Are You a Workaholic?

We live in a culture that's always on the go. We are constantly plugged in to the Internet and are accessible to everyone all the time. We eat in our cars, rushing from must-dos to have-tos. We get in to the office early. We stay late. We take care of our families. We do our chores. We check our email from home and while we're on vacation. We wish that there were more hours in a day, and we cut back on sleep to make the most of the hours we do have.

Sound familiar? For many of us, multitasking is a way of life. But there's a fine line between being busy and being overworked. Or worse yet, being a workaholic. Working too much can have negative effects on your physical and mental health, including slowing your weight-loss efforts or even causing you to gain weight. But it's a problem that the entire nation is being faced with. According to WebMD, 44% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and an estimated 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

Negative Effects of Overworking
The vicious cycle begins with a dangerous combination of two things: too much stress and too little sleep. First, let's talk about stress. While some stress is normal and can be beneficial, chronic stress—where you never stop being rushed or never get a chance to relax between stressful encounters—isn't. If you're feeling stressed most of the day, you quickly can become overworked and stress-related tension builds. If this goes on for too long, it can actually result in a condition called distress. Distress can then lead to a number of not-so-fun symptoms such as upset stomach, elevated blood pressure and chest pain. It can also trigger or worsen other underlying symptoms or diseases that you might have.

Then there's sleep. Stress in and of itself can interfere with falling asleep and the quality of sleep you get. Just think of the last time you couldn't sleep. Was it because you were worried about something, like a sick loved one or that big presentation in the morning? While isolated problems with sleep are human nature, getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours a sleep a night on a regular basis can negatively affect your health. Sleep loss has been shown to reduce your ability to focus and pay attention (never good at home, work or while driving!). Research has also found that losing sleep can increase hunger and slow down your body's metabolism. Just think about it. When you're stressed, do you reach for higher-fat foods (and fast convenience foods) or end up drinking too much to help relax after a long day? These are never good things if you're trying to manage your weight.

Working too much can also negatively affect your mental health. Chronic stress is linked to depression and anxiety, and it can cause constant worrying. And it goes without saying that being overworked affects your personal life. From always being late to social events with friends and family to canceling all together to being distracted with phone calls or emails when you do get together for something social, others in your life can begin to resent your work life. It can cause rifts and problems to say the least.

Do You Have a Problem?
So what's normal and what's not when it comes to working? Overall, if you feel that you're always stressed or your friends and family complain that you work too much, you may be at risk. Below are some other questions to ask yourself to see if your work-life balance is out of whack. (For a full list of questions, see the Workaholics Anonymous' website.)
  • Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
  • Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
  • Do you take on extra work because you think it won't get done otherwise?
  • Are you afraid that if you don't work hard enough you'll lose your job or fail?
  • Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
  • Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
  • Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
So How Do You Stop Working?
Well, that's a difficult question to answer. If you're a true workaholic and really think you have a problem, you should consider talking to your doctor or looking into Workaholics Anonymous, which treats overworking like any other addiction. Overworking at its worst can be a serious condition that needs professional attention.

You can restore your work-life balance by committing yourself to a stress-reduction plan. First, start your morning with five minutes of "you time" where you're doing absolutely nothing. It sounds weird, but just sit there and listen to the world around you. Don't plan out your day or start obsessing about your to-do list.  Just be, and listen to your breath.

Next, take at least a 30-minute break from work for lunch. Focus on your food and try not to think about work or the next thing you have to do. If you have an hour for lunch, go for a short walk around the building after your meal and just focus on exactly what you're doing in the moment—not what you should be doing or need to do later. Lastly, commit to cutting down the number of hours you work. Cut it down by 15 minutes each day until you're working closer to 40 hours a week.

Also have a go-to stress-busting method of coping for when you are in a stressful situation. It can be as simple as slow controlled breathing, going to the restroom (they don't call it a "rest" room for nothing!), or even chatting with a friend. (Here are seven more stress-reducing activities you could try.)

