Health & Wellness Articles

Are You a Workaholic?

How Overworking Can Hurt Your Health

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By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor         
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We live in a culture that's always on the go. We are constantly plugged in to the Internet and are accessible to everyone all the time. We eat in our cars, rushing from must-dos to have-tos. We get in to the office early. We stay late. We take care of our families. We do our chores. We check our email from home and while we're on vacation. We wish that there were more hours in a day, and we cut back on sleep to make the most of the hours we do have.

Sound familiar? For many of us, multitasking is a way of life. But there's a fine line between being busy and being overworked. Or worse yet, being a workaholic. Working too much can have negative effects on your physical and mental health, including slowing your weight-loss efforts or even causing you to gain weight. But it's a problem that the entire nation is being faced with. According to WebMD, 44% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and an estimated 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

Negative Effects of Overworking
The vicious cycle begins with a dangerous combination of two things: too much stress and too little sleep. First, let's talk about stress. While some stress is normal and can be beneficial, chronic stress—where you never stop being rushed or never get a chance to relax between stressful encounters—isn't. If you're feeling stressed most of the day, you quickly can become overworked and stress-related tension builds. If this goes on for too long, it can actually result in a condition called distress. Distress can then lead to a number of not-so-fun symptoms such as upset stomach, elevated blood pressure and chest pain. It can also trigger or worsen other underlying symptoms or diseases that you might have.

