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Workaholism: Five Ways to Keep It in Check

By Debra Davenport, for Yahoo! HotJobs

You know who you are: You take your cellphone 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 US, 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 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 his lifestyle is out of balance and poses serious health risks. 

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 multipronged approach that may include counseling, behavior modification, hypnotherapy, lifestyle changes and family intervention. Some tips for getting a handle on workaholism:

  • 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.
  • Schedule Noncancelable 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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 be helpful.
  • 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.

For more information, visit Workaholics Anonymous.

[Debra Davenport, PhD, is a career expert and the president of DavenportFolio, a licensed firm that mentors entrepreneurs and professionals.]

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