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So You Think You’re a Workaholic? Now What

As is the case with many behaviors that have an addictive pattern, workaholism is reinforcing, and so you may feel you benefit from the behavior and have difficulty recognizing that it is problematic. Especially in our society, where achievement, independence (as opposed to a relational focus), and work success are very highly valued, success at work, being a high achiever, and taking no breaks… aka workaholism, can be particularly difficult to recognize and/or want to change because the behavior and results of it are, in many ways rewarding, and positive. However, workaholism can lead to problems in relationships, negative physical health consequences, and mental health problems such as increased anxiety and irritability. Often, you may not recognize that you are behaving as such or that it is problematic.

Once you realize you are a workaholic, it is important to try to find more balance in your life. Perhaps there is a reason you are a workaholic, like you are trying to get away from an unhappy home situation, or you are lonely, or you do not pursue other interests so this is the only way to feel worthwhile. It can be helpful to see a therapist for help understanding what is driving the behavior and how to work on the underlying issue(s).

7 Signs You May Be a Workaholic

1. Your relationships outside of work are suffering because you find yourself putting work first. Often this is not because you care more about it, but the anxiety you may experience when you have a task overhanging, can be unbearably uncomfortable. However, if your relationships with your partner, family, and friends are being repeatedly ignored or cast aside in the service of needing to ‘finish one last email,’ or stay late one more night to finish up, it is worth looking at your behavior and considering a chance. Most workaholics hear complaints from their partners, family, and friends about this and if you find that this is happening to you, it would be wise to take their feedback seriously.

2. You find yourself constantly thinking about work. You are preoccupied with work and never get a break. There is not much separation between work and home, and you are routinely bringing work home with you and even up to bed. As many people now work from home, this difficulty protecting home for relaxation and relationships can be even more common.

3. You engage in checking behaviors. You check your work email excessively to see if that customer has responded or if you get an email from your boss, for example, you feel like you must respond right away. You also check your planner or calendar on your phone frequently to see your to do list and might even be routinely adding to it while outside of work when you could be relaxing.

4. You have a hard time relaxing. You feel guilty if you are not working. You find yourself unable to enjoy being present in the moment even if you really want to be, because your anxiety creeps in and you cannot stop thinking about work.

5. As a result of your difficulty relaxing and potential worries about work, you experience muscle tension, regular headaches, teeth grinding or TMJ, or other health consequences directly related to chronic levels of stress.

6. You receive praise at work for being “always available,” responding immediately to emails, or always going above and beyond. Of course, praise at work is important, but if you notice you are regularly standing out for working harder than anyone else, chances are this is coming at some cost to you.

7. You feel anxious and irritable if something impedes your ability to work or complete a task to your satisfaction. In fact, you may notice that your self-esteem is so closely tied to work alone that you start to worry greatly about what you imagine will happen if you run out of time or do not do as good a job as you would like. You feel resentful of those who get in the way of your work. You don’t take vacation time or sick time when needed, and you certainly do not take a lunch break. You might even work against medical advice. You might find yourself regularly inhaling lunch at your desk or just eating a protein bar.

So now that you have realized that this way of life may not actually be serving you as well as you thought, it is time to consider some changes.

The important thing to realize about making change in this area is that you will experience intense anxiety, irritability, guilt, or resentment when you are first trying to change. This is part of the process of any change. You need to learn or relearn how to take breaks and have balance.

It can be helpful to create a very deliberate work free zone at home, for example, during certain hours. You can gradually increase the hours but start small and realistically.

Put away your phone and computer during your work free zones or first thing in the morning and right before bed to resist the temptation to engage in checking behaviors like seeing if your boss has emailed.

Try to fully engage in your time at home and prioritize your relationship with your partner. Focus on what your partner is saying to you and ask questions about their day. Make a plan to go out on a date.

Do things that help you relax or feel better, such as take a long shower or go to the gym and that can serve as a helpful way to symbolically shift out of work mode.

Start taking breaks at work during lunch, for example. It is important to take time for yourself and not taking any breaks actually hinders productivity. You may find that you feel a lot sharper after the break.

Reward yourself for making positive changes. Also, add other positive activities into your life so you are not just focusing on taking away behaviors. Make plans with your family during the weekend, schedule a vacation, or reignite your passion for an old interest like sports, crafts or religion.

Keep in mind that changing behaviors like workaholism, which likely is deeply ingrained in you, is a big challenge. Therapy can be especially helpful if you believe you are struggling with workaholism and your health and relationships are suffering.