Diabetes recently taught me a powerful lesson about work stress. My blood glucose levels went through the metaphorical roof in December. “Through the roof” is probably an understatement. I went so far above the recommended levels it was like trying to find your house from a passenger jet flying overhead.
When I think back to December a few possible causes come to mind:
- My diet wasn’t as good as it could have been. I had slipped back into some bad habits with high GI foods and a little more sugar intake than I should have.
- I was pretty stressed at work. It was the holiday season and and the end of the quarter so we were under pressure on two fronts.
- I picked up a cold (what doctors call a “viral thing” and what I am going to start calling “Viralthingitis” in future) and it degenerated to borderline pneumonia before I finally took a few days off to rest.
My blood glucose levels always go for a loop when I get sick and I tended not to test myself every two days like I am supposed to when I got sick. Firstly, it was pretty disconcerting to see my levels jump so dramatically and, secondly, I was lazy in my approach to monitoring my levels.
December became January and my levels were still really high. I eventually contacted my doctor in late January and she sent me for blood tests. The results confirmed my high readings (I thought my tester may have been faulty) and when I went to discuss the results with her partner, she couldn’t really attribute the changes to specific triggers. It could have been the virus. It could have been my poor control. In all likelihood it was both and, in retrospect, probably some stress too.
What was clear was that my body had changed. I was stricter with my diet in January and my levels still didn’t reduce so my medication changed to include insulin (still pills, thank goodness) and I’ve been on that for just over a month.
Last weekend I finally saw my levels drop down to the upper limits of “normal” and I thought I was on the path to not dying early. The following work day I arrived at work at our new offices (we just moved to a great new space in Tel Aviv from Ramat Gan).
The first day in the new offices was fairly stressful for me for various reasons. I realised how much my work stress affected me emotionally when I found myself being pretty short with our kids that night even though they were actually pretty well behaved. It was only the following morning that I saw just how much it affected me, physiologically. My blood glucose test result jumped dramatically again.
When I saw the blood glucose test result that Monday morning (our week starts on Sunday) I was shocked. I had been working so hard on bringing my blood glucose level down to a normal range and keeping it there only to see this dramatic change in such a short time period and due to stress at my office. It really shifted my perspective on work stress. Not only were the issues that caused the stress affecting me emotionally and impacting my relationships with my kids and wife, the stress was potentially deadly in the medium term. If I had this sort of stress on an ongoing basis, it would literally kill me.
That particular realisation was powerful because it gave me a new and very personal perspective on unhealthy working environments. It also reminded me that there are two ways to handle stressful situations. The first is to change the situation and defuse the tension. The second is to change your attitude towards the situation and remove the triggers.
Work is often stressful and a level of work stress is a given. When your stress increases to the point where your health is so dramatically affected by it, it is probably time to rethink either how you respond to stress or find another job (if you can). I certainly found myself with that choice that Monday morning. I opted for changing how I’d respond to the sorts of issues that caused my stress. That is often easier said than done and it takes a constant effort to make those little course corrections throughout your day but if you consider the alternatives, you don’t really have much choice. It can literally be a matter of life and death.
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