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How To Avoid Death From Overwork—Because Long Hours Can Kill You

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Jay, a journalist, college instructor, and masteral student, confesses to taking sleeping pills when he needs six hours of sleep, the only rest he gets from overwork that has become common during the pandemic, and which experts say bring people closer to death.

Working beyond seven to eight hours per weekday is linked to a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, according to a joint study by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization study released in May 2021. Some 745,000 of the 488 million workers who are overworked died due to stroke and coronary heart disease.

"There came a time na nag-chills ako ng gabi sa dami na ng iniisip kong task na kailangan ko gawin. Wala ako lagnat, pero nagchi-chills talaga ako at nagna-nightmares talaga ako," Jay, who also battles anxiety, told reportr.

The May 2021 report of the ILO was based on 2016 data but the world body and various studies point to overwork increasing during the pandemic, as remote work shackles employees with tasks beyond humane working hours.

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Overworking kills, by the numbers

Jay is so overwhelmed with work, he schedules "me time" on his iPad such as leisurely YouTube viewing.

"Sa akin kasi, naghahanap ako lagi ng something that I would be really proud of sa sarili ko. Makita ko sa sarili ko na I'm doing something really good...parang I'm not totally worthless," he said.

While telework is flexible, companies cutting back on costs mean some people need to take on heavier workloads, for the same salary, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Around 488 million people or 8.9% of the people in the world in 2016 worked 55 hours and more per week than the standard 35-40 hours a week, according to the WHO-ILO study. That's at least 11 hours of work per weekday.

Overwork takes its toll later in life. Of the 745,000 who died due to heart disease and stroke, the fatalities aged 60 to 79 worked long hours when they were in their mid-40s. Long work hours are more common among men, the middle-aged, and those living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia.

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Chronic stress kills

Not all stress is bad as the body is equipped to deal with it in small doses. Chronic stress, however, sends the body into overdrive, disturbing normal functions and leading to health problems, according to the American Psychological Association.

Common stress-busters such as tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy eating, and reduced physical activity can compound the toll of stress on the body, the study said.

"It's time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO's Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health.

How to avoid dying from stress, overwork

Aside from the physical toll, overworking can also affect a person's mood and behavior, Life Coach Philippines' Hasmin Miroy told reportr.

Miroy shared a few tips on how to stop overworking:

1. Declutter the mind.

Just like taking out the trash, everyone should declutter their minds of negative thoughts. When you're feeling overworked, give yourself a few minutes to breathe and take note of the things that you need to let go of, especially those outside your control.

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Someone at work pissed you off? Maybe you can let it go. "Yung natira that is within your control, start to prioritize," Miroy said.

2. Focus on what truly matters.

Identifying what's essential will help you determine what to let go of and what to keep, Miroy said. Is it quality time with family? It means you have to set aside time for it. Is it earning more money? You have to figure out how much you really want or need, she said.

3. Learn how to say 'no.'

Set healthy boundaries to keep yourself sane while taking on heavy workloads, Miroy said. Learn when to commit to additional workload and when to refuse it.

4. Schedule rest, recreation

Boost happy hormones by taking a break, exercising, listening to music, or cooking and enjoying your favorite meal. Do the things that you love so you'll be energized, Miroy said.

For Jay, scroll through Facebook or Twitter and watch vlogs without guilt. You deserve it.

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5. Talk to someone

Those who overwork may not know they're on overdrive unless someone tells them. "They have to acknowledge it because that's the time they can really take action," Miroy said.

Talking to others can help you realize coping mechanisms differ among people, and it's okay, according to Jay.

"You have to unload somehow and share what's happening to you. You'll realize na you're not alone with your struggles."

Hasmin Miroy is one of the many professional life coaches in Life Coach Philippines. Check out this page for their services.

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