We receive messages all the time about how we need to DO MORE. The media tells us that we need to accomplish more and exercise more and this is what I have been telling myself for years.

Here’s the crazy thing that I’ve discovered. Apparently, I actually NEED to DO LESS! For the past two years I have been tracking my health stats, activity and HRV (Heart Rate Variability) using an Oura ring . I have found that when I exercise too much, run around too much and accomplish everything on my to do list, my health suffers. I can actually see my HRV going down (higher is better) and if I do too much for too long, I start to develop health symptoms and even get sick. For someone who has been an over accomplisher my entire life, this has been a pretty shocking discovery!

The thing about our bodies is that we need to maintain a BALANCE between activity and resting. If we are too active or don’t rest enough, bad things can happen. You may find yourself frequently on one side of the spectrum (doing too much or doing too little), and this is quite common as we each have a unique disposition and inclination. It turns out that mine is to do too much!

In psychiatry, we talk a lot about addictions, but we rarely talk about an extremely common addiction that can have a profound impact on our health: workaholism. Here are 4 signs that you might be a workaholic:

  • Working to the extent that you neglect self-care and your personal life
  • Experiencing little enjoyment of work
  • Working more than is expected or than the circumstances demand
  • Displaying controlling behaviors, like not delegating or trusting others

Does this sound like you? You might be surprised to hear that the cause of drug addiction, workaholism and essentially all addictions is the same: trauma. When we are exposed to trauma, especially chronic trauma, we can develop all kinds of negative coping mechanisms in order to help manage the stress. Workaholics are stuck in a trauma response that tells them that their worth is determined by how much they get done.

Just like all other addictions, workaholism can cause significant problems and in extreme cases, death. The Japanese even have a term, “karoshi” which translates to death by overwork. Sadly, I witnessed this with my own mother. I watched my mother push herself well beyond her limits to the point of total exhaustion until she eventually developed ALS, a degenerative motor neuron disease that leads to paralysis.

As noted in the book, When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Maté, when we are out of balance, our body sends us messages in the form of symptoms. If we don’t heed the messages, they get louder and louder until we are hit over the head by a hammer. I can’t tell you how many times I have been hit by that hammer.

Does any of this resonate with you? Have you found yourself trying to get everything done all the time, only to end up being stopped in your tracks when your body says no? The good news is that once you recognize this pattern, you have a choice. You can choose to say no before your body does.