THE BLOG
04/25/2016 12:22 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2017

Workaholism: When Working Becomes an Addiction

As Marilyn Monroe once said: "A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it at night."

She was certainly right.

Isn't it easy to just concentrate on our work, getting "lost" in meetings, appointments, achievements, and events or even business travels? But at the end of the day: what's it all worth?

Career opportunities are endless nowadays. We can work and study abroad, network with people all over the world. Being multilingual and having more than three university degrees is almost "a given," but it appears that setting priorities and being in the moment has become one of the skills that most of us are lacking.

Courses on mindfulness, business yoga, and stress management tools have been becoming increasingly popular lately and are being offered by leading business schools as a result.

It seems like we are desperately looking for ways to cope with all the work and responsibility that has been put on us, or let's say, that we oftentimes put on ourselves, too. There's a serious need to learn how to fully relax and let go before alcoholism or other addictions are utilized as a last resort "to numb" the pressure.

Instead of dealing with this pressure, many people get obsessed with their jobs and ignore their bodies and needs, and this is when it becomes a serious health hazard.

Here are 5 warning signs that shouldn't be ignored:

1. You think you are irreplaceable at work
Have you ever felt like you simply cannot be sick right now or take vacation because there is so much to do and only you can do it? This is such an incredible pressure and, excuse me, quite narcissistic thinking, which no human being can stand for a long time.

Believe it or not: everyone is replaceable at work. It would be dangerous if that wasn't true. Imagine if any big company or country would fall apart as soon as the leader would not be available at a certain time?

Also, have you ever asked yourself what purpose you are serving by seeing yourself as irreplaceable?
What is so scary about the fact that someone else can do our job? Interestingly, people who are obsessed with their job usually find their significance and purpose in life entirely through their work. So, if anyone dares to question their importance at work, they can be in serious trouble.

"Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment. It is as if a man feared that he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem tall." ~Alfred Adler

2. You define your worth through achievements and titles
Have you ever hit a milestone and achieved one of your biggest goals? How did you feel afterwards? Satisfied and proud or ready to go back to work to get your next achievement?

It's interesting how many times I have noticed that "Congratulations" was immediately followed by "What's next?" Like this award or degree you've just earned isn't enough and something else, bigger, better has to follow (soon!) in order to stay in the game.

Let's remind ourselves of something: we are not our job and achievements. And will never be.

We are human beings. We have needs, emotions, thoughts, and flaws. Plus, our to-do list will never be finished and all crossed off. There will always be additions and sub-bullets that follow or result from a task you have finished. That's life, and that's okay. The key is to not get too 'worked up' about it.

3. You can't let go and shut your mind off
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? As mentioned before, topics like mindfulness, tools to de-stress and to let go are getting increased attention from many groups, ranging from single parents, construction workers, and pilots to business executives.

Letting go is usually associated with relationship break-ups or a loss of someone in another way. However, letting go of grudges, old patterns and destructive ways of thinking is just as vital to our overall health.

If you constantly believe that no one can do your job, have you ever asked yourself what makes you think that? Have you ever not been able to do something and someone else had to do it for you instead? It most likely got done, but was perhaps not the way you'd have done it, but who says that YOUR way is the one and only?

Let it go. Shut off your computer and go home at the end of the day. Lock the door of your office and leave your agenda and thoughts there. Tomorrow is another day.

Whenever I get too worked up about something, I tell myself that this won't even matter one year or one month from now. Plus, the other people involved are probably already thinking about something else or most likely don't even care at all.

4. You think your work is the hardest and most challenging one
We all have this idea and image of ourselves that we don't want to have challenged or questioned by others or even ourselves. Perhaps you've done it to someone else, consciously or unconsciously, and you had no idea why this person blew up instantly and got angry or mean to you?

You probably hit a sensitive spot right there, which resulted in the person being hurt, but instead of that person admitting this feeling, you experienced their secondary emotion in the form of anger and mean comments towards you. Be aware that the other person is successfully avoiding having to deal with their actual problem, which could be pressure or being overwhelmed by a task or responsibility.

We all most likely have some kind of unresolved conflicts which we might not have had the strength to deal with, so what do we do? We store it far away in our minds, but of course they are still there.

It's like your storage room in which you throw things to have it out of your sight and make your flat look clean. However, the "stuff" is still there and one day it will all fall out when it reaches its limits, and then you'll have to clean it up eventually.

5. Your work is your top priority
It's great when you love what you do and you are committed to your job and company. However, it starts being difficult or "a problem" when you live for your job and ignore everything and everyone else.

Particularly living in societies of achievements and success, it is hard to stay away from getting caught up in the vicious cycle of working harder and more, which oftentimes translates into giving up a private life or even a family.

Today, there are more singles than ever, and birth rates are generally decreasing. It appears that our urge to find new challenges in our professional lives permits no time for all the other vital things in life like love, family, friends, and hobbies, which are a big part of our self-care.

Serving only one of these areas in your life will create an imbalance and could lead to loneliness, isolation and even neuroses in the long run. Sure, having a purpose and being needed is essential, however, balance is key and the feeling of being needed shouldn't serve the purpose of compensating for something else.

For example, after a breakup, what many of us find helpful is to dive into work and concentrate on our careers. This might be useful at first, but we also have to allow ourselves to be sad as well as to grieve as part of the healing process and for moving on.

Don't get stuck in your pursuit of awards and challenges. There is much more to life than working. Cut yourself some slack, take care of yourself and live a little. It's worth more than any title in the world.

"It is possible to move through the drama of our lives without believing so earnestly in the character that we play. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem for us. We feel justified in being annoyed with everything. We feel justified in denigrating ourselves or in feeling that we are more clever than other people. Self-importance hurts us, limiting us to the narrow world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up never satisfied."
― Pema Chödrön