We live in a world where success in increasingly prized, with pressure to display your achievements all over social media.
And while some countries like Sweden are cutting back on working hours, here in the UK there are no such regulations.
So how to know if you are just ambitious, have an intense personality, or are a workaholic? And is it really a big deal if the latter?
The Rise of the ‘Hidden’ Workaholic
Convinced you aren’t a workaholic because you leave work at five each night? Just because you don’t work overtime does not mean you don’t have a problem.
Workaholism, like any addictive behaviour, is about using something as a distraction from dealing with life and uncomfortable emotions. And there are many ways this can happen that extend far beyond nine to five.
Today’s modern forms of communication make being a workaholic easier to hide. You can be working on your phone or tablet without others knowing, and it’s socially acceptable to check your emails at all hours.
The rise of ‘freelancers’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ also means that many can hide their addiction to work behind the excuse they ‘just don’t work normal hours’. If you are ‘on’ all the time, there’s a chance you have a problem.
Workaholic symptoms explained
There are classic symptoms of workaholism we all recognise by now. These include:
- spending too much time in the office
- never taking lunch breaks or always ‘eating at your desk’
- rarely using all of your vacation or using it to stay at home and ‘catch up on work’
- being always ‘on’ when it comes to work, even on days off or right before bed
- saying ‘yes’ to extra work even if you don’t know how you’ll fit it in
- putting work before relationships, hobbies, or even health (if you even have hobbies left).
Another classic sign of workaholism is over-identification with your job. Do you talk about work when you are actually out on social events, or on a date? Introduce yourself with your job title even when not asked what you do for a living? Make sure people you’ve just met know as soon as possible how important your job is?
Can these symptoms just be a ‘phase’? These signs of work dependency are also what you are likely to experience if struggling with a new job you are worried you will lose, overworking due to a possible promotion, launching a company you have put all your money into, or temporarily using work to hide from inner grief from a loss or breakup.
So what are the deeper, more secretive and insidious signs that you are actually now addicted to work?
The secretive and dangerous signs of work addiction
Workaholism as an addiction has all the classic signs of any addiction. There will be a cycle of highs/lows, a lack of self-care, an increasing tolerance (you need more and more work to get your ‘high’), withdrawal symptoms if you are forced to stop, changes in your personality, and a tendency to hide the addiction with excuses and white lies.
Let’s look at how some of these addiction cycles can manifest when it comes to work.
TAKING YOUR HIGH FROM WORK
Do you feel more excited thinking about work goals than about relationships and social events?
Do you get a buzz from really hard and full days of work, and feel low and cranky on the days there is no work to do?
Do you have highs where you get so much done even you are impressed, and lows where you can’t seem to do anything and panic?
Is work the thing you like to talk about most, even at social events or with family?
Do you make everything ‘work’ these days? Needing to win at sports, making hobbies into money making ventures, even competing with your kids when playing games?
Do you feel empty or even secretly afraid if you are not busy with work or thoughts of work?
Do you use other addictive substances if there is no work to be done? Overeat, drink too much alcohol?
LACK OF SELF CARE
Have you long stopped choosing relationships that support and nourish you in favour of time with other ‘ambitious’ sorts who you might secretly not even like, but who push you?
Do you see sleep as less important than your success and getting more work done?
Do you go to work even on the days when you feel sick?
CHANGES IN PERSONALITY
Do you never trust anyone anymore to do things, and do it all yourself over delegating?
Do you have no respect now for others who do not work as hard as you do?
Do you have a low patience threshold with others, especially if they interrupt you at work?
Are you unable to relax when you don’t have work to do?
Do you get angry at yourself when you make mistakes?
Do friends and family say you’ve changed?
MAKING EXCUSES / LYING
Do you make excuses for working long hours, for example, “I like it when the office is peaceful in the morning’ or ‘the trains later on at night are less busy’?
Do you lie and tell your partner you were forced to work overtime when really it was your choice?
Do you say you are just going to relax and read or watch some television, but really you are on your computer working?
Do you hide your workaholism behind the fact that you are ‘freelance’ or ‘an entrepreneur’ with excuses like, ‘it’s different when you run your own business’?
Do you tell yourself it’s justified to work as long or hard as you do because ‘you love what you do’?
Have you ever told someone you are going out to have fun then secretly stayed home to work?
Does it really matter if I work too much?
Workaholism, if it’s long-term and with the hallmarks of addiction, is highly destructive. It erodes your life and your health, and can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and possibly a nervous breakdown.
Addiction to work can also mean you end up extremely lonely, as workaholism pushes others away. It is a common reason for one partner to leave another or ask for a divorce, and also why many children grow up no longer wanting a relationship with a parent. ‘You were not there for me, you preferred work, so now I will no longer be there for you’.
What do I do if I think I’m a workaholic?
When work has reached the level of addiction just ‘stopping’ or ‘changing’ is hard, even if you promise everyone that is exactly what you are going to do.
Seeking support is often necessary, and best done before things are out of hand and a breakdown is on the horizon. You might find a support group locally. Otherwise, consider the help of a professional counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you identify what is behind your need to lose yourself in work, and what steps you can now take to repair your life.
Harley Therapy connects you to warm, empathic and highly professional counsellors and therapists in central London rooms, as well as worldwide via Skype counselling.
Have an experience of workaholic symptoms you’d like to share with our readers? Or a question we haven’t addressed? Use the comment box below.