Why We Overwork Ourselves and How I Learned to Stop

Ashley Broadwater
Jul 28, 2020 · 6 min read

Realizing I’m an Overworker

t’s the afternoon, and I’ve been writing for hours straight. I’ve written multiple stories, checked emails, researched and more. Despite all I’ve done and some positive feelings about it, I still can’t stop asking myself the question:

Did I do enough?

The more I think, the more I worry. I think about how I’m not making much money, yet what I’m having to pay for is increasing. I think about the hours still left in the business day, and how I got a late start that morning. I think about more articles I want to write and that I think I can push myself through.

But I also think about how stressed and tired I am, and how these worries seem a little excessive, especially given my hard work. Deep down, I know I need a break and to be a better boss to myself. I consider engaging in other activities that will help me feel productive and relaxed at the same time.

No matter what lies I tell myself, however, the bottom line is this: I’m overworking myself, and I need to stop.

You don’t have to work 90 hours a week or on weekends to be pushing yourself too hard. We can all handle different amounts of work given the type of work, our mental health, our situation and many other factors. In addition, scientists say we should only work one day a week for optimal mental health.

Why We Overwork

The urge to overwork is common and understandable with many potential reasons, though.

We as workers feel more uncertain and therefore insecure about our job positions, making us feel like our identity is in our talents and work and that we need that to survive emotionally and financially. We want to move forward in our careers and will put up with unhealthy working conditions, which businesses capitalize on upon realization.

Further, after the Great Depression, the value of work increased. People associated “leisure” with “unemployment.” We became more comfortable in the world of making money and the sense of purpose and belonging that comes with it.

And with so much to pay for, like student loans and rent, people learn upon graduation, if not earlier, the importance and necessity of hustling and making money simply to survive and feel comfortable.

In addition, we also may find passion in what we do, and the line between “I do this because I enjoy it” and “I do this because it’s my job and I need money” can get blurry. Finding a job you enjoy is great, but setting boundaries around when the work is work and when it’s play can be difficult and exacerbate our situation.

Not only do we find purpose, comfort, and passion in working hard to make money, but we’ve also grown to become a society that’s willing to push our mental health, physical health, and relationships to the side for those feelings.

What Overworking Can Look Like

When I was in college, I felt like I witnessed “Productivity is Pain Olympics” in which it was both cool and normalized to talk about how you were up all night writing a paper or didn’t have time to eat lunch. Many students didn’t go to therapy because they claimed they didn’t have the time, or they had to work side jobs to have the money for it.

According to the OECD Better Life Index, America ranks 29th out of 40 on employees working long hours, in which 11.1 percent of Americans work too many. As far as time devoted to leisure and personal care, America ranks 30th out of 40.

In Psychology Today, Dr. Barbara Killinger said the differences between a “workaholic” and a “hard worker” include being able to be emotionally present for friends, family, and co-workers and being able to take a break after a period of working extra hard to meet a goal. “Workaholics” can’t do that and feel constant internal chaos. They may feel a need to be in control and complete tasks the way they believe is best.

What Overworking Looks Like For Me

I definitely identify with a lot of these causes and emotions. As an Enneagram type three, I fully understand what it means to define myself in my work and my success. I fear failure, invalidation, judgment, and inadequacy deeply and am quite the perfectionist. I find my worth in my productivity and my achievements, even though I know that isn’t healthy, sustainable, or realistic.

After many hours spent stress-crying, feeling not good enough, and forgetting about my impressive qualities, I’ve realized that my overworking needs to stop. I’m worrying and focusing too much on my work, to where my mental health, physical health, and relationships have declined at times. I’m naturally a hard worker and probably always will be — I don’t need that extra push. What I need is to take care of myself and know that I’m doing enough, if not more than.

How I Learned to Stop Overworking

In Psychology Today, Dr. Bryan E. Robinson discussed several helpful tips on handling our “need” to overwork. The following are those tips combined with my own suggestions.

Work mindfully and avoid multitasking.

Focus on the work you’re doing right now rather than stressful future projects or past mistakes. Focus on one project right now without trying to complete too many projects at once. It is possible for goal-setting to hurt us if we set unrealistic goals that require too much of us.

Find balance and self-compassion.

Figure out what’s a healthy work-life balance for you personally and live into that. Be compassionate about what you’re able to do without judging yourself. Be understanding of and loving toward yourself.

Set boundaries and take breaks.

Take breaks consistently in which you engage in relaxing activities. Set boundaries around what you can and are willing to do; don’t work when you need or want to rest. You don’t have to work on the weekends, for example. These breaks and boundaries will help you be more efficient and effective in your work.

Block off time for yourself and your relationships.

Make sure you have plenty of time to focus on your physical and mental health through exercise, therapy and life-giving activities. Make time for hobbies and appointments. Make time to have meaningful quality time with people you care about and who care about you. Give these activities and people your full, undivided attention and care.

Gain insight and don’t be afraid to ask for professional help.

Think about why you feel a need to overwork and how you can fix that. Are you trying to avoid a personal problem in your life? How can you address that problem in a more healthy, happy and helpful way? It’s okay to reach out to a therapist or mentor for this or for any other need you’d like to address. Psychology Today has a database for therapists and other professional help avenues. The Mighty lists some cheaper online options here.

Why Trying to Stop is Important for Our Health

As much as we may know that trying to stop overworking is important for our wellbeing, the temptations to overwork are still there and will probably stay, to some degree. We still have work to get done, money to make to pay the bills and a nagging feeling that we’re lazy or unworthy if we don’t work a full day or more. It’s easy to feel like our overworking is necessary whether or not we like it.

Those reasons aren’t entirely untrue, either. In this capitalistic society, many of us have to work to survive and can’t take a day off whenever we feel like it. I acknowledge and validate that wholeheartedly.

We just have to know that overworking puts our health at risk. Working long hours can lead to poor circulation, heart problems, poor sleep, and an inability to concentrate. Stress hormones can increase, and some people in Asia work so hard they literally die. The risk of depression and other mental health struggles also rises.

But sometimes even hearing those concerns isn’t enough. Many of us still need money and still can’t seem to stop putting our health to the side.

Take Baby Steps if Necessary

All I’m asking from you is this: At the bare minimum, take care of yourself, and do what you can. Be able to recognize signs of overwork and figure out ways you can work on addressing them in personally helpful ways.

Change the way you see yourself. Remind yourself that your worth isn’t in your work. Reach out for help when you need it. Make it a goal to get an extra hour of sleep or pack snacks to eat throughout the day so you have that nutrition and energy you need to get work done.

Baby steps are okay. Baby steps are admirable.

Ultimately, do what you can. That is enough.

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Ashley Broadwater

Written by

8X Top Writer + Featured Story. Contributor @POPSUGAR. UNC Journalism + Media. Relationships + writing tips. Newsletter + more: https://t.co/00JlqMhZ4i?amp=1

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Ashley Broadwater

Written by

8X Top Writer + Featured Story. Contributor @POPSUGAR. UNC Journalism + Media. Relationships + writing tips. Newsletter + more: https://t.co/00JlqMhZ4i?amp=1

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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