Letting work encroach on life

Today I’d like to talk about what happens when work takes over your life. By that I mean more than working long hours, I’m talking about when work starts to ruin your social life, your relationships and your health. When it changes you, to a point where you’re not who you used to be. What can we do about this, and how can we prevent it?

The meaning of work

For a long time work has been at the centre of society as something extremely important. It defines who we are, denotes social status, and we spending most of our adult lives pursuing careers.

But new generations, starting with millennials, are challenging the status quo. Should we dedicate our entire adult lives to just one job? Especially if we’re not happy? Why not pursue something better? They are providing a wake-up call and are reshaping the workforce as we know it, with the gig economy and entrepreneurship amongst others.

In light of that, I believe it’s important to rethink our relationship with work, how it makes us feel, and the role it plays in our lives. Everyone is different, some people really enjoy working and view it as fun, whilst for others it is a means to an end. I am not saying we should stop working, or invest less in our jobs. That being said, there is a time when work permeates your life that it becomes unhealthy and things should be reconsidered.

My story

For a while I was working with a certain company in a very stressful situation. Within 3 months of working with them I experienced a burnout: I was on edge, felt like crying all the time, and cried because I wasn’t going to bed early enough. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway because I was suffering from insomnia and anxiety.

I didn’t sleep properly for a year and a half. I was so stressed and anxious I couldn’t unwind and fall asleep properly. I would wake up and start checking emails, setting off the anxiety. I was of course extremely tired, and eating badly. I lost the desire to do the things I enjoyed and was often too tired to engage in activities on the weekend.

Worst of all: I brought work into my life and my relationship. Because the situation was so difficult, I would come home and complain about it to my then boyfriend every night. I would relive the situations I had gone through, getting angry and upset all over again. Obviously that was not helping me to calm down, unwind or forget. It wasn’t helping my anxiety either. And it definitely wasn’t helping my relationship.

After that particular situation I went through several different phases at work, letting it invade my life. For the longest time I was a very negative person. The work situations would make me angry and upset, and rather than move on I would feed on them, churning the fire. This affected my relationships with friends & family too, either because I was on edge, absent, angry, or negative… None of those make you a person people want to be around.

I’ve let work take over my life in a number of ways, not least by burning out 4 or 5 times. At a certain point I also let it take over evenings and weekends, because I believed it was necessary. But I also let it take over by becoming sleep deprived, suffering from anxiety, becoming a stressed out and angry person, being on edge, eating badly, shutting down, and being generally disorganized. Even physically I have felt the stress make me more tense…

But each time it has taught me something, and it has allowed me to regain a bit more control. And each time, I am one step closer to being happier and more relaxed.

Top 5 tips to stop work from taking over your life

  1. Do not bring work into your relationship. Sure you need to talk to someone, and you might want to share with your partner. But the damage is huge. Being someone negative who weighs the relationship down, the burden for your partner to support you, and the way conversations about work will overwhelm your time together are not worth it in the long term. Your relationship should be worth more than that and is worth preserving. If you really need to rant, call a friend or talk to a colleague you can trust.
  2. Limit the time you complain. A friend of mine gave me a really good technique by allowing me to complain for only 10 minutes. Sticking to the time limit allowed me to vent my frustrations and then move on, without ruining our conversations or time spent together. I could then enjoy my evening or afternoon and still feel like I had got it off my chest. Studies show that as you recount and relive a situation, you go through all the emotions again, meaning that it isn’t helping you to rant, it’s making you more aggravated.
  3. Leave work at work/compartmentalize. And by that I don’t mean your laptop or work assignments, I mean the entire universe of work. If it’s causing you stress, do not let it follow you out of the office. View the time you leave the space as off limits, clear your mind of everything work-related and embrace the “me time”. If something’s on your mind, try using a dedicated time of day like your commute, a run, or when you’re in the shower and then switch off. Commit to being in the moment of whatever else you’re doing.
  4. Know your boundaries, and set them. As I’ve talked about in other blog posts, it’s important to know your boundaries, and for each person these will be different. Once you’ve determined what they are (i.e. won’t take calls after hours), make sure you stick to them. You don’t necessarily need to communicate them, so long as it’s clear to you what line you won’t cross.
  5. Live life to the fullest. This may sound cheesy as hell but I mean it. Whatever it is you love, that makes you happy, throw yourself into it and really enjoy it. Don’t forget to do it or it leave it aside because of work. Use it as energy, to recharge your batteries and your mind. It’s extremely important to have a fresh and rested mind. And no matter how much people want to make us believe the more we work the more productive we are, it’s not true. The best you can do for yourself (and for your job) is to give your brain those breaks, that will allow you to come back stronger and with more ideas.

For some, work will be what they love. Solving problems, coming up with new ideas, will be their passion. And throwing themselves into that will be what makes them happy. That’s perfectly fine so long as it creates no negative consequences for them, socially or from a health perspective.

But for many others, work takes over our lives and before we know it we are tired, disengaged and close to burn out. And we’re not even sure how it happened (though this very interesting article hints at why).

If you feel that work is taking over your life in a negative way, I really urge you to rethink your situation and consider what you could do. Is it affecting your relationships, your health? Do you recognize yourself in any of the above?

Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean compromising your career, it just means you’re more likely to enjoy a longer, happier, more fulfilling one.

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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