andrewthesmart27 karma2014-10-04 20:25:38 UTC
There is mounting clinical and neuroscientific evidence that chronic work-related stress causes negative changes to our brains. Your ability to manage negative emotions is reduced, which leads to more stress, and eventually can cause depression. Some of the changes that chronic occupational stress causes may even be irreversible. Especially working long hours increases your risk of coronary heart disease by 40% for example. That is almost as dangerous as smoking. There are many studies and they are all converging on a pretty similar conclusion - no matter how you look at it work is bad for you.
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andrewthesmart25 karma2014-10-04 21:02:38 UTC
I think this is very interesting question. The great psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about the flow state. Very crudely, this is achieved when cognitive demand and your skill level are optimally balanced and you can enter the zone so to speak. I think creative people seek this flow state while working. And it can be immensely rewarding. There is evidence that writing for example, even just keeping a journal reduces your risk for depression. But our brains run on glucose which our brains use to make electricity, which is used by our neurons to communicate with each other, and of course there are limits to our brains metabolism - just from an energy consumption standpoint. So even when you are in a zone writing a song or painting a masterpiece your brain will run out of energy eventually. Then it is necessary to rest. And I write about in my book how a few famous artists and scientists, like the poet Rilke and Newton, seemed to have their greatest insights while sitting around doing nothing. This is perhaps because part of the brain which is involved with creativity becomes much more active while we are resting. And so I make the argument that to have really great insights you should be idle more often.
But for sure, chronic stress damages the brain. And I think that mindless repetitive work that you don't want to do causes stress. In fact, in general probably, work that you don't want to do in the first place probably causes you stress just by the mere fact of having to do it. Then when you have a lot of work that you don't like doing I would bet that this increases your stress level to really dangerous levels, where it starts affecting your cardiovascular system for example.
andrewthesmart20 karma2014-10-04 20:41:13 UTC
Thank you! Thanks for AingMA. My book talks about what is called the brain's default mode network. This was discovered about 15 years ago by accident. When subjects were laying in the brain scanner just daydreaming, researchers noticed a spike in activity in a brain network that actually deactivated during demanding cognitive tasks. Since then hundreds of papers have published about the default mode network. It turns out that our brains need to be allowed to space out to process memories, and maintain emotional health. Working all the time suppresses activity in the default mode network, and over time this leads to all kinds of negative effects - poor concentration, memory loss, forgetfulness, and less creativity.
There was a study that showed checking your email 30-40 times an hour leads to a 10 point loss in IQ. There are now many studies that show multitasking and long working hours severely reduce cognitive performance on all kinds of tasks.
I don't know about an optimal point where we do not have negative cognitive and emotional effects from work. But one thing is clear - we work far too much. And in fact I would argue it makes us much less productive!
andrewthesmart18 karma2014-10-04 21:54:52 UTC
The labor ministry of Germany for example just banned off-hours email. I talk about smoking a lot, but I see the situation as very similar. When evidence started to come out that smoking was very dangerous people had a hard time accepting it. Then there was a kind of tipping point when the evidence became just overwhelming and we all started to know people personally who died from smoking. Then policies started to change - radically. Smoking bans in bars for example, which up until they were enforced were almost unimaginable. How can you not allow people to smoke in bar? Now smokers are almost shunned everywhere. Everybody knows and accepts that smoking will shorten your life in one way or another.
I really think the same is true for work - at least the kind work we do now. Low levels of chronic stress, low physical activity, far too many demanding tasks, being connected 24/7 - all damage our health over time.
In my opinion we have to fundamentally change how we approach work. I for one am a fan of implemented a 4 hour work day. Kellog's did an interesting study many years which showed that reducing the work day to 6 hours actually increased productivity. Many people scoff at the idea. And of course especially in the technology industry, in the medical industry, working long hours is some kind of badge of honor. But the evidence is just too strong - this practice is just dangerous. Of course people should have the right to do it to themselves - just like smoking I suppose. But I don't think smokers have the right to force me to breath second-hand smoke. In a similar way, I don't think employers should be allowed to force people, or make people feel pressured, to work dangerously long hours.
andrewthesmart17 karma2014-10-04 22:48:09 UTC
I don't want to give advice really - but FWIW these are my top tips for what I think helps maintain a healthy mind:
1) Give up busyness and don't work so much
2) Reduce stress as much as possible
3) Exercise a lot
4) Read for fun
5) Play music
6) Cuddle a lot with people you love
7) Hang out a lot with your family and friends
9) Drink wine with family and friends
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