7 Ways to Avoid Death Via the Rat Race

In case you haven’t figured it out, the rat race is real, and it can be very dangerous to your health and soul. Whether you work for someone or own a small business and work for multiple clients, chances are you have felt the weight of the rat race. We live in a 24/7 world with access to our work at all moments of day. Unfortunately, the first thing that many of us do in the morning is check our phones and enter a never ending stream of data.

In Japan, death by overwork is a very real problem. According to Economy Watch, thousands of workers die each year after working too much work, and the government is stepping in to change this culture. According to The Guardian, working too much increases your risk for stroke. According to a research report in the article, people working a 55-hour week face 33 percent increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

As we warp through Labor Day weekend, I encourage everyone in the world to take a much needed break from work and to examine the boundaries that you have or haven’t set between your work and life. I don’t want this article to be misunderstood, I love work and I love my job. In fact I love it so much that I can’t get enough of it. I work full time for an awesome company in health care, I co-own my own social marketing consulting company with my beautiful wife, and I volunteer any remaining hours to a non-profit. I consider myself an extremely motivated person. In between all of this work I have dreams of start-ups that will help make the world a slightly better place.

Many of us finish school and we see our friends in different careers buying expensive homes and new cars and it is natural to want the same. But beyond that we have dreams and goals and everything is so expensive. So, we work and work hard to advance in our careers. We have kids and then the real expenses arrive. The more we want and need the harder we work. Soon we are taking on stress, conflicts with other workers, deadlines, mistakes and added pressures from being tired and commuting. When we take this stress ball home and don’t let it out with exercise it can be a disaster.

The rat race can be a trap if you let it take over your life. Here are seven ways to avoid dying from the rat race.

1. Remember to remind yourself.
I took this photo in 1995 in photography class in high school. It was way before the days of photoshop. My sister had rescued a rat from the local pet store that was going to be fed to snakes. It didn’t live that long and soon was slated to be buried in a shoebox in mom and dads back yard. I got some rubber gloves and stole a pack of cigarettes from my sisters secret stash and lit one and created this image. At the time I was trying to do an anti smoking campaign.

When I see this photo today, it is a great reminder to slow down and breathe. The rat race will wait until Monday, there is no need to be logged into your computer all weekend.

2. Do things that make you think of absolutely nothing else.
This summer I got to spend a lot of early weekend mornings in the ocean. Many times it was waiting to ride some waves with my brother-in-law Pete. One morning we got out of the ocean and my sister asked if we think about work or problems while in the ocean. I responded that I sometimes think of my father who has been fighting cancer for two years. Pete responded that he thinks of absolutely nothing besides what wave to surf in, and that is why he loves it. It is probably why some studies show that populations living by the sea are sometimes healthier.

3. Make it count.
If you must work on a few weekends, make sure that it counts. It’s one of the reasons that I chose a career in healthcare. I know that the work that I am doing has value, and that sacrificing a few weekends a year can go a long way to helping patients become more informed about their options.

4. Channel your motivation.
I need more moments like this in my wife. My wife gently reminds me when I am too head down in my work that I am all business. It is hard for me because I have always been motivated to work hard. Money motivates me, but not because I want to make more money than I need. I just want to make enough to not have to worry about bills, to put a little in the bank and to be able to do nice things with my family. At the same time, my work needs to have impact, and money alone will not motivate me.

5. Always remember how short life can be.
Most of us don’t need the reminder on this one. Anyone who has watched a loved one fight a terminal disease knows how to remind themselves how short life can be. Last weekend I was at a farmer’s market in Asbury Park, N.J. and met a man who makes wooden holders for clay flower pots that you hang from a tree. He said he is 58 years old and lost his brother last year and decided to retire and follow his passion building things with his hands. He explained to us that he had no kids so that helped, and he was really enjoying the things he was creating and the joy of sharing them with others.

6. Make an active effort to be present in the moment.
With a sick father and an almost two year old daughter, I have been making an effort lately to be more present in the moment. It is hard and I don’t always do the best at it. Turning off my cell phone seems to help. I should never be reaching for my phone when I am building houses out of blocks with my daughter. I should be asking my dad as many questions as I can about his life and journeys instead of checking my email. It is hard to be present in 2015, but when you put in the effort it is worth the pay off.

7. Learn how to be better with your time.
Time is all that we have in this world, make smart choices with what you do with yours. Like anything time management is key. Set work hours for yourself and try your best to stick with them. Try to watch less YouTube videos and stay off of Facebook while working. Shutdown from working and your computer at least several hours before bed. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock and leave the smartphone outside of the bedroom. Hint, hint to anyone looking to buy me a Christmas present this year.