Health-related job stress has become a worldwide problem. A Gallup Poll reported that 80% of American workers suffer some type of stress on the job. And half say they need help learning how to manage it. According to research, chronic work stress can be just as bad for your mental and physical well-being as smoking cigarettes and can lead to premature death. Here are some bad work habits that can contribute to poor health, low job performance and early demise.

Be A Desk Potato

Most Americans spend an average of 10 hours a day in a car, at the computer or in front of TV. If you sit a lot, you’re more likely to build stress, gain weight and develop heart disease and diabetes. Mounting evidence shows conclusively that one of the biggest factors that contribute to premature death is sitting too much. Your body was not designed for long periods of sitting. Studies show that parking yourself for more than four to six hours a day puts you at an 80% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

According to an American Cancer Society study, women who sat more than six hours per day were 34% more likely to die than those who were more active. The same figure for men was 18%. On the flipside, the American College of Sports Medicine reports that workers who exercise a minimum of 45 minutes a week take 25 to 50% fewer sick days. And British scientists report that middle-agers who exercise at least twice a week are 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than couch potatoes. So something’s working here.

Regular exercise, on the other hand, strengthens the heart, brain, muscles, bones and immune system. After just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, your brain releases endocannabinoids (morphine-like neurotransmitters secreted by the brain during exercise that function as the body’s natural pain killers, creating a sense of euphoria) that give you a natural high and a positive outlook on life. Just moving around can cut your risk of sudden cardiac arrest by 92%. Plus, when you get moving, physical tension and mental stress melt away, and the solution to a mulled-over problem becomes crystal clear.

Have A Pessimistic Outlook

Pessimism is a career and life killer. Statistics show that on average pessimists live seven and a half years less than optimists. One study of 2,800 heart patients reported that those optimistic about their heart disease were more likely to lie 15 years longer than those with a pessimistic outlook. Heart patients pessimistic about their condition were 30 % more likely to die during the study period. And Dutch scientists report that the death rate of optimistic men is 63% lower than their bellyaching peers; for women, optimism reduced the death rate by 35%. Optimism is some of the best medicine to boost your career, no matter how dire the circumstances. If you’re an optimist, you’re more likely to scoot up the career ladder faster and farther than a pessimist. One study showed that sales personnel with an optimistic outlook sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists. Other studies show that you adopt healthier habits, too. Statistics reveal that you have a lower stress level and a more stable cardiovascular system than average, and you have a stronger immune system. You’re happier, have fewer health complaints, healthier relationships and live an average of seven and a half years longer than average.

Don’t Get Enough Shut Eye

A whopping 52% of Americans say work stress interferes with sleep. And if you’re not getting enough, that spells trouble. A long-term sleep study shows that people who sleep less than six hours at night have a decline in brain function equivalent to aging four to seven years. Infrequent trips to the land of nod interferes with memory and learning. Your brain moves slower. You’re more forgetful, your attention is short-circuited and you’re grumpier. Studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re at greater risk of stroke, and your risk of death from heart disease more than doubles. Lack of sleep is also linked to depression, impaired immune system function, weight gain, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.

Grab, Gobble, Gulp And Go

If you’re like many job-stressed Americans (an estimated 75% according to experts), you practice mindless eating because work takes precedence over your well-being. You hit the ground running, grab a Danish, and scurry out the door to work, sloshing coffee on your clothes as you rush to the office. Maybe you even skip lunch altogether or eat a taco while digging through piles of work at your desk. Perhaps in the evening you throw a frozen dinner in the oven in time to help the kids with their homework. The next morning, you hop on the (not so merry) merry-go-round and repeat the same routine until week’s end.

In an attempt to keep your energy up, regular use of stimulant drinks boosts the release of chronically elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels, putting your brain and body into the hyper-aroused state of fight-or-flight survival mode. This red alert prompts your body to overreact to normal daily stressors, causing your blood pressure and pulse rates to climb and your emotions to run roughshod over your actions. Irritability and anxiety—which can lead to inappropriate acting out in the workplace—are the most common negative emotional outcomes of caffeine.

If you’re like many frenzied workers, you grab, gobble, gulp and go without paying attention to your hunger or taste. Sometimes reaching for comfort food is such an automatic habit you don’t realize you’re doing it. Starches and sweets act like natural tranquilizers that calm you down in times of last-minute deadlines. When you’re slammed, you’re more likely to eat fattening, high-calorie foods and to feel like your eating is out of control. Fast foods, frozen dinners and comfort foods are convenient and appealing. When you’re work stressed, eating becomes a task to complete instead of an experience to enjoy. You’re more likely to eat quickly and to overeat without really tasting your food. If you gulp down a Coke, hamburger and fries so you can hurry back to the office, you’re stress eating, which only raises your stress level. You’re feeding your stress instead of managing it. Your best Rx is to steer clear of eating while standing, driving, on the run or watching TV. Treat mealtime as a singular activity with value in its own right. Sitting down, eating slowly, and chewing a few times before swallowing, paying attention to textures, aromas and flavors of your food help you to relax and enjoy your meal as well as aid in digestion. Plus, it gives your stomach time to tell your brain when it’s full, and you are less likely to eat as much.

Rise And Grind

Some think it’s hip to work 24/7 with no breaks. They proudly announce that they binge for 18 hours or three days on a project with little or no sleep or food—shunning down time or vacations. If this sounds like you, you can showboat the hustle culture now and wear it as a badge of honor. But in the long run, studies show you will have a slow demise. You cut your career short, destroy your mental and physical health, impair relationships and die an earlier death than your cohorts.

The hustle lifestyle not only steals your soul, it impairs your mental and physical health. It can even lead to death—known as karoshi in Japan, where ten thousand workers a year keel over at their desks from stroke or heart attack after putting in 60-to-70 hour workweeks. It’s counter-intuitive, but studies show plodding makes you more efficient and productive and puts you at the finish line in time, plus you get to enjoy life instead of rushing through it. Consider eating, walking and driving slower to prevent the cumulative effects of stress that lead to burnout and premature death. Tell yourself there’s a limit to what you can do and put the rest out of the picture. Start to see this attitude not as weakness but strength.

Play It Safe

Statistics show that you have more stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. Fear of failure leads to fear of success. If you seek safety at work in routines and avoiding risking the unfamiliar or unexpected, you are actually avoiding success. Routines are secure and comforting, but they can become stale and confining. Studies show that risk takers are happier, smarter and live longer. They climb the company ladder faster, make more money and are more content with their lives. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that getting outside your comfort zone can actually extend your life. Going on vacation and doing vigorous outdoor activities actually reduced the risk of untimely death and heart disease in a group of at-risk middle-aged men.

Career growth and a long, healthy life happen outside your comfort zone. Studies show that you have a greater chance of achieving success if you stick your neck out. The solution? Stretch yourself. Instead of fleeing from career unknowns, step into the unfamiliar and unexpected, embrace novelty and build your resilience. What edge can you go to in your work today? What unpredictable bridge can you jump off to sprout your wings? What limb can you reach to get to the fruit of the tree?


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: