Burnout

Are You a Workaholic? If So, This May Be Why

Are you obsessed with something?Thinking about it day and night, never off-duty?

Posted Nov 03, 2014

Workaholic?
Work, work, work...

If you are a workaholic, sportsaholic, alcoholic or excessively doing any too much of any activity in your life, you may be doing so because you excell in the skill made famous by the phenomenal magician Houdini.  You may be an escape artist. From what do you escape?  Often, it's from marital or other relationship problems.  Could also be loneliness, financial fears, school or some other dark arena in your life that feels to you genuinely insurmountable.

Problems pop up from time to time in everyone's life.  

When something goes wrong, you have basically five options about how to respond.  Which do you tend to utilize? 

Here's a hint: 'Olics like workaholics, alcoholics, sportsaholics and the like often prefer #4.

1. Fight for what you want.

2. Fold, giving up and giving in.

3. Freeze, unable to move forward, gather more information or find a solution.

4. Flee, finding an escape route.

5. Figure out how to solve the problem, solve it, and move forward feeling good.

You may use several of these response options on any given tough problem.  You may find also that sometimes you will try first one, then another, and eventually multiple options to try to cope with a particularly tough but important challenge.

Here's what emotional or behavioral consequences each of the five problem-response options tends to lead to.

1.  Fighting brings on anger.  The more you fight, the madder you, and others, may become.

2.  Folding yields depression.  Giving up results in losing, and losing causes a drop in serotonin.  On the other hand, giving up can keep a relationship from coming apart, can appease a hostile adversary, and may be safer with regard to personal injury that trying to fight, especially if you see yourself as having  lesser power than your adversary.

3.  Freezing, like a deer in headlights, perpetuates anxiety.  Sometimes doing nothing is a good idea, as it results neither in injuries from a fight or in having to give up on what you want. Freezing also though has its costs.  Anxiety feels unpleasant.  In addition, immobilization leaves the problem unaddressed.

4.  Fleeing removes you from the problem, which may keep you safe.  If you flee to do something you enjoy, so much the better.  At the same time, alas, flight has the unfortunate cost of preventing you from engaging in activities that could possible lead to a positive solution. In addition, the way you escape can generate additional problems.  Being a workaholic can prove provocative to your family members, for instance, who miss your involvement in their lives.

5.  Figuring out how to solve the problem most often sustains you on the roads of well-being and, with others, goodwill.  Still, there definitely are some situations where this option just proves unavailable.

If your preferred mode of handling difficulties trends toward escape via obsessively focused energies spent thinking and doing work, in what ways has that pattern served you well? 

Definitely, workaholic patterns  can bring status, financial payoffs, and even a work community, not to mention the satisfaction of doing work that you enjoy.  In addition, being able to focus in and preservere for long hours at work tasks definitely can propel you forward toward occupational success.

Workaholic patterns generally do offer more promise for long term rewards than escapes into watching sports on TV, doing drugs or over-doing it with alcohol. 

Michael J. Fox once said it well:

As a kid, I was into music, played guitar in a band. Then I started acting in plays in junior high school and just got lost in the puzzle of acting, the magic of it. I think it was an escape for me.
Michael J. Fox 

Desire to avoid, to flee, or to escape from problems elsewhere however do not drive all obsessive working.

There are other quite legitimate reasons why you may be spending a disproportionate number of your waking hours at work. 

Sometimes an intense focus on work may enable you to stay afloat vis a vis a sunami of must-get-done's that has come your way. 

Maybe working extra long hours now will enable you to win an eventual promotion.  The promotion in turn could perhaps tenable you to relax and enjoy other aspects of your life more later--provided that your current workaholic pattern doesn't develop into a permanent work addiction.

Maybe your work energies need to be focused to give birth to a baby, that is, to a big project that needs your full attention for an extended period of time in order for it to come alive. When I write a book for instance, which I have been doing of late, I need to focus intensely toward the end of the writing process for the book to successfully emerge.

Maybe you've just fallen into the habit of work, so that the rest of your life has atrophied.

Still, if you find that you live mainly in your office with little time left for your family, friends or fun, maybe it's time to turn around.  Look squarely to see if, in addition to what you are running toward, there's something you are running from

Maybe, as you keep looking for what might be scaring you away from exploring more of life's many potential realms and adventures, you might possibly identify the hidden dragon, and alongside it, a pathway to solutions.

Go for it!  

--For a listing by topics of Dr. H's posts, see Dr. H's Blogposts on her clinical website--

Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, has authored From Conflict to Resolution for therapists, plus the Power of Two bookworkbook, and website that teach the couple communication skills for successful relationships.  

Click here for a free Power of Two relationship quiz. 

Click here to learn the skills for strong and loving relationships.