What makes work addictive to some people and the exact opposite to others?
It is hard to say what causes certain people to become addicted. There are a wide variety of addictions to various substances and activities. What they have in common is that there is a compulsive drive to repeat an action that causes self-harm. This obsessive-compulsive symptom of addiction is caused by activities that stimulate the reward centers of the brain. Hence, a person can become addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, video games and even work.
Is work addiction really such a bad thing since it helps you to get things done?
This kind of thinking has lead us right into a work addiction epidemic. In our modern world where everything seems to center around social media, we have come to idolize financial success. We follow motivational speakers, successful entrepreneurs, and see everyone we know working hard to find financial success. While work addiction is becoming a serious problem, it is not a new problem. In previous generations, people were encouraged to get respectable jobs and work hard to get ahead in the company. The world has changed since then, but the problem of overworking is as bad as ever.
Why do they keep working?
We see multimillionaires and billionaires on television and social media bragging about their magical lives of wealth and freedom. Yet, they keep working. Why do they need more money? If you had a billion dollars, would you want to start another company? While there are some business successes who make their money and then retire from work to do the things they truly enjoy in life, these people seem to be the exception to the rule. Next time you are watching a hard working millionaire on social media or a screaming motivational speaker telling you to hustle and work 10 times or 100 times harder, consider the possibility that you are looking into the face of a work addict.
Work addiction is a mental health disorder.
Recently, I had the pleasure to interview Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., author of “#CHILL, Turno off Your Job and Turn On Your Life”. Our conversation was eye-opening. Dr. Robinson is a scientist who has studied workaholism for decades. He is also a recovering workaholic himself. He has accomplished a great deal in this field to define the disorder of workaholism. This includes many fascinating studies where MRIs were performed to study how the brain is affected. He is also the inventor of the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART). Now, Dr. Robinson helps people around the world with his best-selling book that helps them to identify workaholism in their lives. While not as immediately deadly as heroin addiction, work addiction is a serious problem. If left untreated, workaholism can steal your life away, leaving you with anxiety, depression and regret. You can listen to my interview with Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. where we discuss his new book, #CHILL, on the Mental Health News Radio Network.
Understanding your relationship to work.
You may not believe that you have a work addiction problem. Yet, if work is always on your mind, you could be a workaholic . Do you procrastinate, putting your work off until another day? Are you constantly obsessing over the work that you are avoiding? Do you find yourself feeling sick with anxiety over work you need to get done. These may be signs of work addiction. Workaholism does not mean that you are necessarily a millionaire who can’t stop building one company after another, neglecting your own life along the way. If work is taking over your life and hurting you, keeping you from enjoying the beautiful things around you, you may be suffering from work addiction.
Five workaholic behaviors to look out for.
- Secrecy: Addiction flourishes in the darkness. It is sort of like mold in that way. You may try to act like nothing is wrong. Yet, the problem grows and festers as you continue to keep it a secret. By hiding addictive behavior, you allow your addiction to grow. And, you make it impossible for others to help you recover from your work addiction. An example would be secretly bringing your work with you on vacation. Another might be hiding from loved ones in order to make work-related phone calls or send emails.
- Bringing your work home: This is a tricky one because occasionally bringing work home may be necessary and not a big deal. However, once you cross the line of working at home, interfering with time with your family, you may find that your work invades your home life more and more to the point where there is no longer a boundary between work and family. If you have young children, you should consider addressing workaholism now, before your children grow up and you have missed out on their entire childhood because of work. If your job involves working at home, it is important to set very clear boundaries of where and when you allow yourself to work.
- Obsession with work: If you find that every conversation that you have is about work, it is time to take a closer look at the possibility that you could be a workaholic. What do you talk about with your friends? Your family? Is every conversation and thought all about your work? Over time, you will notice that your work-life balance was just thrown out the window and now, everything is all about work.
