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Tis' the Season to Be Stressed Out...Gahhh ah ah ah ah!

Tuesday, 18 Dec 2012 | 3:32 PM ET
A.G. Holesch | Getty Images

Ah, the holidays. A time for good food, spending time with loved ones – and checking your email on your BlackBerry.

Sorry, grandma. Just a sec …

Do you plan to work over the holidays? Join the club: One out of every four workers who is taking a vacation this holiday season said they plan to work during their time off, according to a survey by Harris Interactive for vacation club Inspirato.

Of course, the No. 1 reason most people cite is to avoid work piling up at the office (54 percent), with a solid showing for "I don't like being out of the loop." (27 percent)

"As a busy entrepreneur and business owner, I can relate to those who find it challenging to disconnect from the office or are tempted to use the holiday lull to finally get lingering projects done," said Brent Handler, co-founder and CEO of Inspirato. "But the holidays really should be a time to relax, reflect and reconnect with family and friends. If we can't set aside work in favor of spending time with our loved ones during the holidays, when can we?"

(Read more: Gahhhh! What Stresses People Out the Most at Work)

Let's face it: Being overworked is as American as apple pie. In a separate survey, more than 87 percent of business owners, executives,managers, team members and freelancers said they are overworked, according to a recent survey by software maker Wrike.

What's worse, we don't even seem to mind! Being overworked is totally losing its status as a cause of outrage. Nearly 38 percent of those who said they were overworked said they are satisfied with their work-life balance!

Yeah, I feel that I have a great work-stress balance.

(Read more: American's Most Stressful Jobs of 2012 ... and the Least Stressful Jobs)

"I was sitting with my son doing homework and I said to him, 'Hey, slow down and get it right,'" said Charles Var, vice president of marketing at TrackVia, which makes a platform for users to build their own cloud-based applications. "And then I thought: How come I never hear that at the office? … there's just pressure to do work faster."

The funny part – and by funny I mean sad – Most of us feel pressure to work faster but only a fraction of us actually FEEL like we're working faster.

Hey, Sisyphus called –He wants his boulder back!

(Read more: Escape the Idiots! Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance)

Stress is so ubiquitous – and dangerous – the American Stress Institute calls it "America's New Black Death."

You know, that little plague that is thought to have wiped out more than 100 million people in the 14th Century.

And of course, the No. 1 cause of stress is – our jobs. And with the economy still digging out and the "fiscal cliff" (when tax increases and spending cuts kick in at the end of the year) looming, our stress is reaching pandemic levels.

"If black plague is what killed most people in Europe in the Middle Ages, then stress is what's killing us the most right now," said Dr. Daniel L. Kirsch, the president of the American Institute of Stress.

"You're constantly bathed in stress hormones like cortisol," Kirsch said, which can have a barrage of negative effects, including suppressed thyroid, blood-sugar imbalance, higher blood pressure, lower immunity, loss of libido – and even belly fat!

What's more, Kirsch said, when you get diagnosed with some of the above conditions, what happens? A doctor prescribes you a drug – heart medication, antidepressants, etc. -- that treat only the symptom, not the root cause.

"Drugs are a leading cause of stress!" he said. "Doctors hand out antidepressants like candy and they do more harm than good," he said.

The result of all those drugs to reduce stress? More stress.

"If you stay in this state, you're more easily stressed! You habituate to a stressful state of mind – and you take your body along with it," Kirsch said.

Holy partridge in a pear tree, I am stressed out just thinking about all that stress!

What's more, it has a significant impact on a person's ability to perform his or her job because it compromises "executive functioning," which is thinking things through when making decisions.

And, while you might give yourself a pat on the back for multitasking – Hey, Grandma, I am totally sending an email to my boss while listening to you AND stirring the gravy!– Kirsch said you are kidding yourself. He believes multitasking is no more real than unicorns.

"We don't multitask--We fast switch, he said. "You're switching back and forth between thoughts. Moving around different parts of brain. And while you're doing one thing, you're actually turning off the other."

And that delusion of multitasking and constant switching between tasks is actually contributing to stress, he said. What people need instead is to process thoughts, think and reason, he said. "People are losing that ability."

So, think twice before you pick up that BlackBerry this holiday season. You may not be the amazing superhero multitasker you think you are – you may be on your way to becoming a stressed-out victim of the Great Plague of our time.

And if you're looking for a fascinating topic of conversation this holiday season, consider this: While many businesses in America are still struggling in the tough economy, the stress business is thriving, Kirsch said.

"It's actually a very good time to be in the stress business. The stress business is booming!" he said.

Hey, maybe you want to mention that to your niece or nephew who's still in college and may be looking for a job soon — Check for jobs in the stress industry. It's booming!

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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