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Overworking: 9 Signs You're Working Too Much
Mental Health

Overworking: 9 Signs You're Working Too Much

Are you burning yourself out?

There are 168 hours in the seven-day week, but for our purposes here, we’re focusing on work. So let’s consider the 120 hours in the five-day business week. Assuming you are between the ages of 18 to 60, experts from the World Health Organization recommend you get more than seven hours of sleep per night, with many adults needing nine hours.

Let’s use eight hours as our benchmark for sleep, which means anyone getting enough rest (which basically none of us are), you should spend 40 hours asleep during that work week. Subtract 40 from 120 and you get 80. Assuming you work the classic nine-to-five – or any eight-hour daily schedule, for that matter – then half of your waking hours will be devoted to work, and the rest of your time is free. 

Except it’s not, because of parenting and commuting and errands and cooking and cleaning and so on. 

By the numbers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates parents spend about 1.2 to 1.3 hours a day actively engaged in parenting, the Census Bureau estimates the average American’s one-way commute at about 28 minutes, and a major survey found we spend at least an hour a day, on average, on general housework. 

We’ll do the math for you and say that commuting, cleaning, and parenting add about three and a half more hours to your day.Multiply that by five and you’ve got 17.5 hours spent. Add that to the sleep and the 40-hour work week for 97.5, leaving you just 22.5 hours of potentially free time. 

Long hours: When the week is longer than 40 working hours

Now, 22.5 hours of free time per work week isn’t bad, but here’s the clincher: more and more people are working way more than 40 hours every week. 

In fact, quite a few of us are working 55 or more hours a week, that being the threshold that many experts consider overworking. And by quite a few people, we mean nearly 9% of the world population, or 488 million people, according to Forbes.

Re-work the math we did above with a 55-hour work week, adding in the sleep and parenting and all the rest, and you’ve got 112.5 hours spent and just 7.5 hours of free time left. And we never even mentioned going to the gym or for a run, seeing a friend, watching a movie, reading a book, or even, bathing, cooking, and eating, for that matter.

Long story short, if you are working 55 hours – or more – each week, you are working too much. And not just because you’re all but surely missing out on reading that book or seeing that buddy, but because you may well be wrecking your physical or mental health. Or both.

Overworking can hurt you. Or kill you

There’s a reason for that age-old expression “At least you have your health.” Without it, nothing else much matters. That new project launch, that big promotion, that entrepreneurial business venture, the major investment, and on the list goes – what is even the most successful and rewarding work worth if it comes at the cost of your wellbeing? 

And no, that’s not a rhetorical question – the answer is: it’s not worth it. 

Here are the telltale signs that you’re working too hard and too much and may well be working toward a health issue, a mental breakdown, stress eating, an existential crisis, or some vile combination of all three that will require some form of health care in the near future. 

An issue of life and death?

In a worst-case scenario, working those extra hours may well be a literal matter of life and death. The surveys mentioned above also found that of the 488 million people working 55 or more hours per week, more than 745,000 people died because of it in the year 2016 alone. 

The overwork issues affect people of varied socioeconomic status, from all parts of the world, and at myriad age groups. And the numbers in recent years may well be worse, given the strange work habits so many of us have had to adopt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So it’s really not just a matter of the traditional work-life balance in the terms you may think of, where the issues of employee health are primarily satisfaction and contentment in life. It’s actually more apt to think of it as a work-health-and-wellness balance, because the life part doesn’t mean much without health and wellness. 

How overworking affects physical and mental health

As working hours have skyrocketed in recent years in developed countries, so have incidents of heart attacks and strokes in people who quite likely would not have been afflicted with these health issues had they worked normal hours. 

In the first two decades of this century, work-related heart disease deaths increased by 42% and work-related stroke deaths increased by 19%, according to NPR. And even when overworking doesn’t lead to death, the stress of it can severely increase the impact of physical health issues like high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes, weight issues, and exhaustion, just to scratch the surface. 

how much work is too much

On the mental health front, being a part of a company culture of overwork can cause or exacerbate anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues, and can cause rifts in relationships and a loss of a sense of self, if not an outright breakdown.

The consequences of work burnout

You know how a stitch in time saves nine? Taking things down a notch now may well save your career even if you weren’t on a collision course with a coronary or a mental breakdown.

