All Work & No Play
Americans are working more hours than ever. In fact, studies have shown that the United States is the most overworked developed nation in the world. Putting in over-time has become the rule rather than the exception, and now, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have found themselves working from home and having universal connectivity – making it much more difficult to disconnect from their jobs. “Having the ability to work from any place means that we are pushed to work at any time,” says Elizabeth Gates, a licensed psychotherapist at River City Counseling in Hixson. “There is now an expectation that we must overwork to meet basic demands.”
By Mary Beth Wallace
First, it’s important to recognize what overworking is. According to Gates, “Overworking is often defined as working too long or too hard, or working to the point of exhaustion. It can mean that we are working beyond our capacity, and this often becomes a long-term, habitual pattern.” For most, overworking looks like putting in extra hours each week, taking on additional projects, or bearing the brunt of the workload, which can lead to feelings of resentment and hopelessness.
Logging in after-hours or answering emails 24/7 may seem like a good idea, but over time, these practices can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. Overworking has been directly linked to death and disability, and on a daily level, it can result in physical complications like fatigue, headaches, stomach upset, and chest pain. Overworking also increases incidences of anxiety and depression. “Part of the difficulty with all of this is that these effects often happen over time, and it can be hard to identify the connection between all these different symptoms and overworking,” Gates says. “So, we are quick to write these symptoms off as, ‘Oh, I’m just having a bad week,’ when in reality it could be our brain and body trying to tell us that we need to slow down and refocus on taking care of ourselves.”
Fortunately, overworking is both preventable and treatable, and there are many approaches you can take to avoid it.
“Not only is it okay, but it is imperative to set limits on our work time, both with others and with ourselves,” Gates advises. Start by having conversations with both family members and co-workers about respecting your work hours and non-work time. Avoid looking at emails during non-work time unless it’s for an already-agreed-
upon task, and learn to say “no” when your workload becomes unmanageable.
For those working remotely, make sure that your in-home work area is free of distractions and as separate as possible from your living spaces. It’s also a good practice to create a routine, including a change of scenery – whether a short drive or walk around the block – when the workday is done to help you transition back to home life.
“We all deserve to find meaning and purpose outside of whatever job we happen to have at the moment and to make work a less central aspect of our identity. We can have our health without a career, but we cannot have a career without our health.”
One of the best ways to decrease your to-do list is taking an honest look at what needs to get done. For example, is it necessary that you complete a task every single day, or can it be compressed to a weekly occurrence? What can you take off your list entirely or delegate to someone else? Gates explains, “Something I ask my clients to consider is whether a problem really belongs to them. Those who overwork often take on more responsibility than they need to, so we work on learning how and when to delegate appropriately and confidently.”
“Self-care is a term that is often misunderstood,” Gates says. “Sometimes it does mean to take a hot bath or get a massage, but in reality, self-care means doing all the things we need to do to stay healthy. This includes going to doctor appointments, finishing the laundry, and grocery shopping. It includes getting adequate amounts of sleep, maintaining healthy nutrition, and remaining physically active.” Whatever activities you decide to take part in outside of work, they should become just as much a priority as your job is. Put them on your schedule, communicate their importance to your loved ones, and stick with it, just as you would a mandatory work meeting.
If you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed, remember that help is available! Reaching out to a licensed professional – the earlier, the better – can help you make changes and find a more healthy work-life balance. HS