Overworking May Be Harming Your Brain – Are You Too Busy To Notice?Ceasar Augustus Paita
In today’s fast-paced workplace, work and life seem to blur together. We constantly feel as if we have so much to do, but there isn’t enough time to get it all done. Our “always-on” society means many professionals work long hours and often sacrifice their health. While overworking may have advantages to your career, what cost is this having on your cognitive health?
Why Overworking Is Bad For Your Brain
If you’re a workaholic, it’s time to consider how overworking affects your brain and how the cognitive decline associated with it will affect your performance in the future. Frequent overworking usually leads to chronic stress and burnout. Long-term stress exhausts the brain pathways, which may not function properly when needed by the hippocampus during learning or retrieval. Work-related burnout causes accelerated thinning of the frontal cortex and enlarged amygdala, leading to memory, attentional, and emotional difficulties.
A Whitehall II study has found that overworking can hasten age-related memory loss or cognitive decline. The participants completed several cognitive tests in short-term memory, vocabulary, semantic fluency, reasoning, and phonemic fluency. Those who worked more than 55 hours per week scored lower than those who worked 40 hours per week.
Another cross-sectional study conducted on 248 automotive workers found a correlation between overworking and impaired performance based on tests of executive function and attention. Those who worked 9-12 hour shifts showed deterioration in cognitive performance compared to those who worked an 8-hour shift. An increased work time led to impaired grammatical reasoning, alertness, depression, fatigue, and confusion.
These findings are particularly important because they reveal the effects of longer hours at work on employees, which is vital for employers and managers to know when planning projects.
Overstimulation Of The Brain
Neuroscientists have long known that humans can do only so much cognitive work before you’re mentally spent. 40 hours is the traditional workweek, but it’s becoming harder to work within this timeframe with workloads you have to finish and the deadlines you have to meet. Working more than 8 hours per day can overwhelm your cognitive skills and overload your thinking process.
When you are overworking, your brain may max out with overstimulation. When you are overwhelmed with information, it can be harder (or even impossible) to process it all. A study was conducted on mice to test how overstimulation of the brain in infancy led to deficits in cognition. It was shown that overstimulated mice exhibited poorer short-term memory and impaired learning.
Increase In Cortisol Levels
Stress is inevitable if you work too much. Your body deals with this by releasing a stress hormone called cortisol, which stays elevated when you’re constantly overworking. If cortisol levels stay high for too long, it may damage brain cells in the hippocampus and can lead to memory loss and brain fog over time. Working more than 40 hours per week may lead to a decline in attention and focus, as well as an increase in fatigue and confusion.
Bad Habits That Come With Overworking
It’s common for people to believe that working overtime will help them accomplish more tasks. The problem with this widely known practice is that it can unconsciously push people to the point where they develop bad habits. When you’re overworked, it’s hard to follow a healthy lifestyle.
Unable to exercise. If you’re working long hours, it’s easy to let exercise fall off your to-do list. You also find yourself in a sedentary lifestyle, sitting all day in front of the computer with no other physical activity.
Sleep deprivation. Some workers are obsessed with productivity and getting more done. They can burn out, and may miss out on countless hours of sleep. Working more hours can lead to less sleep, and your brain doesn’t operate as well when you’re tired.
Skipping meals. You tend to forget to eat on time when you’re too engrossed in your work. Skipping meals and rushing through your lunch for meetings can lower energy levels and cause your blood sugar levels to drop. Aside from skipping meals, you opt for poor or unhealthy food choices like microwaveable packed meals and junk foods (ultra-processed foods) to satisfy your hunger, or you tend to overeat later in the day.
Substance Abuse. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs, or smoking to alleviate the stress associated with overworking. It can decrease your productivity, affect your ability to think clearly and make sound judgments, increase your chances of being injured while at work, and impair your ability to concentrate.
Many recreational drugs and alcohol affect a person’s ability to learn, remember information, and make decisions. This is due to how psychoactive substances impact the structure and function of neurons in the brain. While some substances (like drinking alcohol) have temporary effects, others have more chronic effects. Smoking attracts users through its immediate effects and highly addictive qualities, but it can have adverse long-term health consequences.
Affecting your social life. Sometimes, overworking can also get in the way of your relationships. You may not have time to talk and connect in the way that really counts. Even though you may keep up appearances at work, always busy to impress your colleagues and clients, you may miss out on your anniversary or your daughter’s ballet recital. Your crucial social relationships outside of work may be compromised and neglected. Having a strong social network outside your workplace is important because it can help you deal with stress and reduce loneliness. It can also improve your memory and cognitive ability. Socializing can stimulate attention and memory, which helps strengthen neural networks. This increase in mental activity boosts your cognitive functions.
Ways To Avoid Overworking And Help Your Brain
There’s a fine line between productivity and overworking. You tend to overdo yourself to produce more output, but you have to think of your productivity in the long run and not just momentarily. The goal is to find ways not to overload yourself and still create great results at work. Productivity coupled with peak brain performance is best achieved through flexibility, organization, time management, and motivation to break bad habits. Here are a few tips on how to avoid working while preserving your brain health.
- Take your breaks. Borna Bonakdarpour, a behavioral neurologist, says, “The brain needs to rest. Research shows that for every two hours of focused work, you need about 20 to 30 minutes of break.”
- Manage your time properly. Time management is a crucial skill for most professionals. Without a proper time management strategy, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and spread too thin. This makes it difficult to accomplish goals, and ultimately leads to feeling stressed. In order to avoid this, you need to manage your time effectively and efficiently. You can use many time management strategies, such as the Pomodoro technique and the Eisenhower Matrix.
- Set boundaries. You cannot completely avoid overworking. Sometimes it is ok, but overworking almost daily can affect your overall health and job satisfaction. Establishing limits for yourself and coworkers will help lessen burnout. It is ok to clock out when it is time to. Communicating work-life balance with your superiors may be an option if you feel like your work is taking over your life.
- Connect with your friends and family. Sometimes, overtime pay or getting one more task done is not worth compromising your relationships. Healthy and positive social interactions help you deal with stress and are good for your mental health. Make time for your son’s school play or dinner with your family.
- Find time to exercise. Even a 15-minute exercise every day can improve your brain function.
- Eat right and on time. Don’t skip meals and avoid eating ultra-processed foods, unhealthy microwaveable or packed meals, and junk food.
- Make sure to get deep restorative sleep each night. A good night’s sleep is critical for learning and memory. Sleep deprivation causes impairment in your cognitive function, specifically in procedural and declarative memory.
- Manage your stress levels. There are many healthy ways to help alleviate stress. Meditation, practising mindfulness, starting a hobby you truly enjoy, and keeping a gratitude journal are ways to reduce stress levels.
- Take a brain supplement like Vivolor Memory Support. It’s a natural mega-supplement with carefully-selected ingredients scientifically proven to enhance memory and address cognitive decline. Each ingredient was selected because of its powerful effects on inflammation, oxidation, blood sugar, and lipids plus improvements in cognition, memory, attention, and processing speed.
Working longer hours may be rewarding for your career, but the price your brain pays may not be worth it. Overworking is not good for your cognition and can lead to mental health problems in the future. The effects of overworking can be dreadful. You may feel scatterbrained and in a haze that sometimes leaves you wondering if some work days even went by. You could be suffering from mental exhaustion and not even realize it. It’s time to assess your workload and figure out what’s healthy for your brain. By working smart, you may be able to create processes and procedures that make it easier for you to do your job while also allowing you to focus on the most important tasks at hand. Do you find yourself overworking? Are you thinking about finding ways to avoid overworking? Share your thoughts with us in our Memory Support Group.