It’s no secret that we are living in an era that is most defined by technology and its opportunities. Being able to reach out and have access to our tasks remotely not only makes the job more flexible but it also tempts some people to work even after working hours. Although it’s good to be passionate about a job, it’s also important to know when it’s going too far and could start to affect one’s life. Psychologist Lucia Riet de Mahhov reveals the essence of overworking, and it’s not only about the hours.
Overworking tends to go hand in hand with a hectic lifestyle. The person either has no personal time off because of working and taking care of the family, or the person chooses to fill days with work and work only. Once the person starts to feel like they can’t find time for anything else and yet they are still always behind, it turns into a problem. Feeling like they are not managing makes them anxious because they even start to spend the time off thinking about work and everything that needs to be done.
“For example, even when they are in the cinema, they can’t stop thinking about their task which still needs to be done and what has not been done to their satisfaction. This person gets into a very anxious state, it can even turn into depression, because the person is completely exhausted,” explains Lucia.
Lucia also says that the symptoms of overworking are very similar to anxiety and depression. “They are feeling really low, constantly in a sad mood. This is followed by lack of energy and symptoms of anxiety like heart pounding, high blood pressure, low blood sugar.”
One key symptom is sleep deprivation. Person who is suffering from overworking has trouble falling asleep or tends to wake up multiple times at night. “Studies show that it is a very specific time when these people wake up and it is usually between 3am and 4:30am.”
Lucia explains that people with certain characteristics are more likely to suffer from overworking. “For example, someone who thinks they should do everything right all the time – a perfectionist. “I should, I should, I should…” This person has a clear picture of who they want to be. They have expectations for themselves and they don’t want to be disappointed with themselves.” These people are also usually afraid of letting other people down. They feel that everybody is depending on them and they need to do better all the time.
Another key factor is overthinking with a twist of self-criticism. This means analyzing everything they do and say and criticizing everything about themselves. “Usually this person already has a low self-esteem and for this they feel the need to be on guard at any time. This is the bottom of all the issues. Not only are they pushing themselves down, they are not giving their mind and body time to rest from the day and reboot. A machine that is working non-stop day and night will explode at one point.”
There are people who can manage this way and as long as they are achieving their own goals and expectations, it gives a good feeling and also strength. “The risk is that when a person is facing multiple factors at the same time, and one of them backfires, the whole systems breaks down and the person collapses. And this is the problem.”
Some people can manage on their own and they don’t need to seek help. However, this is only thanks to acknowledging and admitting having a problem. Once this happens, they realize that it is necessary to take some time off or just slow down.
In Lucia’s experience, people turn to a specialist only when things have got serious and the anxious state has started to affect health. “Once people come in, they are already really crushed – there is lack of prevention. People should come in as soon as they start to see the first symptoms. For example, when they can’t sleep so well for a significant period of time.”
Suffering from overworking for a longer period of time may even cause panic attacks. Once these episodes start to happen more often, they can become chronic and this is something that could be prevented by seeing a doctor before it gets too severe. Lucia explains that it is much more difficult to treat a patient and the recovery is also longer if the symptoms have become chronic.
And then there is much talk about the higher risk of heart diseases and having a stroke. “Most people try to react before the stress level reaches a breaking point. People who get to the bottom line, sometimes actually get a physical disease because they have completely drained their body.”
“People who are in a chronic state have modifications in their brain. The thing is, we are body and mind, and we can’t separate one from the other. One is influencing and modifying the other,” says Lucia. “Our thoughts can make changes to the physical body and the other way around. It’s scary what you can do to yourself with bad thoughts.”
In addition to making changes in the brain, overworking can also start to affect family and friends. The person suffering from overworking sometimes becomes very easily irritable and experiences regular mood swings. “It has been proved statistically that women can get extremely sad suddenly. Men on the other hand get aggressive, and one’s close ones get hurt or attacked mentally, sometimes it gets physical. Once the person realizes that, they start to feel even worse.”
Lucia urges people to keep their eyes open and stay alert. Pay attention to friends and family and have the courage to talk to the person who may be getting close to their breaking point. Prevention has a very important role. Reaching out for help already in an early stage can save lives.