You know who you are: You take your cell phone to bed,
work every weekend, and never seem to have time to relax.
You think about work constantly and give it priority right
up there with your family and kids. You may be a workaholic.
In the western world, where hard work and long hours
are considered essential for success, it's not surprising
that workaholism can be perceived as an asset, rather
than the true addiction it actually is.
As Sid Kirchheimer writes on the website WebMD, "Workaholism
is the respectable addiction." Kirchheimer goes on
to explain that, in Japan, workaholism is called "karoshi"
or "death by overwork."
He also points out that in the Netherlands, people are
actually getting sick by trying to stop working -- a phenomenon
called "leisure illness." Workers there are
apparently so conditioned to overwork that, on weekends
and vacations, they actually become ill from trying --
without success -- to relax and unwind.
The Futile Cycle
Workaholics typically continue to work past the point
of exhaustion, causing them to make mistakes and work
even harder to fix them. They also find that when they
get where they were so driven to be, there is often nothing
there. This leads to a chronic cycle of obsessive goal-chasing
which, in reality, is much like the hamster running on
the wheel -- frenetic movement that leads to nowhere.
Recognizing that workaholism is a compulsive behavioral
disorder is the first step in helping a person realize
that their lifestyle is out of balance and poses serious
Typically, workaholism is fueled by underlying issues
which can include perfectionism, an unmet need for control,
fear, and low self-esteem. Frequently the workaholic will
work to avoid other issues, and this avoidance becomes
a behavioral pattern that becomes very difficult to break.
Steps You Can Take
Like any addiction, workaholism should be treated with
a multi-prong approach that may include counseling, behavior
modification, hypnotherapy, lifestyle changes, and family
intervention. Some tips for getting a handle on workaholism:
1. Get the support you need. Counseling will help you
focus on the big picture and shift your energy from work
to rest, relaxation, wellness, and recreation.
2. Schedule non-cancelable leisure activities. Put your
workouts, movie nights, and other leisure activities in
your calendar and consider them appointments, just like
you would with a client or customer.
3. Get to the source of the underlying issue. Could anxiety
or a lack of confidence be driving you to prove something
to yourself or others? Low self-esteem and the need to
overachieve are often at the core.
4. Set boundaries. Leave work at 5 p.m. and leave your
work at the office. This requires focused self-discipline;
a coach or colleague who will hold you accountable may
5. Learn to delegate. Most workaholics believe they are
the only ones who can do the job right (perfectionism).
Learning to let go and eliminating the need for control
are two powerful strategies to set yourself free from
the dysfunction of workaholism.
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