Ambition, persistence, a drive for success — how do you know when you’ve lept beyond a good work ethic and landed in workaholism?
“As Americans, we prize success over everything, even if it’s destructive,” said Oscar Sida, a mental health and addictions counselor at UNLV who serves as a clinical supervisor in the Tele-Counseling Center.
Sida said people look at champion NFL football players, surgeons or Olympic gymnasts and justify all the sacrifices it takes to achieve those career pinnacles.
But hard work and braving long hours alone isn’t a sign of addiction.
Dr. Danielle Richards, a professor in the Department of Human Behavior at the College of Southern Nevada, said the problems start when work interferes with other aspects of your life — interpersonal relationships with others, your intrapersonal relationship with yourself and your physiological health.
“When work results in significant impairment or distress, it is problematic,” she said via email.
Sida said many people with workplace obsessions develop a codependent relationship with work.
“Is your job more important than you? That’s the hallmark of a codependent relationship,” he said. “You have to step back and say, ‘Why do I feel this way?’ “
Sida said it’s important to get to the core of why work is more important than other aspects of life. Is it because you don’t know how to deal with interpersonal relationships with family, but you feel productive and important at work? Is your relationship with your wife bad, so you hide at work?
For many, self-esteem, too, is dependant on perceived work success.
Sida suggests we ask, “What kind of relationship do I have with myself? Do I like myself? Do I feel guilty when I’m not working?”
Richards said another hazard of work addiction is burn-out.
“Recognizing the signs and symptoms of burn-out is important,” she said. “Burn-out can be due to chronic occupational stress and/or individual coping characteristics. It involves physical and emotional exhaustion with many signs and symptoms similar to depression. These symptoms can include problems with decision making, impaired memory and cloudy thinking, loss of motivation and hope.”
Work addiction can’t be treated the same way as dependance on alcohol or drugs. To break a substance abuse habit, it’s key to remove the addiction from your life.
“It’s kind of a complex issue. How do you separate one from the other when you have to work?” Sida said. “We do have to work, just like we have to eat, and you can have addiction or dysfunctional relationships with food, too,” he said.
So if you recognize you have a problem, what can you do?
Sida recommends talking to a mental health professional, someone who can help you identify priorities in your life and face underlying issues that may lead to using work to numb or hide from issues that need to be addressed.
He said a counselor can help develop a personal treatment plan to bring life back into balance, so you can learn to enjoy work while putting healthy limits on it.
“Treatment is available, and it works,” he said.
Richards said taking steps to preserve well-being, before burn-out occurs, is key to finding a healthy balance.
“Meditation, mindfulness practices, self-compassion training, journaling and exercise are a few of the many strategies,” she said.
Richards said it’s also important to be ready to make a change if your career isn’t the fight fit.
“The Holland Codes refers to a theory of vocational choices based on personality types,” she said. “Learning about the occupational environment that fits with your personality and how to make vocational changes when it does not is vital.”
Sida said sometimes people will blame the job. A mental health professional can help them explore why.
“They tell me they hate the job, and blame the job, but they can’t leave,” he said. “Everything in life has its price. You have to decide what you’re willing to do personally.”
— Contact View contributing reporter Ginger Meurer at email@example.com. Find her on Twitter: @gingermmm.Addiction Series
View plans to spend the next several months exploring the topic of addictions in Sin City in a bi-monthly series that will cover everything from alcohol and food to technology and shopping. Watch for the next Addiction Series story in the Sept. 17 issue, with a look at sex and love.