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Ways to tell you’re a workaholic and how to address those behaviors

Having a healthy work ethic is a noble trait. But when it becomes harmful to your health, or you feel you can’t control how often you perform or think about your work, you could be a workaholic. Workaholics are different from people who occasionally work long hours or are highly engaged at the office. They often don’t enjoy their work and are genuinely unhappy but feel compelled to work because of an internal pressure they put on themselves.

Researchers actually created a test called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale that measures work addiction by asking people how often they engage in the following habits:

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and depression.

Those are just examples; there are several other questions used to determine whether intervention is needed. If you found yourself nodding along with the above bullet points, here are some ways to overcome workaholism.

man balancing work

Admit there is a problem

The good news is that, yes, you can recover from your workaholic ways, but the first step is admitting you have a problem. This is not something that’s easy for workaholics who often don’t see the problem at hand. Often, they blame others around them as the reason they need to carry more of the workload, pin it on a specific event like a promotion, or argue that only they can perform X, Y, or Z at the office.

woman overwhelmed work
Piti Tangchawalit/Shutterstock

Find the root cause

Now that you’ve admitted you have a problem, you need to find the source to ensure it doesn’t happen down the road. This isn’t easy, and may be something a trained counselor or therapist can help you unlock. It could be a feeling of self-doubt, the need for praise, fear of failure, perfectionism, or the need to live up to someone else’s expectations. Once you can get at the core motivation (often unconscious), you can begin to heal and change.

Come up with a plan

Taking actionable steps to stop the bad habits is a critical component. If you can’t turn work off, consider setting specific office hours and not deviating from those hours. It may be difficult at first because people are used to getting a hold of you all the time, but it’s necessary. If you constantly check your email, put your phone in the bedroom while you have dinner and unwind so you aren’t tempted to check and respond.

woman reading on raft
Mihail Fedorenko/Shutterstock

Find ways to relax

Having downtime is crucial to a person’s well-being and can help put things into perspective. Take a walk, learn to cook, meditate, or throw the ball to your dog. Do something that brings you joy and offers the same feelings you thought you derived from working. This won’t be easy because it’s likely been a while since you’ve enjoyed an activity that’s not related to work. Finding a hobby or just 15 minutes to yourself a day can make a world of difference.

Stop self-sabotaging

Use this time to evaluate your priorities and reset your expectations of yourself. Negative self-talk can lead to anxiety, depression, and forms of self-harm. Unless you replace those with positive thoughts, the urge or void you’re trying to fill with work will not go away. Ask yourself why you need to feel in control or have self-doubt and take steps to replace the bad habits from workaholism with things that bring true happiness.

Workaholics routinely take work home with them, stay late at the office, can’t seem to step away from their laptops or phones when they are off work, have difficulty sleeping, and miss important events with family and friends because they are caught up in their work. This can have a dramatic effect on personal relationships. If you have kids, it can also be a dangerous message you’re sending that in order to be successful, you have to be obsessed with your work. Also, it can also lead to health conditions like hypertension, heart problems, alcoholism, weight gain, and insomnia, which can require medical intervention or worse. Getting a handle on the situation and working toward a more balanced life will lead to a more fulfilling life for yourself and those around you.

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