Overall, don't fall into the trap of thinking that more is better and if you just worked hard enough, [enter your goal or perfect state of being] will come true. It won't. Life is short and being overworked and overstressed is anything but healthy. Take time out to play, be with those you love, and enjoy all that life has to offer outside of the working world.
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Member Comments

Never was a workaholic. happily retired now Report
I love being retired, I don't have to do that anymore! Report
Yes...I am.... Report
I know my work consumes me. Report
If you asked me that question about 6
years ago, my answer would be “Yes I’m a workaholic, but now I’m retired. I do things at my own pace. Linda! Report
I am retired now and don't have to worry about any of these. Report
Most of us have problems, but fortunately for me, being a workaholic isn't one of mine. Report
Having been the CEO of a $4b operation, I understand well the effects of overwork. Stress, sleepless nights, 2am conference calls, people who think that simply running on the hamster wheel is work (although it accomplishes nothing). I've learned that I have to take time for myself. I'm retired now, but here are a few things I learned that helped me: 1) I'm more effective in my workday if I start my day with a run or at least a walk at 6am, without news, email, or anything else work related. 2) the exercise clears the cobwebs from my head and allows for better focus throughout the day. 3) I'm better able to distinguish busywork from business when I exercise. 4) a 30 minute walk at lunchtime, usually alone but sometimes with a friend-no business discussion allowed- helps me to recharge that feeling from my morning run so the afternoon stays productive. 5) considering the beauty of the surroundings of that lunchtime walk in the park-the flowers, the trees, the bees, etc-help me to keep my attitude positive amongst all the disasters that need cleaning up during my workday. 6) finally, I'm a much more pleasant person to the people I love the most when I take the above noted times for myself to refresh and keep the stress under control. Too bad that I learned all of that so late in my career...I was very successful, but could have been so much more so had I learned these things earlier. Report
Is it possible to be a workaholic if you only work part-time? I own my business and don't have weekends or vacations. I might only work 2 hours some days and 14 hours other days. In December I had three days off. I take on extra work because I can't count on my business partner. I'm afraid if I take a day off, I'll lose a client. I constantly worry about the future and I pretty much never stop thinking about work. But I'm working less than 40 hours a week! Report
This use to be me. Sometimes my days would be 12 hours of hard cleaning and getting something to eat on the run , while driving to the next house. I did this for ten years. It killed my health and broke me body down. Now I have my own houses, my own hours , and have time for myself. But this is my husband 12 hour days,5 to 6 days a week, plus he is remodeling our bathroom in his off time. He is stressed out all the time . When he gets like that everything he is doing starts going wrong and he gets angry I try to get him to stop what he is doing and chill for a little while, but he want. I just know he is going to have a heart attack one day. He is diabetic and has high blood presure Report
I notice that many of the comments reflect the belief that their situation is a special case which mandates unhealthy or unbalanced lifestyles. I also noticed that few comments acknowledged that our choices our our own. A few years ago no one could tell me that I had choices about how much I was doing. From my perspecitve it was all necessary - the job, the kids, the community leadership roles, the house, the exercise, all of it. . My experiences since however have shown me that owning my choices and how I think about things makes a remarkable differnce in how ai feel. I do still eat at my desk and occasionally take work home. I also own those choices as mine. It makes a difference in how I see things. If I can choose to overwork I can choose to be balanced too. And I am, one decision at a time. Report
Realistically, it's simply not an option in my field to work a 40 hour week. That said, I don't work 90 hour weeks anymore, and I haven't pulled an all-nighter in 4 years. I think the goal should be to reduce hours worked by looking and eliminating "wasted" time, and also to find time during the day to restore sanity. I also try very hard to take at least one day off work per week, so even if work Sunday, I take Friday night through Sunday late morning off most weeks in the year. Report
I left a job that required me to work on average 70 hours per week - sometimes up to 90. When I signed my contract, there was a part that stated that I needed something like "untiring enthusiasm and energy." Sometimes a 40 hour week is not physically possible to do everything that has to get done, especially when it is as structured as a boarding school environment. I loved my coworkers and plan to go back into teaching, but I do not plan on living on dorm at a boarding school ever again. My health couldn't take it. While working there, I gained close to 25 pounds in the first year.
Since I left, my stress level has gone down, I am happier, I have more time to spend with family, and I do better at what I am working on. Now, my newest project (and oldest at the same time) is ME.
I feel like this article was written about me. A lot of food for thought here. Thank you for posting this article. Report
I didn't know there was a 12 step program for workaholics. Report


About The Author

Jennipher Walters
Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.