workaholic man working late hours alone

How Much Is Too Much: Work?

We’ve all flippantly used the term “workaholic,” most likely in reference to someone who we believe takes their work way too seriously. But did you know that workaholism, also referred to as work addiction, is a legit mental health threat?

The University of Nevada, Reno reports that 10% of Americans are living with work addiction. Workaholism is characterized by a compulsive need to work.

Like other addictions, workaholics achieve a “high” from their behavior: whether that be financial stability, social status, or job success. This high provides a distraction from uncomfortable feelings or personal issues, making it difficult for them to stop. And for many, it becomes a dangerous lifestyle that affects their mental and physical health.

You may be thinking, Am I a workaholic? Or maybe you just wonder, How much work is too much? Work is a crucial part of our lives and necessary in order to live. But when work becomes your life and not just a means to an end, it may be cause for concern.

Symptoms of Workaholism

Although not formally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), workaholism is considered a behavioral addiction, much like exercise addiction, pornography addiction, and food addiction, among others. suggests that behavioral addictions follow the same pattern as substance-based addictions. Consequently, the symptomology is similar as well. How many hours a week is too much to work? Consider the following signs of a workaholic:

Spending an excessive amount of time engaging in the behavior

In this case, it may be staying long hours at work even when not needed, bringing work home with you, or working on weekends and holidays.

Continuing the behavior despite harm to your health

This could look like skipping meals, losing sleep, or neglecting additional aspects of your health due to work.

Using the behavior to avoid difficult circumstances or relationships

Many workaholics use work as an escape from hard realities, including money troubles, poor health, or relationship issues.

Many workaholics use work as an escape from hard realities, including money troubles, poor health, or relationship issues.

Turning to the behavior to cope with painful emotions

Some work addicts overwork in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, depression, and guilt. Also, workaholism is often rooted in a fear of failure or inadequacy.

Choosing the behavior over living life

Have you become obsessed with your work performance or achievement? Neglecting important relationships, hobbies, exercise, or other responsibilities due to work is one of the signs of a workaholic.

If any of this sounds familiar, and you are concerned that you may be addicted to work, you may find the Bergen Work Addiction Scale helpful. Developed by Norway’s University of Bergen, if you answer yes to at least four of the scale’s seven basic criteria statements, you may have work addiction.

How Work Addiction Affects Your Well-Being

Excessive work takes a significant toll on your health. Some amount of stress at work is normal — maybe even beneficial — but chronic work stress can lead to burnout.

How can you tell if you’re burnt out, though? According to Harvard Health Publishing, burnout is a psychological syndrome defined by exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. It is linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can bring about serious mental health problems. In many instances, burnout is also the culprit of substance abuse.

Stress associated with work addiction has physical health ramifications as well. Harvard warns that “repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease.”

stack of work

Continual release of the stress hormone cortisol, for example, upsets your immune function, increasing the likelihood of autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, chronic stress takes away from healthy habits like adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise.

Equally concerning is how work addiction negatively influences our thinking, emotions, and relationships. Being obsessed with work often clouds our judgment, especially when work begins to take precedence over family, friends, leisure activities, or interests. Burnout has also been known to trigger emotional breakdowns, which put a strain on our interpersonal relations, too.

Keeping Your Workload in Check

Is workaholism caused by increased expectations in the workplace, or rather our own preoccupation with productivity, success, and achievement?

Is workaholism caused by increased expectations in the workplace, or rather our own preoccupation with productivity, success, and achievement?

A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions reveals that workaholism is most likely the result of a combination of causes including predispositional factors, sociocultural experiences, and behavioral reinforcements. Some of these influences are within our control, while others are not.

We can, however, be proactive about setting boundaries and cultivating healthy habits to maintain balance. The University of Nevada, Reno offers the following helpful tips for addressing work addiction:

  • Respect the needs of your family, physical health, and spiritual health
  • Accept that you shouldn’t be able to excel at everything
  • Outline the benefits of disengaging from work during off-hours and explain the changes you will be making to your superiors and coworkers
  • Schedule digital detoxes
  • Practice mindfulness and make conscious choices about your life
  • Prioritize your health to maximize your productivity

Help for Workaholics

Finding a work-life balance is critical to your continued well-being. If you are struggling with work addiction or overwhelmed by stress of any kind, we can help. The Meadows Outpatient Center provides evidence-based treatment in a convenient outpatient format. Using multiple therapy approaches and our flexible 8-week curriculum, we address a wide range of addiction and mental health issues by getting to the root causes.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can come alongside you and start you on your unique journey to wellness. Freedom and lasting healing are more achievable than you may think.

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