Sound familiar? For many of us, multitasking is a way of life. But there's a fine line between being busy and being overworked. Or worse yet, being a workaholic. Working too much can have negative effects on your physical and mental health, including slowing your weight-loss efforts or even causing you to gain weight. But it's a problem that the entire nation is being faced with. According to WebMD, 44% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and an estimated 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Negative Effects of Overworking
The vicious cycle begins with a dangerous combination of two things: too much stress and too little sleep. First, let's talk about stress. While some stress is normal and can be beneficial, chronic stress—where you never stop being rushed or never get a chance to relax between stressful encounters—isn't. If you're feeling stressed most of the day, you quickly can become overworked and stress-related tension builds. If this goes on for too long, it can actually result in a condition called distress. Distress can then lead to a number of not-so-fun symptoms such as upset stomach, elevated blood pressure and chest pain. It can also trigger or worsen other underlying symptoms or diseases that you might have.
Then there's sleep. Stress in and of itself can interfere with falling asleep and the quality of sleep you get. Just think of the last time you couldn't sleep. Was it because you were worried about something, like a sick loved one or that big presentation in the morning? While isolated problems with sleep are human nature, getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours a sleep a night on a regular basis can negatively affect your health. Sleep loss has been shown to reduce your ability to focus and pay attention (never good at home, work or while driving!). Research has also found that losing sleep can increase hunger and slow down your body's metabolism. Just think about it. When you're stressed, do you reach for higher-fat foods (and fast convenience foods) or end up drinking too much to help relax after a long day? These are never good things if you're trying to manage your weight.
Working too much can also negatively affect your mental health. Chronic stress is linked to depression and anxiety, and it can cause constant worrying. And it goes without saying that being overworked affects your personal life. From always being late to social events with friends and family to canceling all together to being distracted with phone calls or emails when you do get together for something social, others in your life can begin to resent your work life. It can cause rifts and problems to say the least.
Do You Have a Problem?
So what's normal and what's not when it comes to working? Overall, if you feel that you're always stressed or your friends and family complain that you work too much, you may be at risk. Below are some other questions to ask yourself to see if your work-life balance is out of whack. (For a full list of questions, see the Workaholics Anonymous' website.)
- Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
- Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
- Do you take on extra work because you think it won't get done otherwise?
- Are you afraid that if you don't work hard enough you'll lose your job or fail?
- Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
- Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
- Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
Well, that's a difficult question to answer. If you're a true workaholic and really think you have a problem, you should consider talking to your doctor or looking into Workaholics Anonymous, which treats overworking like any other addiction. Overworking at its worst can be a serious condition that needs professional attention.
You can restore your work-life balance by committing yourself to a stress-reduction plan. First, start your morning with five minutes of "you time" where you're doing absolutely nothing. It sounds weird, but just sit there and listen to the world around you. Don't plan out your day or start obsessing about your to-do list. Just be, and listen to your breath.
Next, take at least a 30-minute break from work for lunch. Focus on your food and try not to think about work or the next thing you have to do. If you have an hour for lunch, go for a short walk around the building after your meal and just focus on exactly what you're doing in the moment—not what you should be doing or need to do later. Lastly, commit to cutting down the number of hours you work. Cut it down by 15 minutes each day until you're working closer to 40 hours a week.
Also have a go-to stress-busting method of coping for when you are in a stressful situation. It can be as simple as slow controlled breathing, going to the restroom (they don't call it a "rest" room for nothing!), or even chatting with a friend.
Overall, don't fall into the trap of thinking that more is better and if you just worked hard enough, [enter your goal or perfect state of being] will come true. It won't. Life is short and being overworked and overstressed is anything but healthy. Take time out to play, be with those you love, and enjoy all that life has to offer outside of the working world.