Then there's sleep. Stress in and of itself can interfere with falling asleep and the quality of sleep you get. Just think of the last time you couldn't sleep. Was it because you were worried about something, like a sick loved one or that big presentation in the morning? While isolated problems with sleep are human nature, getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours a sleep a night on a regular basis can negatively affect your health. Sleep loss has been shown to reduce your ability to focus and pay attention (never good at home, work or while driving!). Research has also found that losing sleep can increase hunger and slow down your body's metabolism. Just think about it. When you're stressed, do you reach for higher-fat foods (and fast convenience foods) or end up drinking too much to help relax after a long day? These are never good things if you're trying to manage your weight.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • Having been the CEO of a $4b operation, I understand well the effects of overwork. Stress, sleepless nights, 2am conference calls, people who think that simply running on the hamster wheel is work (although it accomplishes nothing). I've learned that I have to take time for myself. I'm retired now, but here are a few things I learned that helped me: 1) I'm more effective in my workday if I start my day with a run or at least a walk at 6am, without news, email, or anything else work related. 2) the exercise clears the cobwebs from my head and allows for better focus throughout the day. 3) I'm better able to distinguish busywork from business when I exercise. 4) a 30 minute walk at lunchtime, usually alone but sometimes with a friend-no business discussion allowed- helps me to recharge that feeling from my morning run so the afternoon stays productive. 5) considering the beauty of the surroundings of that lunchtime walk in the park-the flowers, the trees, the bees, etc-help me to keep my attitude positive amongst all the disasters that need cleaning up during my workday. 6) finally, I'm a much more pleasant person to the people I love the most when I take the above noted times for myself to refresh and keep the stress under control. Too bad that I learned all of that so late in my career...I was very successful, but could have been so much more so had I learned these things earlier. - 2/21/2016 12:00:53 PM
  • Is it possible to be a workaholic if you only work part-time? I own my business and don't have weekends or vacations. I might only work 2 hours some days and 14 hours other days. In December I had three days off. I take on extra work because I can't count on my business partner. I'm afraid if I take a day off, I'll lose a client. I constantly worry about the future and I pretty much never stop thinking about work. But I'm working less than 40 hours a week! - 1/2/2016 5:31:53 PM
  • This use to be me. Sometimes my days would be 12 hours of hard cleaning and getting something to eat on the run , while driving to the next house. I did this for ten years. It killed my health and broke me body down. Now I have my own houses, my own hours , and have time for myself. But this is my husband 12 hour days,5 to 6 days a week, plus he is remodeling our bathroom in his off time. He is stressed out all the time . When he gets like that everything he is doing starts going wrong and he gets angry I try to get him to stop what he is doing and chill for a little while, but he want. I just know he is going to have a heart attack one day. He is diabetic and has high blood presure - 9/20/2012 8:00:44 AM
  • I notice that many of the comments reflect the belief that their situation is a special case which mandates unhealthy or unbalanced lifestyles. I also noticed that few comments acknowledged that our choices our our own. A few years ago no one could tell me that I had choices about how much I was doing. From my perspecitve it was all necessary - the job, the kids, the community leadership roles, the house, the exercise, all of it. . My experiences since however have shown me that owning my choices and how I think about things makes a remarkable differnce in how ai feel. I do still eat at my desk and occasionally take work home. I also own those choices as mine. It makes a difference in how I see things. If I can choose to overwork I can choose to be balanced too. And I am, one decision at a time. - 5/18/2012 8:22:05 PM
  • EMMANYC
    Realistically, it's simply not an option in my field to work a 40 hour week. That said, I don't work 90 hour weeks anymore, and I haven't pulled an all-nighter in 4 years. I think the goal should be to reduce hours worked by looking and eliminating "wasted" time, and also to find time during the day to restore sanity. I also try very hard to take at least one day off work per week, so even if work Sunday, I take Friday night through Sunday late morning off most weeks in the year. - 1/23/2012 9:53:58 PM
  • I left a job that required me to work on average 70 hours per week - sometimes up to 90. When I signed my contract, there was a part that stated that I needed something like "untiring enthusiasm and energy." Sometimes a 40 hour week is not physically possible to do everything that has to get done, especially when it is as structured as a boarding school environment. I loved my coworkers and plan to go back into teaching, but I do not plan on living on dorm at a boarding school ever again. My health couldn't take it. While working there, I gained close to 25 pounds in the first year.
    Since I left, my stress level has gone down, I am happier, I have more time to spend with family, and I do better at what I am working on. Now, my newest project (and oldest at the same time) is ME.
    - 11/12/2011 4:07:47 PM
  • I feel like this article was written about me. A lot of food for thought here. Thank you for posting this article. - 10/28/2011 7:44:33 PM
  • I didn't know there was a 12 step program for workaholics. - 7/16/2011 1:46:07 AM
  • I am a workaholic. I've been this way since for at least 15 years if not longer because I've had high stress/fast-paced jobs....working 50-60 hours per week. I started with a new company last summer and have made a real effort to cut down on my work hours. Admittedly, I still fall asleep and wake up with work "to do's" on my mind but it is getting better. I LOVE the idea of getting up earlier and dedicating 5 minutes to "me"....now, let's see if I can actually do it! LOL - 4/17/2011 1:49:36 AM
  • This was a very interesting article for me to read. I recently promoted from an hourly (40 hour work week) to a salaried member of my company which translates to a minimum of 45 hours a week. We are down one member and approaching a huge deadline. Also the company i work for does not approve of overtime for hourly associates so if i don't get the workload done in between meetings, i take it home with me or stay late.. Just recently i have figured out how to plan my meals and squeeze in "me time" and exercise. It has been a pretty big challenge adjusting my schedule. - 2/20/2011 9:52:41 PM
  • It's so hard NOT to get stressed! I'm a first year teacher for 5th grade, 45min away. I'm out the door by 6:40am, don't get much of a break, especially when it's my week for recess duty (20min to eat!! yikes!) & usually don't get home until 6-7pm because I want to get things done in my room, have an ESL class, staff meetings, etc. Not to mention spending time at home making things, grading, etc. It's tough, but I definitely feel like a workaholic spending so much time on work! Wish it was easier to just take time to relax! - 2/20/2011 7:52:57 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Being a salaried worker as opposed to an hourly worker, my company expected us to work until the job was done with no additional compensation. That often translated into working 60-70 hours a week, working at home & on the weekends. As the company downsized - or "rightsized" as they called it, the workforce shrunk and the remaining employees had to take on additional responsibilities. If we didn't get everything done on time and on budget, we had poor annual reviews which impacted raises. The stress factor was unbelievable, but fortunately for me, I was in a position to take early retirement. Now I work part-time & do volunteer work. My health has improved immensely. - 2/20/2011 2:54:15 PM
  • I work 2 jobs, about 75 hours/week. Since taking on a second job I am much less stressed than I was. I am quickly eliminating our family debt and improving out life overall. I still exercise at least 8 hours/week. I am married and have three young children. I am still able to be involved with parent council at their school and head many fundraising initiatives.
    Sure, I sleep on average 4 hours a day but that is more than I was sleeping when I was tossing and turning because of the finacial stress.
    Taking control of my life included weight loss, and repaying debt. I am happier, healthier and more energetic now than I have been in ages! - 2/20/2011 1:10:39 PM
  • It's so easy to get caught up in the rat-race! And it's not always easy to get out of it. For me, it took a heart attack. Now, I only work part-time. It's all I can handle and I know it. - 2/20/2011 1:07:58 PM
  • I am fascinated that "workaholic" and "stressed" are taken as equivalent here. I'm at work more than 40 hours a week and take work home with me. My lunch break is less than 30 minutes and I sometimes sleep alternate nights to keep up. This coming week is a school vacation, and I'm looking forward to working just seven hours a day and only having students who want to be there. So my mom complains I'm a workaholic. But I don't feel anxious or depressed, and I certainly don't have trouble falling asleep. After 16 years at this, teaching still FEEDS me and I wake up eager to get to school in the mornings. So maybe I need some help with workaholism, but I don't think I'm having a problem with stress. - 2/20/2011 6:37:05 AM

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