Hello. My name is a Melissa. And I am a workaholic.

Writing those words is a bit difficult. I’ve often wondered if I would ever be able to share this publicly. Well, here we are! Welcome to the meeting.

It may seem a bit extreme to compare ‘working too much’ to other addictions, like drugs and alcohol. But I know firsthand how extreme this addiction is — and it is extreme.

Working too much has always been a struggle for me. I like jobs that I can take work home. I used to consider myself a restless soul; now I realize it is an addiction to work.

But when I started working from home a little over a year ago, the urge to work became stronger. I no longer had the hard stop that was implied by the cleaning lady turning off the lights in a community office setting.

It’s A Disease

Did you know that workaholism is a disease? Although it’s not technically recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis, it can unfortunately take years before some diseases are formally recognized — even when they are life altering. But even if it’s not official, many professionals treat it like a disease, because they recognize that that’s exactly what it is.

Workaholism is a syndrome of dependence that can increase your risk of depression and anxiety. According to Brad Klontz, Psy.D, it may have been passed down from your parents. You work as a way to cope with emotional discomfort or inadequacy. You experience adrenaline rushes when binging on work. And, just like other addicts, you crash after the high.

Are You a Workaholic?

Every addict remembers when the addiction started.

It was 1999. I worked in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a staff nurse. I would go home after night-shift, only to wake up and with the urge to call the unit and check on my babies. I started feeling that no one could care for them the way I could. Silly, right?

Believe it or not, this should have been my first sign that I had a problem.

Researchers from the University of Bergen’s Psychosocial Science Department identified a list of characteristics of workaholics, known as the ‘work addiction scale.’

Here are the seven criteria to help you determine your level of work addiction:

  • You think of how you can free up more time for work.
  • You spend more time working than you intended.
  • Working decreases feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and/or depression.
  • Others have told you to decrease how much you work, but you don’t listen.
  • You become stressed if you can’t work.
  • You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of work.
  • Work has negatively impacted your health.

If you answered “often” or “always” to any of these statements, you might be a workaholic.

4 Ways to Quiet the Work Addiction

I often feel that work is calling my name. No, I don’t hear voices, but I do have constant thoughts about work. Even when I should be relaxing, like lying in bed at night or trying to enjoy time with my family, my mind often wanders back to work topics.

Here are a few strategies that help me control the urge to work too much:

Set Office Hours with Breaks

This one is probably the hardest. I am a constant “one more thing” kind of girl. But I am working hard to keep set office hours.

Granted, they are long hours — typically 10 a day. I have found that allowing myself to work a bit longer each day helps to quiet the urge to work later at night.

I also take three 30 minute breaks each day. I try to get outside during these times, whether I’m walking my dogs or just sitting on the porch. The sunshine and ability to disconnect helps. During these breaks, I don’t look at tech. In fact, I leave my phone in the office so that I have to unplug.

Find an Accountability Partner

For me, this is my husband and a close friend. Admittedly, I don’t always listen to their wise words, but when one of them tells me that it’s time to close up shop or take a half-day off, I do listen. It helps me to gauge the obsession.

Pomodoro Technique

As a workaholic, I don’t only crave work. I want production too. The Pomodoro Technique helps with productivity. It uses a simple kitchen timer (or app) to create periods of work, coupled with periods of rest and physical activity. You work for 25 minutes, then get up and take a 5-minute break.

It may seem counter intuitive, but it works to keep you focused on one task at a time.

Hard Reset

You may think of this practice as something for electronics only. But think about it: your body’s mechanical, too. So when you need to reset the crossed messages your brain gives you about work, engaging in a few intentional hours or even days with zero work is essential.

I have found that when I disconnect from work, I enjoy life, family time, and even intimacy a little bit more.

I am far from being free from working too much. But with intentional practices like the ones above, I have been able to quiet the giant Workaholic within — I hope you can, too.

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