- Health problems: Are you neglecting your health? Have you missed doctor appointments because of work? It may seem like a good excuse to not take care of yourself. You need to make money, right? Working your hours and getting your work done is more important than anything, right? Wrong! You must put your health first before your work. Your health is most important. Without your health, you will have nothing. As they say, no one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they could have worked more.
- Technology overuse: Fortunately, the major smartphone manufacturers have included a feature that can now track our screen time. Yet, screen time is more than just the use of your phone. It includes television, tablets, phones and computers. So, if you take pride in the fact that you don’t use Facebook or Twitter on your phone, but you are always staring at work on your computer screen, this is a part of your daily screen time. Pediatricians are now recommending that children get no more than a total of two hours of screen time daily. Adults should consider staying close to this limit as well and avoid excessive cell phone, computer and general internet use. Related to work addiction is tech addiction, video game addiction and internet addiction. Internet addicts and those with gaming disorder must carefully limit technology use and, in some cases, avoid all screen use.
Support groups can help you to overcome work addiction.
There is a support fellowship for the workaholic. If you believe that you are addicted to work, you may be interested in Workaholics Anonymous. This is a 12-step organization where you can come face-to-face with other workaholic members. The program is derived from Alcoholics Anonymous. Going to WA meetings is one of the treatment options available to the workaholic. In these meetings, you will meet like-minded people and develop a support system of new friends who are also recovering from work addiction. The 12 steps are an excellent way to work on yourself to recover from addiction. And, in the program, you will develop a relationship with recovering friends and with the program rather than an ongoing relationship with the work that is stealing your life away. Workaholics Anonymous is a place where one recovering addict can help another to recover from work addiction.
#CHILL with the 12 steps of Workaholics Anonymous.
Dr. Robinson’s book, #CHILL, goes into the 12 steps in a very subtle way. Each chapter is related to a month of the year. In each of the twelve chapters, he gently introduces the steps in order. Additionally, he provides many useful tools to move in the direction of enjoying your life and getting away from unhealthy overworking. In my interview with Dr. Robinson, he gives an example of such a tool. He asks listeners to stop what they are doing at that moment and focus on a sound in their environment. It could be a singing bird, the wind blowing through the trees, or it could be the sounds of distant traffic on the road. It doesn’t matter. By stopping the busy running around and overthinking that happens throughout the day, you break the cycle of your addictive behavior. You start to live in the moment. Take a deep breath, in and out. Take a break from your life to look around and listen. It is essential to your physical health to take these breaks from the never ending hamster wheel of overworking that has become a full blown addiction for many people.
Therapy can help with stress-related addiction to work.
Yes, work addiction treatment through therapy is available. There are psychologists who have experience in treating many types of addiction, including other behavioral addictions related to workaholism. Self-help and group meetings can only go so far. Sometimes, to treat addiction, you need professional help from a trained therapist. Addiction treatment is also available in specialized rehab programs. You may want to consider going away to a workaholics retreat. In such a retreat, media use, such as using your smartphone, playing video games, social media or any other type of technology would be restricted. Internet use would be either severely limited or not allowed at all. While long hours without online access may seem impossible for a hard worker or someone suffering from internet addiction, it is important to make this break. If you are in such a retreat in a natural setting, such as out in the woods or on the beach, you will come to appreciate the beauty of nature and slowing down.
Getting back to work.
Learning to overcome workaholism does not mean that you cannot work. Most of us must work in order to make the money we need to live. However, in order to maintain your mental health, you must learn to step back from your work. You need to set boundaries. And, when you are at work, you need to take breaks throughout the day. When you are with your family, enjoy being with your family. Put the work aside. Being aware of workaholism is the first step to recovering. Treatment starts with simply being aware that this addiction exists in your life.
I highly recommend visiting the website of Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. You can find his book, #CHILL, on Amazon and in all major book stores. I recommend also downloading the audiobook of #CHILL from Audible. Dr. Robinson narrates his own book. He has a very nice, soothing voice that is perfect for the book. The audiobook can be your companion while driving, on your way to work.