Being addicted to work has serious health implications.
Pop quiz! Do any of the following describe you?
1. You work to the point where you get headaches, are exhausted, or have other health problems.
2. Your partner always complains that you work too much.
3. The thought of going on vacation and not working stresses you out.
If those descriptions are all a little too on-the-nose, you may be addicted to your work—and that can have disastrous consequences for your mental wellbeing, suggests a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed the psychiatric health of more than 16,000 Norwegian workers. Of those, 7.8% were classified as workaholics.
The results? They discovered that workaholics were more likely to suffer from psychiatric conditions, like ADHD (32.7% compared to 12.7% of nonworkaholics), obsessive-compulsive disorder (25.6% versus 8.7%), anxiety (33.8% versus 11.9%), and depression (8.9% versus 2.6%).
Each of these conditions may predispose you to working around the clock. For example, people with ADHD might take on too large of a workload impulsively. Anxiety sufferers, meanwhile, may be neurotic and unable to handle stress well, so they spend extra time on work. Those with depression may consider the office an escape.
“Workaholism is about having a compulsion to work and investing so much time in your work to the exclusion of other aspects of your life,” explains stress and resilience expert Paula Davis-Laack, author of Addicted to Busy. “True workaholics have high work involvement, high drive, but low work enjoyment,” she says.
Workaholism can also lead to burnout, where you suffer chronic exhaustion, low resilience for minor life stressors (in other words, you freak out over minor things), and even apathy and cynicism. And clocking long hours—more than 55 per week—is linked to a 13% increased risk of heart disease and 33% increased risk of stroke, per 2015 research in The Lancet.
Being young, single, highly educated, and—ahem—female were factors linked to being a workaholic, the study showed. The good news is that this study (as well as other studies) found that as you rise in your career, you tend to become less of a workaholic. (So yep, there’s hope.)
The authors write that young adults need the tools to “suppress and inhibit workaholic tendencies and maintain a positive ‘work-life’ balance.” Ah, that ‘work-life balance’ thing again. Being able to achieve a true balance may require working with a therapist, who may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy to help identify the underpinnings of your workaholism, and then put tools in place to change those habits.
Learning relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation can also help. And that includes fitting in time to recharge your batteries away from work in order to build your resilience to stress. That might be blocking off time on your calendar (just like you would a work appointment) for self-care activities, like exercising, spending time with friends, or cooking, says Davis-Laack.