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Overworked? 6 signs to spot if it's a problem

February 9, 2022 - 18 min read


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What does it mean to be overworked?

Is working too much harmful?

How can I know if I'm being overworked?

Being aware of unhealthy work-life balances

What to do if you’re overworked

Taking charge

To be overworked means that your job has become all-consuming. 

Maintaining a work-life balance is always important but challenging — even during ordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has rearranged traditional work schedules, and people have been working too much. Many people have been, and still are, working from home. This blurs the lines between work hours and leisure. 

Establishing boundaries to prevent burnout is more vital than ever.


What does it mean to be overworked?

The average workweek ranges anywhere from 40 to 50 hours. Other factors can contribute to your workload, such as:

  • The length of your commute
  • Your work environment and the people you engage with
  • Your job satisfaction
  • Whether or not you feel appreciated

Do you come home feeling drained and uninspired? Is motivating yourself to do things you enjoy becoming increasingly difficult? Do you or your loved ones think that all you do is work? If you're nodding along as you read these, your job may be too demanding.

Is working too much harmful?

Too much of anything, be it chocolate, exercise, alcohol, or work, to name a few, is bad for your well-being. That includes working excessively.

Too much work can be damaging to your mental and physical health. You're more likely to suffer from adverse health problems, including neck, back, or chest pain, stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and anxiety. One study found that working more than 61 hours a week increased an employee's risk of experiencing high systolic blood pressure and caused issues like fatigue and stress. 

Overworking exacerbates mental health issues, too. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion dollars each year because of lost productivity. So if you’re wondering if you can get sick from working too much, the answer will always be yes.

Exhausted workers are more common than you may think. In 2016, an estimated 745,194 people died from a stroke or heart disease related to overworking. And in 2021, the U.S. was ranked as the 10th most overworked country in the world. But people continue to put in long hours, even if they feel the effects of overworking.

Unfortunately, the majority of us are guilty of overworking. Endless emails, unanticipated problems, being short-staffed, and lacking traditional boundaries are just a few possible causes. 

We feel bad about saying, "I've done enough. I'll work on this tomorrow," when in fact, that's exactly what we need to do. When your job harms your health, you need to take a step back and remind yourself to prioritize your well-being.

That's what BetterUp is here for: to help you take charge of your own decisions, whether that means seeking out paths that lead to happiness. You have the power to say yes or no, and we're here to help you regain that power and lead a healthy, balanced life.

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How can I know if I'm being overworked?

Learn to recognize how much work is too much. This goes beyond simply acknowledging that you're working too many hours. Common overworking symptoms are:

1. You turn to alcohol 

Studies have shown that working long hours leads to excessive alcohol consumption. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting alcoholic beverages to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Drinking affects your ability to focus and leads to other, more severe health issues. 

Listening to music, reading a book, and avoiding screens, especially if you work with them all day, are healthier ways to decompress. If you commute, use that time as a rest period; those minutes belong to you and can be a good physical and mental transition from the office to home. If you work remotely, consider improving your work-from-home setup to better emphasize where you work and where you live.

2. You're less productive

Longer working hours decrease an employee's productivity. We're simply not meant to work nonstop. 

One approach to make work more manageable is to make a to-do list. Crossing out finished tasks throughout the day is a good mental boost. Try your best to finish your top two or three things each day; the rest can wait until tomorrow. Organizing your week by priority ensures that your important tasks receive your best energy. 

3. You aren't getting enough sleep 


Turning your mind off is harder if you're constantly researching, writing proposals, or dealing with clients from morning until night. Less sleep leads to irritability, stress, and the inability to focus and retain information.

A simple way to address this issue is by taking breaks throughout the day. Stretching, walking, getting a snack, or even having a mini dance break to your favorite song can do wonders for your psyche. Your actions during the day and good sleep hygiene can help you clock more zzzs. 

4. You feel blue 

Depression is more common amongst those who work too much. Although everyone looks forward to the weekends, having an "I just need to make it to Friday" mindset every week isn't healthy. 

