Doing What You Love is Good For Your Health

‘Do what you love for work and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ Sounds fabulous right? So why isn’t everyone doing what they love as a career? There is not one simple answer, it might be too hard to make money from your passion, or you could be too scared to make a change, you might not know exactly what your passion is, or you might even think that you don’t mind you job. But here’s a tip, if you are counting down the days to your next holiday or the years to retirement...then you don’t like your job. We can always come up with excuses for why we are not doing what we love, but there is one very compelling reason to think very seriously about starting: Your Health.

How Can Your Job Can Harm Your Body?

Yes, someone has taken the time to find real scientific and medical proof that doing a job that you don’t enjoy actually shortens your lifespan. Dr Lissa Rankin is a doctor turned author that was interested in holistic health.  She had been in clinical practice for 10 years when she realised that her work with patients wasn’t helping the vast majority. So, she embarked on analysing medical journals and data from some of the most reputable medical establishments in the world. This is what she discovered: Diet and exercise, whilst important, were not the top indicators of health. It was the way we live our life, our happiness and our perceived fulfilment, that have MORE impact on our health. Illness and disease stem from putting our bodies in a constant state of stress. Her findings have been published in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.

You’re probably aware that work stress isn’t good for you. Think about meeting a deadline, working long hours or getting negative feedback from a boss, colleague or tense up, you get tired, or you get angry, feels bad right? But do you understand exactly how work stress harms the body? No matter what the cause of the stress, the hypothalamus of the limbic system (old part of your brain) sends signals to the pituitary gland. This gland then communicates with the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys to release hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. This was great back in the cave man days when we needed to elevate our heart rate and blood pressure for a burst of energy to out run a Sabre Tooth Tiger. But nowadays our bodies are constantly exposed to these hormones due to stressful situations like work (our hypothalamus doesn’t know the difference between tigers and deadlines). It is known as the “fight-or-flight” physiological stress response and is triggered by activating our sympathetic nervous system. It exposes every cell in our bodies to these harmful stress hormones, but even worse, it actually draws blood away from the organs and systems needed for self-repair. So our body’s ability to kill cancer cells, fight infections, repair broken proteins, slow aging etc is compromised.

If that wasn’t enough to scare you, here is an interesting fact: Work stress can actually kill you. The Japanese have studied this and even have a name for it – karoshi = “death by overwork”. Japanese officials estimate that approximately 10,000 cases of karoshi occur each year. In America, one study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000, looked at 12,000 men over nine years and found that those who didn’t take annual vacations had a 21% higher risk of death from all causes, and were 32% more likely to die of a heart attack. 

But onto some good news...

The Solution…Do What You Love

Our bodies do have an opposite state to the stress response; it is called the relaxation response. The relaxation response (otherwise known as ‘rest and digest’) is the triggering of the parasympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, we don’t have the harmful stress hormones floating around the body. It activates the body’s self-repair mechanisms, nourishing all organs, so the body can do what it does best – heal itself. You may have come into contact with people who do what they love for a living. Did you notice anything about them? People who do what they love for a living tend to live happier and more productive lives. It could also improve your home life, Melissa Heisler, a personal and business coach, says: "Instead of coming home with stress and tension headaches, we return home at night with more energy for ourselves and our families". It also stands to reason that your psychological well-being and health will improve since you are doing what you love, you won’t feel burdened doing it. You will have fun and, who doesn’t want a happy work day?

So if you think your job might be putting your health at risk, what can you do? The prospect of quitting your job and taking up wildlife photography, writing a novel, opening up a surf school or a B&B might seem out of reach. Heck, it is most likely not financially viable, we all have bills to pay.  You may have even heard this before: “Do what you love and the money will follow” however, it isn't that simple or easy. It is hard to find a way to do what you love and still make enough money to support yourself (and family), but please don’t despair, we have some advice to help you on your way.

How to Do It!

First step is...knowing what you love, finding your heart’s purpose. Some of you might know already, but if you don’t, here are a few questions you may need to ask yourself:

  •         What did you love doing when you were a kid?
  •         What was your dream job as a kid?
  •         What do you love doing?
  •         What do you ‘lose time’ doing?
  •         What do people say you are good at/compliment you on when you do it?
  •         What always puts you in a good mood?

When you have decided on what you want to do, the hard work begins. Don’t be fooled, it is hard to embark on the journey of following the heart. Succeeding in anything requires a great deal of work, uncertainty and risk, it isn’t all going to be roses, but it is not all manure either. Here are some tips for you.

Figure out how to make a profit: Spend some time brainstorming on how to make profit from your passion, look at it for all angles. Melanie Connallee, president of the MLC Group said "Look at it from the buyer’s perspective, the end user’s perspective and the audience perspective."She said, for example, “people who love art could fund their passions in several ways, including by teaching art, working in a gallery or doing portraits”. You can also overlap your current job with your passion in order to eventually make the transition into your passion full time.

Give it your time and be flexible: It’s not going to happen if you keep putting it off, so start today. Carve out some time every day to devote to your planning. Having said that it is advisable not to be too attached or set on only ONE way, experiment, if one avenue shuts down re-asses the plan and keep going.

Ask those who have boldly gone before you: Talk to people who are in the same or similar industries. Study what they have done or ask one to be a mentor.You might even be able to take some classes or get some professional instruction on the industry.

Ask for help: You might not be able to start your own business right off the bat, but you could gain work in the same or related field to gain skills. Also,use your network and resources, someone in your network may have a skill that can help you e.g. website builder, photographer etc.

Be patient, one step at a time: You are not going to love every step of the journey, so keep your ultimate goal in mind, and try to appreciate where you are today.

Observe people: Everything in business is about people, if you understand your customer, you are half way there.

Hopefully, we have inspired you to at least think about following your heart. But what if you still can’t (or won’t) quit your job? Well, the good news is you can still take action to reduce stress. Activate your relaxation response by maybe taking up a meditating practice. You can also get on the mat and do some yoga, you can even take a 5 min break at your desk and do some chair yoga. Other options are have a good laugh, dancing or playing with animals. Try and reduce your stress at work by setting boundaries (no more 12 hour days)...or there is always an option of taking a holiday, even a long weekend will help you rest and relax.


Western Wellness Team

(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)