Work burnout is a real thing – so real even the World Health Organization has recognized it, stating:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

And if you let yourself get burned out at work, you may lose your job or at least curb your path toward success and promotion, you may lose your passion for your work, your relationships with colleagues may suffer, and in short, you may dampen your overall chances for success in life.

That is, if you don’t have a stroke or heart attack because of all the long hours and stress and pressure first.

The signs that you are overworking (or being overworked)

Don’t find yourself looking back on it all from a hospital bed or a therapist’s office – look at your work-life balance now and see if you’re overworking before the overwork hurts you. (But do of course seek help from a therapist if you feel you need it for this or any reason.)

Here are some of the most common signs that you are overworking.

1. Your mind Is never off work

If you find yourself constantly working and even chronically thinking about work when you’re not actively engaged in it, then you are working too much. 

From long nights at the office to the phone being glued to your hand while you should be watching your kid at home plate, if work permeates all moments of your life, that’s overwork. Especially if said moments are largely spent actually working.

2. You are always tired

There is enough time in your life to get enough sleep, you just have to choose to use it as such. Burning the midnight oil now and then is necessary and even admirable and can help you make big moves. 

But if you are regularly fatigued and your long working hours are the culprit, then you simply must make more time for rest. You will ultimately be more productive and get more done if you are better rested anyway – think quality over quantity. And get some sleep.

3. You cannot sleep well

In a cruel irony, overworking can lead to poor sleep even when you do hit the sack. It may take several days or even several weeks to get yourself into healthier sleep habits, but get into them you must. 

Establish and maintain a schedule and don’t let work interfere with your slumber – getting proper rest is almost as important to your health as proper hydration and diet, according to Health Line.

4. You are constantly relying on stimulants

Enjoying a cup of coffee or two in the morning isn’t bad for your health – in fact, a moderate amount of coffee is quite good for you. But if you are relying on coffee, soda, or energy drinks all day long – or even worse if you have turned to other stimulants, be they legal or illicit – then you are almost surely overworking. Your body should not need regular use of stimulants to get through the day.

5. Your weight goes up, down, or fluctuates

For some people, a symptom of overwork may be gaining weight as they fail to eat healthily and don’t make time for exercise. Other people who are working too much may lose weight as they simply don’t make enough time for eating proper meals. 

overworking symptoms

And for still others, weight may go up and down again and again, which is irregular for adults and can add even more undue stress and strain to your heart and health.

6. Your mood Is consistently bad

A job you love should add more happiness to your life. A job you can at least tolerate should at least stop impacting your happiness and sense of wellbeing when you’re not working. If you find yourself irritable most of the time, both when working and on those occasions when you’re not, you are likely spending too many hours on work and not enough time on fun and leisure activities, which are indeed a necessity of life.

7. Your personal life Is diminished or gone

If you rarely or ever see your friends anymore and don’t find yourself making time for social activities – with work related activities not counting, for the record – then it’s likely you are working too much and, what’s more, letting your work take over your life. 

Pay attention to the importance of friendships: they will outlast any job, provided you put in the work to make them do so.

8. Your home and family life suffer

Just as there is no replacement for good health, there is no substitute for your role in your family. If you are finding work getting in the way of your relationship with your spouse or your children, then you need to take a hard look at your priorities, and quickly, because jobs come and go, but you only get one shot at raising a child, and because once serious rifts open between partners, they are very hard to mend.

9. You have already had a health problem

If you have already suffered a heart issue, bouts of high blood pressure, chest pains, or other physical symptoms, or if you have had a panic attack, depression, or other mental health issues that you can tie to work, then that is your clearest sign yet that you are overworked and you need to take a step back. Or better yet five or six steps back, if not head off in a brand new direction altogether.

Find the balance

None of this is to say procrastination or slacking in your duties or even quitting a decent job are solutions. The way to stop overworking is not to avoid working, it’s to properly prioritize your work, to master time management skills, and to set realistic expectations. 

With that also comes only accepting realistic expectations from others, even your boss. Learning how to say no is a critical skill in life and in work, after all, especially if saying yes to insurmountable amounts of work can cost you your health and wellness. Or even your very life, in the most extreme circumstances. 

There will be days in which you work more than eight hours, and weeks you put in many more than 40. And that’s not only fine, it’s good: it shows you have a demanding, fulfilling job worth your time and effort. But do not let your work fill all your time, because the demands of your health and wellness – and your happiness – have to come first in the big picture of life.

Are you ready to rein things in?

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