Is work the best thing in your life, and the one thing you are proud of? But are you starting to wonder if maybe you have lost touch of work life balance, or even have a problem?
Here's what you need to know about being a workaholic.
Notice the ‘ism’ at the end. It’s in the same camp as shopaholism.... alcoholism.
An addiction is something that has more control of us than we have of it.
We can keep saying we are going to stop, but the truth is we actually can’t. We can’t stop staying late at the office, can’t take a full day off, can’t stop taking on extra contracts or reading our work emails before bed.
Addictions at first help us feel good.
But it’s not really the 'feel good' high we are after, it’s avoiding the hidden bad feelings. Addictions is a misguided coping mechanism, a way to avoid what's inside of us that feels overwhelming to face. If you are working all the time you are avoiding emotional pain, or old trauma, or dark beliefs about yourself you don't know what to do about.
Workaholism means we are so busy we don’t have time for other people. Even if we do have people in our life -- we could, say, even be married? We don’t have time for too much ‘deep talk’. We have to think about work, check emails, launch another company….
We use working to hide from true connection with others, and it works a charm.
Ambition is praised in our society, as is acheivement.
And nowadays new ways of working mean we can hide workaholism behind excuses like ‘it’s just the life of a freelancer’, or ‘entrepreneurs always have to work all the time’.
If work is always coming first in your life, to the extent that your relationships and health suffer and you are starting to lack any identity outside of work? You have a problem. And that is nothing to do with being a freelancer or business owner and everything to do with you.
If it’s left to get worse, it can lead to anxiety and depression or a nervous breakdown.
And if it's not the workaholism itself that leads to serious mental health issues, it's the loneliness that hits when the people around us, like spouses, get bored of fighting for attention and leave. We realise too late that we lost sight of priorities.
We can all go through periods of overworking. We might be trying to get a promotion, or wanting to impress a new boss. Or perhaps we’ve launched a business and invested all our money and are determined to make it work.
Recognising if you are not just needing to work hard but are actually addicted to working will require tremendous personal honesty. What does it feel like if you say no to the next contract or opportunity? Our outsource some of your workload? Do you feel panicky and depressed, or okay?
And remember that workaholism is an addiction, so it will fit classic patterns of addiction.
Addiction symptoms when applied to work can look like:
Your mood is connected to the addiction. You feel calm when working, bad when not.
You need more of your ‘substance’ to feel the same. Now working ten hour days isn’t enough, it has to be 12 to feel that buzz.
You make excuses. "It’s just that I love my job", "It comes with the territory".
Or lie to others about it. You say you are going out then secretly stay home to work.
Your personality is changing. You are snappy and moody, you can't get along with friends or your partner anymore, people say you are not who you use to be.
Other areas of your life suffer. Your self-care is poor, as is your social life and relationships. You may even put work before sleep.
Self-help tools can be a good start, like journalling and learning mindfulness. And your workplace might provide resources to help you address worklife balance, such as free workshops or coaching.
But if your workaholic tendency has gone on for some time, if you really do feel out of control, or if you really don’t know who you are outside of work anymore? You’ll need professional support.
A counsellor or psychotherapist can create a safe space to get to the root of what drives you to work nonstop, and help you slowly make better choices for yourself.