you do right now or possibly even worse five years from now?

Start with a few small steps, find a stairwell and walk up a level or two. Increase as time permits or you want more of a challenge. A great way to work out without equipment and in very little space is to do bodyweight exercises. You could also work on breathing exercises as well for additional stress relief.
Keep in mind that even when we get off track, it’s just as easy to resume these simple steps and begin taking care of ourselves again.

Working oneself to death isn’t good for any business, for us or for our family. If you wake up in the morning dreading the day of work ahead of you, it’s time to notice, question yourself and take action.

It’s time to do it differently.

After a bit of editing to polish up the story, the name was changed to “Why Do We Insist on Working Ourselves to Death.” and is published on the elephant journal website.