How Does Workaholism Affect Your Mental Health?

by Eliza Castile

In the United States, the question of whether workaholism is bad for you is a common topic of conversation; to paraphrase the esteemed Rihanna, most Americans work, work, work, day in and day out. Seriously — the U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations requiring little to no paid time off for workers, and workplace culture discourages them from using vacation days even when they are available. Although the inability to check out of your job may look great on your resume, previous research has shown it can have a negative impact on other areas of your life, and according to a study published in PLOS One, workaholism might actually be tied to certain psychiatric disorders.

According to Science Daily, researchers at the University of Bergen analyzed the link between workaholism and the display of certain psychiatric symptoms in more than 16,000 employed adults. First, they rated participants on the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, which distinguishes between addictive and non-addictive work habits; if someone exhibited four or more behaviors listed on the scale — prioritizing work over hobbies, feeling stressed when you're not working, and so on — they qualified as a workaholic. In keeping with previous research, the study found that around eight percent of those studied could be categorized as workaholics.

Researchers then compared the incidence of workaholism with symptoms of psychiatric disorders, and their results don't bode well for people who are the first one in the office and the last ones to leave. According to their analysis, workaholics scored higher on all psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics, particularly in regards to anxiety and mood disorders. A quarter of workaholic participants met the criteria for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), around a third of workaholics displayed signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety, and nearly nine percent reported symptoms of depression. In contrast, the rates for each of these disorders were much lower in non-workaholic participants.

Before you start adding more stress to your already-stressful life, though, it's important to note that the results are simply correlations, not causation. In other words, there's no way to tell whether compulsive working causes these problems, or people who are predisposed toward psychiatric disorders end up working compulsively.

"Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remain[s] uncertain," researcher Cecilie Schou Andreassen said, according to Science Daily.

However, the study does support other research showing that prioritizing work over your personal life can take a serious toll on your mental health, including burnout and feelings of guilt when you're not working. In 2014, researchers at the University of Georgia found that rather than being a "positive addiction," as some may view it, workaholism has negative outcomes, just like any other addiction.

So how do you know if you're a workaholic? It boils down to noticing a negative impact on other areas of your life that can be traced back to a compulsion to work. (If you're interested, you can check out the Bergen Work Addiction Scale here, although it should be noted that workaholism isn't a medically recognized disorder.) Even if you don't necessarily fit the criteria, however, the Norwegian study could have implications for everyone. All work and no play isn't just dull — it's unhealthy.

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