I’ve struggled with work addiction for most of my life. Even as a fifth grader, I remember staying up until midnight to finish a school project. As I got older, my workaholism only worsened, spending entire weekends studying in the library in college and not surprisingly, landing a job where I regularly clocked over 80 hour work-weeks. In any other situation, my compulsive behaviors probably would have spurred my family and friends to have an intervention. But in a society that glorifies hard work? I was celebrated for it.
What Is At the Heart Of Work Addiction?
According to Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC, people often numb themselves by working too much because they are unable to cope with the stressors in their life. For example, someone might be going through a major life event such as the loss of a loved one or a divorce so they bury their emotions by focusing on their work. Anwar also finds that work is something someone can control so when other parts of your life feel out of control, work can serve as a safe refuge.
How Do You Overcome a Work Addiction?
Just like any other addiction, there are a series of steps you can take to create a healthier relationship with work. Here are the three steps that Anwar walks through with her clients who suffer from work addiction.
1. Increase awareness
In order for any change to take place, you first have to become aware of your behaviors and how they are negatively impacting your life. You need to recognize and accept that you are, in fact, addicted to your work. This might be difficult at first: workaholism is so socially accepted in this society. However, try not to compare yourself to others and instead focus on yourself and the specific ways in which work — perhaps the long hours or never-ending to-do list — might be affecting your mental health.
2. Identify the triggers
Workaholism tendencies are often tied to a larger issue whether that’s a personal crisis, a toxic work environment, or low self-worth. It’s important to identify what’s causing you to work compulsively — or, put another way, neglect rest — so you can determine what behaviors need to change.
3. Create boundaries
In order to create a better work/life balance, you need to create boundaries. This could look like setting boundaries with yourself around when, and how long you will work in a given day, or it could look like setting boundaries with your manager and team about when you are available.
In today’s digital age, with email, text, and messaging apps like Slack making people accessible at all hours of the day, it’s even more critical that you take responsibility for your time and work hours. Work addiction is different from other addictions, such as alcohol or substance addictions, because you cannot stop working completely. You need to earn a living, after all. So while you still have to engage in the behavior — working — Anwar recommends being disciplined about having designated work hours, taking a lunch break, and not working once you get home or work hours are over.
Four Therapist-Approved Resources for Work Addiction
Anwar takes a lot of different approaches with her clients to help them recover from work addiction. Here are four of her top recommendations:
1. Take the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART)
For anyone looking to identify if they show signs of workaholism, taking the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART) will help give you answers. WART a standard questionnaire that is focused on detecting workaholism, and Anwar has found it is a helpful starting place for people looking to examine their work behaviors.
2. Individual and group therapy
When battling a work addiction, individual and group therapy can be very helpful. “In individual therapy,” explained Anwar, “a person can identify causes, triggers, risk factors, and gain insight into their symptoms.” Group therapy is another option that is great if you are looking to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. In both instances, therapy offers a safe space to get the support and understanding you need to recover from your work addiction.
Meditation helps still the mind so you can begin to separate yourself from your work. If you are new to meditation, there are a lot of wonderful meditation apps such as Insight Timer and Calm, which have a vast library of meditations to choose from. Vipassana is my personal favorite style of guided meditation because it teaches you to detach from your thoughts and thus, the anxiety that comes with workaholism and feeling like you’ll never be able to get everything done.
Journaling can be a great way to process your thoughts and feelings through a safe outlet. It’s a quick and inexpensive therapeutic tool that can be done anywhere, anytime. I love journaling first thing in the morning so I can dump out all of my worries for the day. I also find writing down my thoughts helps bring clarity when I’m feeling burned out or bad about my boundaries.
Changing my relationship with work has been a long process. Since my entire identity was tied to being ambitious and hard-working, I initially had difficulty learning to let go of that part of myself, even though I knew it was the right thing to do for my mental health. Though I still find myself numbing out with work from time to time, with the help of therapy, and getting to the root of why I pushed myself to work so hard in the first place, I’ve been able to create a healthier work-life balance. If you’d like more help with your fight against work addiction, consider online therapy — a convenient, confidential way to work with a licensed therapist who can help with those hard-to-establish boundaries!