Study after study shows that dissatisfaction with your career can be detrimental to your health. Job-related strain can send your stress levels skyrocketing, disrupt your sleep, and in cases of severe burnout, even lead to clinical depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the stress-related problems seen in these studies are mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach and headache, and disturbed relationships with family and friends.
The long-term effects are harder to see, but evidence is rapidly accumulating to suggest that stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems, especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders. Job strain has been proven to be associated with a 45-percent increased risk to develop Type 2 diabetes.
Deep unhappiness at work can eventually make your body break down. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, is a living example of this. She speaks freely about the day she collapsed from exhaustion caused by her workload, a wake-up call that led to her book Thrive, about how to master work-life balance.
Consider these Changes
Before your job takes such a toll on your health, you need to evaluate if one of the following career changes could address the stress and dissatisfaction you’re experiencing:
- Reframe the way you perceive yourself, others and your work. Not everyone can switch jobs, especially during a pandemic, but it possible to focus on the situations that you can control. Use mindfulness to manage unhelpful rumination about the past or future, and stay focused on the present. Mindfulness can provide you clarity and creativity, profoundly impact your internal reactions, interpersonal exchanges and overall leadership abilities.
- Move to another department or team within your company if it’s your boss, a toxic co-worker or your specific role that’s dragging you down. Gallup’s State of the American Manager report revealed that one in two employees has left a job to get away from a manager at some point in their career. Ridding yourself of that toxic boss could allow you to remove the pain from your work environment. You could also learn how to manage your superior effectively, which may not be easy because toxic bosses have strong narcissistic tendencies. Harvard Business Review gives some great tips for reducing the impacts of your boss’ self-centered behavior while staying sane in this article.
- Find employment at a different company in your field or industry if it’s the company culture that’s driving your stress.
- Change careers altogether if it’s the field or industry that’s the root of your dissatisfaction.
Getting to Greater Career Congruence
Greater career congruence leads to higher job satisfaction, but the truth is, most Americans are not working in positions that are using their highest aptitudes, even if they believe they are.
Many years ago, I had a career coaching client who was a partner at a Big Four accounting firm. Matthew (not his real name) had been with the company for fifteen years and was very unhappy. He wanted to transition to an entirely new career, but had no idea what that new career was. Hence, career discovery coaching.
During our first session, he said, “One thing I know for sure is that I’m great with numbers.” However, immersing him in aptitude testing showed a very different result from his experience. He wasn’t good with numbers, in fact, he was mediocre at best with numbers. How could this be? How could raise to partner level in an accounting firm and only be mediocre with numbers?
Needless to say, Mathew was shocked.
“If you work hard enough, long enough and are smart enough, it will make up for the aptitude deficit,’ I explained. He had learned the skill of working with numbers. Once he started to think about it, he recalled the late nights at the office when everyone else had gone home for the day. The work was more taxing for his brain to do than those who had natural ability so he was slower, even though he was intelligent with a solid work ethic. The aptitude test showed his next career should not be centered around numbers.
When you have aptitude, the work is effortless and easy for you, so you may not even recognize it as aptitude. People misconstrue skills for aptitude all of the time, but aptitude is performing work that makes you feel good and uses your brain in an appealing way. Just because you are good at a career you have been promoted in for years doesn’t mean you actually have aptitude in it.
Why Change Can Be Empowering
When you make a career change for the right reasons, it can be empowering and that can have a positive effect on your mental health and overall health. When you make the decision to move forward toward a new career because you assess it is better for you, it can have far-reaching effects: perhaps you have more time to spend with your family, perhaps you have more financial freedom, perhaps you finally have the autonomy you’ve been craving at work, perhaps you simply have more energy to live life.
When you are in a job that brings you stress, you are dealing with a host of negative mood states: frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, etc. You are depleted, unfulfilled, and you are never able to rejuvenate yourself because each day is repetitive and uninteresting. This is when your risk of illness increases. That could spiral into increased sick days and more work to eventually make up, which contributes to that overwhelm feeling.
When you are engaged in your work, you are able to connect with your purpose. Employees who have a true connection to their role and feel a sense of purpose are less likely to experience burnout.
Taking Control of Your Career — and Your Health
Making a career change can not only unlock your natural talents and allow you to do what you enjoy, but it can energize and motivate you. And if you’re leaving behind a career that was causing you boredom or stress, you’ll likely experience positive changes in your health: better sleep (which studies show leads to healthier eating habits), more physical energy, less tension and more happiness. Your body and mind will thank you for taking control of your work to improve your health.