In my Integrative and Functional Medicine practice, hardly a day goes by when I don’t see several patients suffering with a touch of corporatitis maximus (CM). While you won’t find CM defined on Wikipedia or easily searched on Google, you will find it lurking in the minds and bodies of stressed-out, over-extended, over-committed employees of corporations, everywhere.
So what exactly is CM? Well, to be honest, it’s a catchall phrase I use to describe the cornucopia of mind/body ailments that tend to arise when a patient’s life and how they’re living it is in direct conflict with who they are or wish to be. Over time, these conflicts begin to express themselves via a number of physical symptoms that diminish a patient’s quality of life to the point where they feel lousy most of the time, inadvertently setting the stage for larger health complications and even diseases down the road. Simply put, though CM starts in your head, before long it takes your body along with it. Prolonged periods of exhaustion and being perpetually out of sorts start to wear down our immune systems, eroding the body’s ability to heal itself and enabling the body to slip out of balance with frequent colds that go on far too long, allergy flare-ups, aches and pains, headaches, digestive problems, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, sleeplessness and moodiness, testiness, depression and listlessness.
If all this sounds disturbingly familiar, then you may be in the wrong job. Realistically though, there are mortgages to pay and kids to educate, so for most of us simply “dropping out” is not an option. The question then becomes, then, “How do we combat corporatitis — short of moving to a hut in Tibet?” I suggest taking the integrative approach and battle the corporatitis beast on both the emotional and physical fronts. To do that, try a few of my corporatitis-busting tips to help restore balance, regain your health and start living again:
- Step away from the water-cooler. In other words, be aware of office scuttlebutt and gossip, but don’t be an active participant. Gossip is rarely positive and mostly speculative, so why fill your head with scenarios that may never come to pass, or events you can’t control? If you’re going to keep your spirits up, don’t allow yourself to be pulled into the fray.
- Allow obsessive thoughts, to a point. Set a time limit — or even an egg timer — on how long you will allow yourself to obsess over a work problem. Be it 10 minutes or 45, when time’s up, move on. Come back to the problem later in the day, but give your brain a rest now, so it can come up with a solution more organically later. Give your head a chance to go with the flow.
- Just say no, graciously. Many of us have trouble saying “no” to co-workers, friends and relatives, so we say “yes,” and wind up taking on far more than we can reasonably handle. Next time, instead of saying “yes,” deliver the bad news with a positive spin, using phrases like, “That’s a great idea but…” or, “I would love to, but…” or, “That sounds wonderful but…” Follow the “but” with a polite reason why you can’t honor the request. It will make saying “no” a lot easier for you to say, and easier for them to hear.
- Push back with finesse. Saying “no” to the boss is a bit more challenging, particularly if you plan to keep your job. One way to do it is to ask the boss to help you prioritize your current projects as new ones are assigned. Not only will this remind the boss of all you’re working on, but it will also make your boss accountable for clarifying and identifying priorities.
- Keep moving. Incorporate exercise into your life every day, even if you have to break it into 15 minutes in the morning and another 15 minutes after work. Just move! Exercise will enhance mood, encourage weight loss, calm the mind, improve the function of just about every system in the body and help take the edge off some of those not-so-nice feelings you might have about your toxic boss. Not a lot of spare time to exercise? Then take a tip from one of my patients who recently installed an inexpensive exercise peddler under her desk at the office, and now pedals her way through her daily conference calls.
- Then, put on the breaks. Just as important as exercise is relaxation. While it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to stretch out for a lunchtime power nap (a la “Mad Men’s” Don Draper), after work, take time to do a bit of restorative yoga, a short meditation or a few deep breathing exercises. Try self-massage, using your body weight on a foam roller or tennis ball rolled over pressure points and sore spots.
- Give yourself a time-out with meditation. Take a few minutes off during the day to try one of the thousands of free guided meditations available online to help refresh your mind and spirit. How to find the time? Download a meditation and listen to it on the train to work or find a quiet spot to tune in during your lunch break. Meditation is a great way to re-center yourself, clear your mind and give yourself a bit of much needed “me time.”
- Give yourself a Sabbath, and stick to it. Ideally, try to unplug from your electronic devices for one day a week. If that’s not possible, then at minimum, commit to not being accessible for brief periods of time. Unplug responsibly, though, by letting staff and/or bosses know when you’ll be unavailable.
- Unstuff your life. Take steps to liberate yourself from the oppressiveness of keeping up with the Joneses and embrace the joys of a simpler life, a smaller house and the ease of owning (and owing) less. Not convinced stuff makes all that much of a difference? Watch a couple of episodes of “Hoarders” or “Enough Already” to get a sense of the tyranny of too much stuff.
- Sleep it off. Corporatitis gains the upper hand when the quality of your sleep is poor or you don’t get enough. Take at least one hour to prepare yourself for sleep. In that transition time, do something relaxing, like taking a hot bath or some restorative yoga. My favorite chill-out pose is reclining belt pose. When it’s time to hit the hay, make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark. Banish light with blackout curtains and cover lights from charging phones, flashing caller I.D. boxes, sleeping laptops or light-up alarm clocks with a bit of electrical tape. And if you can’t darken your room completely, get an eye mask.
- Replace “dieting” with eating intelligently. Stop or cut down radically on sugar, processed foods, refined and junk foods. Slowly switch your diet over to predominately plant foods, ideally fresh and organic if possible. Although you should know how to read a food label, most of the food you eat should not have labels. Try eating a variety of different foods — the more colorful the better. Follow these basic principles as closely as you can to create a leaner, stronger, more resilient body that’s less prone to corporatitis-induced illness and weight fluctuations.
- Supplement your health and happiness. Do this not with wine or Ambien, but with natural, health-supporting nutrients and supplements that encourage the body to return to a healthier, sustainable state of wellness. For optimal function, we all need to take various supplements depending on our age, diseases, stress level etc., so work with your health care practitioner to create a personalized supplement plan to help you achieve and maintain optimal health in a challenging world.
- Connect with a community. Step outside of the office and connect with a community that’s not work-related. The idea is to broaden your circle of friends and acquaintances to literally open up your world, your heart and your perspective. Be it an informal book group or organized neighborhood committee, joining a community is a great way to step outside the daily office grind and connect with others.
- Practice Ubuntu. We all tend to get caught up with our own “dramas,” which keeps us in our heads and takes up a lot of energy. When we stop focusing on ourselves and are sharing or being compassionate to others, we let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety about our own dilemmas. In fact, we often actually receive more than we give.