Addicted To Work: Change Is Hard

It’s easy to crawl into the shell of who we are at our core.

I have spent most of the past five weeks in a temporary home on the New Jersey Shore. I wrote about this opportunity when I first arrived, hopeful at the first signs of a “new me.”

I am going to share my experience, even though it is not really advice on how to be productive and doesn’t contain any tips or tricks. Perhaps you will relate to the feeling of disappointment in not being the person you want to be, and not being able to disconnect from work.

sunrise in Avalon
I caught a few sunrises, though not as many as I hoped I would.

I had a mind full of visions of spending mornings overlooking the bay, while working on a creative writing project after drinking coffee and reading the newspaper on my iPad. I had an expectations of pensive walks on the beach, going to bed early and rising with the sun. I dreamed of losing 5 pounds and increasing my running speed. I brought boxes of old photos I looked forward to sorting through to send some off to be digitized. Oh, and I was going to spend time on my own website content as I continue to expand my niche business. And in my spare time I would do client work on a big project due at the end of the month!

Can you guess what happened?

I spent most of my time – and some very late nights – working on the big client project.

It has not been as easy as I thought to stick to new habits, even in a new environment. When that environment is no longer new, I found myself reverting to old habits.

Feeling Guilty For Working Too Much

Instead of feeling calm and inspired to be a better version of my compulsive self, I felt badly that I was not taking advantage more of the opportunity to go for walks on the beach. I got a lot done, but didn’t work on myself as much as I hoped I would. Knowing this is my last day, I’m more motivated to not waste any time and to appreciate the moments that I have. I will admit I wrote this (dictated it to my phone) while sitting in a beach chair looking at the waves crash onto the shore. I had promised myself to make my last day more like I had planned every day to be, with down time away from my computer. But, as I was wrapping up my beach break, a client called and I was sucked back into client work and back at my laptop for an hour when I got home. FAIL.

Avalon beach
Dictating this blog post from the beach.

Focus On The Positive

It’s a beautiful and relaxing place. While I didn’t become the person I wanted to, I did have some very productive time. I’m grateful for it. I’m trying not to beat myself up for not having more down time. I didn’t finish all of the things I had planned, but I got a lot done, and should focus more on what I accomplished vs. what I didn’t do.

I had a wonderful time with some WordPress friends who joined me for a 4 day co-working retreat. We shared ideas, got to know each other better, had nice meals, beach time and work, too!

I also got a lot of client work done and learned some new things in the process.

co working
Co-working retreat. Photo courtesy Sara Dunn.

Are You A Workaholic?

Interestingly, when I Googled “guilt about not relaxing,” I only found articles about feeling guilty FOR relaxing. And when I searched for “guilt about working too much,” I only saw articles about “Mommy Guilt.”

So, next I searched for articles about being a Workaholic, addicted to work.

This article from Fast Company describes different causes of overwork:

  • Motivational: Workaholics are different from people who are simply highly engaged in their jobs. They don’t enjoy their work; they feel compelled to work because of internal pressures. In other words, they work because they feel like they should or ought to be working.
  • Cognitive: Workaholics have persistent thoughts about work when they’re not working, and they find it difficult to mentally disengage from work.
  • Emotional: Workaholics experience negative emotions like anxiety and guilt when they aren’t working.
  • Behavioral: Workaholics tend to work beyond what is reasonably expected of them by their organization.

I think my behavior stems from the Cognitive cause.

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale uses seven basic criteria to identify work addiction. Answer these questions by scoring on the following scale:
(1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Andreassen’s study shows that scoring of «often» or «always» on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a workaholic. My answers are in bold.

I scored 4/7. I am pretty sure I am a Workaholic.

I did some research to see why this is a problem. Studies have shown that working too much is associated with high blood pressure and other stress-related diseases. I consider myself to be pretty healthy so far, so if being a workaholic allows me to get a lot done, what’s wrong with that?

Research from 2017 by the Academy of Management, called “Beyond Nine to Five: Is Working to Excess Bad for Health?” asked, “Is working very long hours, especially if done compulsively, the peril to life or health it has been widely thought to be?” It may reassure you, if you are a fellow compulsive worker, to learn that poor health is not necessarily the outcome of working long hours.

This research, summarized in this Inc. Magazine article, indicates that it is not bad to be a workaholic if one or more of these circumstances apply:

  • You are engaged in your work
  • You’re invested in your work
  • You’re enthusiastic about your job
  • You love what you do

The good news is that if these conditions apply – if you are engaged, invested, enthusiastic and love what you do – the health risks associated with working compulsively is lower.

Striving For Change

I am grateful for the work that I did get done and the time that I spent here in this beautiful place. I am sorry I didn’t turn into a person who can stop when in the middle of something and who relaxes easily – I am pretty sure I am a Workaholic. Change is hard. I won’t give up trying to be that person who takes breaks and can push work out of my mind. I’m just not there yet, and that’s ok.

Are you a Workaholic? I would love to hear your experience and thoughts.

beach boat in Avalon
The beach in Avalon is one of my favorite places.

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