Avoiding Workaholism

by Laura S. Struhl, Ph.D.


I just got a substantial promotion at work, and have been in a relationship for the last three years. While I'm excited about the promotion, especially in these economic times, I'm worried about my relationship suffering because of the time I'll be spending at work. I'm already getting complaints about being a "workaholic" and my putting the "relationship on the back burner" while I advance in my career.


Many people in the workforce are faced with similar dilemmas. Balancing personal and career demands can be a major challenge. Relationships require a certain amount of time and attention to keep them alive, and to keep us emotionally nourished, as well. The term "workaholism" is not technically recognized as a psychological disorder. However, it is commonly understood as a psychological issue. Someone is struggling with workaholism when s/he has a focused relationship with work that excludes time for self-nurturing, friends and love relationships. Workaholism becomes a relationship with work that competes with other important relationships.

Here are some warning signs of workaholism:

Your home is just another office.
You are hard-driving, competitive, and overly committed to your work.
You take office equipment with you wherever you go, even on vacations.
Work makes you happier than anything else in your life.
Sleep and playtime seem like a waste.
You believe that if you get the chance to do it again, you'll do it right.
You get restless on vacation (if you even take them) and sometimes cut them short.
You frequently are "problem solving" work situations in your mind, even during your "time off."
Friends either don't call anymore, or you can't wait to get off the phone when they do call.
People who love you tell you that "you have a lot of energy," are "manic," or are a "workhorse."
You are tired, irritable, socially isolated, and might even have physical stress symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, racing heart, muscle tension, or ulcers.

If you can see yourself in most of these characteristics, you probably are a workaholic.

Ok, so now what do you do?

Schedule time for your primary relationship.

Most relationships require at least 20-30 minutes of "connect time" every day, not including time to discuss bills, children, phone calls, etc. This time is spent simply checking in with, and catching up with one another. You might ask about one's day, make future plans, dream together and enjoy each other's company. When you're on the road, make sure you call home regularly, and leave a phone number where you can most easily be reached. When you get home, take extra time for re-connecting. Usually an hour is the minimum requirement. Take occasional time off together (a morning, an evening, a two-or-three day weekend) with unplanned time to allow for spontaneity and creativity. Plan a "date" out on the town at least every few months. Leave messages. Leave notes for one another, and messages on voicemails. If you tend to these little things, you'll avoid the feeling of being torn, and benefit from the warmth of your relationship as well.

Make time for your friendships.

Make sure you pick people who are fun. The best way to avoid giving in to workaholism is to "red line" time for nurturing relationships in your appointment calendar.

Take care of your body.

Get a physical exam to rule out other problems. Take care of the three basics: eating, sleeping, exercising. Pay a little extra attention to all three categories. Take 4-5 minute "breaks" at your desk. Allow yourself to close your eyes, breathe rhythmically, and focus your mind's eye on a relaxing place. If you get distracted, gently bring yourself back to the relaxing scene.

Re-examine your long-term goals.

Are you doing what you want to be doing with your life? From the vantage point of your deathbed, what do you want to be able to say able to say about how you spent these years?

Re-examine your short-term goals.

Remind yourself of the things you have already accomplished rather than just those you still need to accomplish. Do this daily. A moment of reflection when sitting down at your desk can help keep things in perspective.

If you just can't do it on your own, get counseling and do what the counselor suggests.

Following someone else's instructions can be tough, but try it for at least a month before you go back to your old ways.



Laura S. Struhl, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist in San Diego, California where she maintains a private practice treating individuals and couples.

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