Are you in danger of caring too much about work?

You’re supposed to care about your work, right? You spend roughly a third of your time on the job — or in some cases, much more. Not caring about your work means a lot of time spent doing something that’s meaningless to you, which could lead to a whole lot of misery.

When you care about your job, you’re probably happier and more productive. This productivity is hopefully beneficial to you and definitely benefits your employer. According to Shawn Achor, author of the The Happiness Advantage, “The greatest competitive advantage you could have is a positive and engaged workforce.”

Numerous studies* make the connection between happy workers and productivity.  But can caring too much about your job be dangerous? What about when you feel pressure to make yourself (and others) believe that you love your job, when you actually don’t?

5 Signs You Care Too Much About Work & 5 Tips to Get Your Life Back

Here are some early signs that your job is no longer a source of fulfillment, but has become a source of drudgery, putting you on the path to burnout:

#1: You can’t turn it off.
You wake up in the middle of the night thinking (worrying) about work. You ruminate about what others think of you and rehash conversations. This is not about waking up with a good idea to help you solve the problem that you’ve been struggling with. This is ruining your sleep.

#2: You have no hobbies or interests outside of work.
You might have a lot of “to dos” such as chores and errands. Or maybe you dream of exercising regularly or actually reading a book. But you don’t do either and there isn’t anything in your life that really gives you joy. Nothing does it for you anymore. You’re exhausted and just don’t have the energy.

#3: Your work is your identity.
Your self-worth is based on your work accomplishments. Your job title is how you introduce and define yourself to others. Your work is the only thing that others really know about you.

#4: Wherever you go, your work goes.
It doesn’t matter where you are, your work is with you. You’re checking emails at the gym, at dinner with family or friends, at home while watching a movie with a loved one. Your phone is the last thing you cuddle at night and the first thing you grab in the morning. If you do unplug, you feel anxious.

#5 Your emotional state is sensitive and you have no support network.
You feel overwhelmed, paralyzed, or completely thrown off by criticism on the job or when work isn’t going according to plan. You’re trying to control situations and are micromanaging (because you’re the only one you can trust). You blow up at small setbacks or when you’re under pressure. You readily say “yes” to your boss or clients, and say  “no” to your friends and loved ones. As a result, your relationships are rocky or nonexistent. You feel isolated and on your own.

If one (or all five) of the above scenarios accurately describes you, there are some healthy shifts you can make before you reach full-blown burnout. Taking care of yourself is the first and most important step. There are several ways for you to do this, starting with the most important:

#1: Get adequate sleep.
This means sleeping 7.5 to 8.5 hours every night. If you have a hard time sleeping, start by improving your nightly routine:

    • No screen time 30 minutes before bed.
    • Charge your cell phone in the other room.
    • Wear an eye mask if your room doesn’t get dark.
    • Go to bed and wake up the same time each day (consistency will train your body to know when it’s time to sleep).

If you’re the type who tries to use the weekend to “catch up” on sleep, remember that you can’t store sleep. Once it’s lost, it’s gone. So “catching up” on the weekend may feel good, but it doesn’t count as good sleep (better than none at all, but still not good).

#2: Be careful of what you take in…

    • Water: Stay hydrated. Your body is made up of about 60% water, so the simple act of staying hydrated will improve your health and mental state. How much water you need varies depending on weight, health, environment, exercise, etc. But a rule of thumb is a range from half an ounce to a full ounce for every pound of body weight. For example, a person weighing 150 lbs. would need to drink at least 75 ounces, but as much as 150 ounces each day to be hydrated — that’s 2 to 4 liters! Get a water bottle, fill it up and carry it with you everywhere.
    • Food: Nutrition is critical. Eat as many whole foods (not processed) as you can. Keep it real.
    • Air: Be mindful of your breathing and take as many deep breaths as you can throughout the day.

#3: Move your body regularly.
Ideally, you should get regular vigorous exercise. If you aren’t there (yet) you can at least move it regularly. Walk every chance you get, even if it’s just around the block. Every step you take moves you one step closer to being healthier and happier.   

#4: Practice saying NO (or at least deferring the yes).
To create the space to get more sleep and exercise, you must learn to say “no” more often. The more you practice saying it, the easier it will get. A baby step is to start with deferring a response when asked to do something that you aren’t sure you want to do. It could sound something like this: “Sounds interesting, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Don’t say “yes” on the spot! If you’re pressured, you can say, “Well, if you need an answer right now, I’d have to say ‘no’.”Failing to give a response is not actually practicing saying ‘no’ — it’s avoidance, and that’s rude. So learn to say ‘no’ promptly and with conviction.

#5: Try something new: Play!
When you mix things up from the normal grind, when you play, it releases endorphins (the natural happy chemical) and this increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. It also relieves stress, improves brain function, boosts creativity, and increases energy. If you’re feeling in a rut and exhausted, coming up with something fun and exciting might feel overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be hard; you can start small:

    • Take a different route to or from work; notice the differences.
    • Go out with a fun friend (this will also help improve your support network) – the friend that always has funny stories or tells jokes.
    • Rock out to your favorite song and dance in the kitchen; invite friends.
    • Color – and give yourself permission to go outside the lines; invite friends.
    • Plan a board game night – buy your favorite old-school game; invite friends.
    • Create a bucket list (and allow yourself to dream). Now you have a list to work from.

While caring about your job is an admirable quality, being too emotionally invested in your career can be detrimental to both your professional and personal goals. By noticing these signs and taking steps to prevent burnout before it starts, you can keep your level of emotional investment in your job in check so that you can thrive on a holistic level — and not just in your career.

Do you need help working smarter, not harder? Do you need help saying ‘no’ to your boss more? Do you have a hard time making yourself a priority? If so, I’m here for you.