Wellness

Are You a Workaholic? It Could Be Affecting Your Health

Being constantly worn down from work can not only impact your running goals, it can worsen your overall quality of life. Here’s how to break the cycle.

Kaitlin Goodman, runner, coach, and public health professional, said this about work-life-running balance on Twitter recently: “Don’t believe that you have to put all your eggs in the running basket to be successful.” She went on to write, “My big breakthrough on the track came while working full time at a health tech startup.” 

Making gains in your running and working full time can certainly be achieved, but over-working and workaholism can interfere with your goals. Experiencing success in multiple passions relies on recognizing the importance of work-life balance. 

Malissa Clark, director of the Work and Family Experience Research Laboratory within the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia, describes four key characteristics of workaholism: Constantly thinking about work during non-working hours, feeling like you need to be working all the time, feeling agitated or stressed when something is keeping you from working, and spending extra hours working. 

“We’ve consistently found that it doesn’t necessarily make you a better job performer. It really seems to wear people down without really any positive outcomes, particularly in the long run,” says Clark. 

Research shows that workaholism can negatively affect both your mental and physical health. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, people at risk for workaholism were also twice as likely to suffer from depression and more likely to have problems sleeping. 

The researchers found that people with higher work addiction risk have twice the risk of developing depression. Sleep quality was lower for those with a high risk of work addiction. And women had almost twice the workaholism risk than men.

In her research, Clark has found that correlations between workaholism and negative physical outcomes were more pronounced among women. She believes that’s due to societal pressure. “If a woman is a workaholic, not only are they experiencing the negative outcomes that come with being a workaholic and thinking about work and how this is draining their energy and not letting them recover and get those resources back, but they are also battling internal and external expectations that they also need to be heavily involved with their family,” she says. 

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According to a 2019 OnePoll survey, 53 percent of Americans said they were stressed about work and 48 percent consider themselves workaholics. 

“We see burnout happening just all over the place right now in general, and over time, this will negatively affect health,” says Clark. She recommends finding ways to intervene as early as possible to avoid negative health outcomes. 

How to End Workaholism and Find Balance for a Healthier Life

Finding a way to improve your work-life balance means more time doing other things that you love while also reducing your stress. Here are five ways to find more balance in your life. 

1. Take those breaks.

Most people know they need to take several breaks throughout the work day, but are they taking them?

It turns out, it doesn’t just matter that you’re taking a break, but when and how you’re doing it matters, too. “There’s been some really interesting research on work breaks,” says Clark. Playing on your phone or sitting at the computereven if you’re not working—are not as effective as breaktime activities that completely change what you’re thinking about. 

“Getting out and walking around the building, taking a break to meditate, or just completely shifting gears and doing something else, the psychological break is key,” she says. 

Another thing Clark has learned is that mid-morning breaks are more effective than afternoon breaks. “You would think the most effective time to take breaks is when you are getting worn down, so maybe in the afternoon, but actually, there’s a research study that shows breaks earlier in the day before you start to get worn down and tired are more effective than breaks later in the day,” she says. 

“One of the things that prevents us from doing things like exercising, which we know is so beneficial, is feeling worn down,” she adds. 

2. Get moving.

When you’re taking those breaks, why not get some movement in? Especially before the stress of the day wipes out your energy.

A study published in the journal Public Health in Practice this year found that people who regularly took walks in greenspace or forests had better stress-coping skills than workers who didn’t. 

Even if your job is more physically demanding than a desk job, you may still want to focus on getting in those additional miles. As it turns out, the health benefits linked to physical activity might not hit the same when activity comes from work rather than leisure, according to a paper published in the European Heart Journal. “Many people with manual jobs believe they get fit and healthy by their physical activity at work and therefore can relax when they get home. Unfortunately, our results suggest that this is not the case,” says Andreas Holtermann, author of the study. 

The World Health Organization recommends that people are physically active during both work and recreation to improve health. 

3. Engage in reflection.

Clark recommends reflecting on and acknowledging that you’re struggling to detach from work. Do you have racing thoughts about work when the day is done? Or does it manifest as more of a physical feeling of anxiety or a pit in your stomach? 

“If those things are happening, then learning to recognize that it’s happening in the moment, and consciously making the effort to change how you react to those feelings and emotions,” she says.  

Morning reflections can also make you a stronger leader and a more efficient worker, according to a recent study out of the University of Florida. And that goes for employees who are not necessarily in leadership positions, but want to take on leadership-level assignments or role in their non-working life. “Just a few minutes can entirely change your focus for the rest of your day,” says Klodiana Lanaj, professor and co-author of the study.

4. Set boundaries.

Whether you’re a workaholic or not, once you’ve acknowledged your feeling of stress or discomfort, you can start to set boundaries. That could mean putting time on your work calendar to block off your daily mid-morning run, setting a limit as to how late you’ll check your work email, or even having a tough conversation with a supervisor who oversteps after hours.

Women in particular tend to have a harder time setting boundaries. Here’s a definitive guide to setting boundaries and balancing your energy.

5. Put your energy elsewhere.

“Anecdotally, just doing some interviews with workaholics, there is this kind of shared feeling that they need to be doing something. And so, you can’t just not do anything, but maybe channel that nervous energy into something else that’s not work-related,” suggests Clark. 

She goes on to say that the research shows that it doesn’t matter what that hobby or is. It could be running, woodworking, puzzling, meditating—anything that helps you psychologically detach from work. 

Breaking out of stressful patterns of workaholism can be really challenging, but it is something that can be so worth it for your daily health. It’s also a pretty personal process. What works for some people, might not work for others. 

“It takes a ton of effort. With anything, trying to change a habit or a tendency is super difficult and it’s just going to take practice and practice and practice,” says Clark.