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24/7 Philosophy Is Creating Epidemic of Weary Workers

WebMD Health News

April 18, 2001 -- Tired? Beat? Worn out? Frazzled? Join the club. Total exhaustion is 'in,' and it's sweeping the country like a virus, according to a pair of Atlanta-based market researchers.

But before the news adds to your stress level, know that experts say that there's a cure for working to death that will restore balance, relieve stress, and refresh the spirit.

Bonnie Ulman and Robert Simmerman, PhD, who run the Haystack Group in Atlanta, tell WebMD that super or hyper exhaustion is a phenomenon of the last 10 years. "What we've found is that unlike burnout and stress of the '70s and early '80s, super exhaustion has several qualities that resemble a virus. First it does seem to be 'catching,' psychologically," says Simmerman.

He says, for example, that a super-exhausted husband who is physically and mentally depleted will 'spread' the 'virus' to his wife, who will then become 'depleted.' Mom and Dad will both spread it to children. "When that happens, there is really no place for these people to go to become replenished," he says.

Simmerman and Ulman have produced a detailed study of super exhaustion. An unnamed client commissioned the study, which will be released in a few weeks, they say. Although they would not quote directly from the study, the partners agreed to discuss the study in a general way.

Ulman says that the booming economy of the last 18 years promoted hyper exhaustion with "the 'you snooze, you lose' approach to business that tells people they should be working 16 hour days." She says that many people regard exhaustion as a badge of accomplishment.

Simmerman says that former President Bill Clinton is a good example of this approach. Clinton was well known for "pulling all-nighters." But Simmerman says that in recent interviews the former president has admitted that he sometimes made judgment errors when going too long without sleep.

President George W. Bush, on the other hand, is on record as a supporter of a 9-to-5 approach to the presidency and is also "a believer in power naps. We are going to be tracking the public and media reaction to President Bush," says Simmerman.

But irrespective of presidential lifestyles, Ulman and Simmerman say that super exhaustion is hazardous to the nation's physical, emotional, and economic health. Simply put: Tired people make mistakes, act irrationally, and are probably not as productive as they claim to be.

Beyond making errors or bad judgment calls, exhaustion can make you sick, says Stephen Lamm, MD, a New York internist who is a frequent guest on radio talk shows and is the author of The Virility Solution.

More doctors are seeing patients whose primary complaints are "feeling overwhelmed or fatigued. Often these complaints can bring on medical consequences or symptoms," Lamm tells WebMD.

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