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The Effects of Workaholism on Mental Health

If you’ve spent any time on LinkedIn, you are probably well aware of the “hustle and grind” subculture that has turned hard work from an admirable effort into an all-encompassing lifestyle. To people who espouse this mindset, devoting the proverbial 110% to your job is the only way to achieve meaningful success. But what’s missing from these messages is an acknowledgement of what workaholism reveals about mental health.

What Is Workaholism?

To explore what workaholism reveals about mental health, we first need to spend some time talking about what it means to be a workaholic.

As described in a March 2014 article in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, a workaholic is someone who is “seemingly driven by internal and external forces to work excessively and compulsively.”

The same article notes that one commonly accepted definition of workaholism is “a continual pattern of high work investment, long working hours, work beyond expectations, and an all-consuming obsession with work.”

It’s no accident that the term workaholism looks and sounds very similar to alcoholism: 

  • Someone who suffers from alcoholism will experience overwhelming urges to drink. Workaholics feel a driving compulsion to devote excess time and energy to their job. 
  • When someone who has alcoholism starts to drink, they can find it difficult or virtually impossible to stop. When a workaholic takes on a new project or starts a new job, they may be unwilling or unable to devote appropriate attention to other important parts of life.
  • Alcoholism can have a profound negative impact on a person’s health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Workaholism can be similarly destructive.

Are You a Workaholic?

There is no set of standard diagnostic criteria for workaholism. But if you can identify with the following behaviors and characteristics, you may be a workaholic:

  • You spend an excessive amount of time at work or thinking about work.
  • You frequently start your workday early and end late. It’s not uncommon for you to work through lunch or avoid taking breaks.
  • You regularly volunteer to take on extra projects or assignments, and you rarely delegate tasks or responsibilities to others.
  • When you can’t work because of an injury, illness, or unavoidable obligation, you become frustrated or irritated.
  • You have missed important personal events because of your work.
  • You have stopped participating in hobbies or other activities that you used to enjoy because of your work.
  • Your devotion to your job has been a source of conflict with friends, family members, or romantic partners.
  • No matter how much you accomplish at work, you continue to feel that you have to do more in order to prove your worth.

What Workaholism Reveals About Mental Health

Workaholism is not an official mental or behavioral health disorder. It doesn’t appear in either the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the tenth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). But that doesn’t mean it has no relationship to – or impact on – a person’s psychological well-being.

In 2016 the peer-reviewed open access journal PLOS ONE published a studyv on the connection between workaholism and various mental health concerns. This study, which was conducted by an international team of researchers from Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan, involved a cross-sectional survey that was completed by 16,426 Norwegian respondents.

Highlights of the study and its results:

  • The researchers determined that symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), “contributed significantly” to variances in workaholism among survey respondents.
  • Respondents who exhibited behaviors that were consistent with workaholism exhibited “significantly higher” rates of all types of psychiatric symptoms than did non-workaholics.
  • More than 32% of workaholics met the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD.
  • Anxiety was far more common among workaholics than depression. Just under 34% of workaholics met the criteria for an anxiety disorder, while only about 9% met the criteria for a depressive disorder.
  • The researchers hypothesized that fear of failure may push individuals with anxiety disorders to spend excessive amounts of time at work, often due to the urge to check and re-check their work to ensure that it is error-free.
  • Though 25% of survey respondents met or exceeded the diagnostic criteria for OCD, the researchers determined that the connection between OCD symptoms and workaholism was “relatively weak.” 

Tips for Overcoming Workaholism

One of the more challenging aspects of overcoming workaholism is that most people who exhibit workaholic behaviors don’t think they have a problem. As we alluded to at the outset of this post, many workaholics hold themselves up as examples to others, secure in the belief that they are displaying admirable traits.

If you have made it to the point of recognizing that your work-related behaviors are negatively impacting your health, relationships, and overall quality of life, you have taken an important step toward a more balanced future. Here are some ways that you can manage your urges and overcome your workaholic tendencies:

  • Set hard start and stop times for your workday. This can be difficult, especially if you work from home, but it is essential. 
  • If you work from home, and you have the space, establish a dedicated work area. When you’re done working, turn off your laptop and other work devices and leave them there. This can help you make a clear break from your workday to your personal time. 
  • Schedule breaks in your workday. Taking a few moments for yourself in the middle of your workday can be valuable for your physical and mental health. These regularly schedule breaks can also help you focus better when you’re back at work, as well as minimize your risk of burnout.
  • Abandon your pursuit of perfectionism. The amount of extra effort that you have been spending trying to root out every error and improve every aspect of your work has likely not resulted in career-altering improvements. But it has surely cost you time and energy that you could have devoted to your relationships and other personal pursuits.
  • Connect with friends and family. Workaholism can have an isolating impact. If you have fallen into the habit of missing family gatherings or get-togethers with friends because you had to work, they may have stopped asking you to participate. Take the initiative to reach out and reconnect. 
  • Take a vacation. Step away completely from your job. Don’t answer your work emails, don’t check in with your colleagues, and don’t follow the news about your industry. Even a few days away can help you rediscover your capacity for non-work-related joy. 
  • Talk to a professional. If you want to achieve a healthier work-life balance, but you find that you are incapable of overcoming your workaholic urges, it may be time to schedule a session with a counselor, therapist, or other qualified expert. In addition to helping you achieve a more balanced lifestyle, this professional can help you determine if your workaholism is related to a mental health concern.

Find Mental Health Treatment in Nashville

If anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder has been preventing you from living the healthy life that you desire, please know that help is available.

Arbor Wellness offers a full continuum of personalized mental health services for adults in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. Our team of experienced professionals can work with you to identify the full scope of your needs, help you set meaningful short- and long-term goals, then provide the focused care that can empower you achieve your objectives and experience improved quality of life.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.