Mediation is an excellent self-care practice that gently and gradually resets your mind and body. You can also consider seeing a mental health professional to better care for your mental health.

5. Your relationships are taking a hit

It's easy for work to get in the way of our social and personal lives. And, even if you do have time to see your friends and family, chances are you'll be too drained to enjoy your time with them. 

Planning to do something fun once a week is an excellent motivator and will support your social health. It gives you something to look forward to, and you'll have to stop working to participate in the activity, giving you an all but mandatory break. Carving out time for ourselves isn't selfish but healthy and, yes, definitely, necessary.

6. Your body aches

Longer hours mean you're sitting in the same position for an extended period, which causes muscle tension and soreness. If you already struggle with chronic pain, stress can make it worse — and vice versa.

Plus, feeling stressed leads to the release of a hormone called cortisol. Too much of this stress hormone can increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, headaches, and muscle pains, among other health problems. 

If you're experiencing chronic stress, a great strategy is to talk to a therapist. If you can’t find a solution, sometimes another party more removed from the situation can see solutions.

Being aware of unhealthy work-life balances

Getting ahead isn't worth it if you're making yourself sick in the process. That's why a healthy work-life balance is so vital. 

Here are some things to monitor if you feel like you might be feeling the effects of working too much:


Sleeping habits

Working all the time impacts how much you sleep. And when you don't get enough sleep, your mental and physical health will take a toll. You need sleep to rest and recharge your mind and body. Without it, your body won't heal as fast and you'll feel even more exhausted.

Eating habits

It's easy to become absorbed in a task and forget to take your lunch, but that doesn't mean you should do that every workday. Food fuels your brain and body and helps give you the energy to take on your day. If you don't eat properly, you won't have enough energy, and you'll feel tired faster. Try to practice mindful eating to give yourself a break.

How frequently do you exercise

Exercising is one of the first things people drop due to working extra hours. After a long, tiring day, you might not feel like going to the gym or going on a run. You want to rest your body because you're exhausted, but exercising has many benefits. Exercise can boost your mental health, build strong muscles, and motivate you.


The amount of time you spend doing activities with others outside of work

The number of hours you spend at work dictates how many hours you have for activities outside work, like hobbies, friends, and downtime. Your work-life balance will suffer if you're too invested in the hustle of work. Neglecting others in your life will contribute to loneliness, and you'll risk experiencing the mental and physical impacts of burnout.

Alcohol and drug consumption

When some people feel overwhelmed, they turn to alcohol and drugs. But that's not an effective or healthy way to recover from burnout or deal with long hours. It's not a healthy habit to adopt and doesn't help your overall wellness. Having a drink after work is OK, but making it an excessive habit isn't healthy.

What to do if you’re overworked

You always have the power to change your situation. Baby steps are better than no steps at all. 

Try these tips to start regaining balance in your life.

Tip #1: Assess your situation 

You can't make a change if you don't know what's causing you to feel overworked in the first place. Are you putting pressure on yourself? Don't be afraid to talk to your employer if your boss is overdoing your workload.

Happier, healthy employees equal a more successful company. A good supervisor will help you prioritize your responsibilities and look for solutions if you're overworked.

Tip #2: Think about your dream work-life scenario 

It can be scary, but this may be a great time to step back and think about what you want in life. Ask yourself some work-life balance questions and what your work values are. Maybe a career change is in order. If you're not passionate about what you do anymore, starting anew may be the best thing for you.

Tip #3: Make a plan

Talking only goes so far; only actions will make a difference. Get a calendar and plan out how you'll spend your hours, leaving room for meal breaks and exercise. A self-care plan will help you prioritize time for rest, too.

Tip #4: Stay accountable

If you aren't good at keeping yourself accountable regarding maintaining a proper diet or sleep regimen, ask your spouse, coworkers, family, or friends to help you. For example, set up an event like "family dinners at 5 o'clock" every day, so you'll have to leave work earlier. Time blocking can help you set boundaries, too, and limit distractions or the temptation to multitask.

Tip #5: Take time off 

Vacations give you time to focus on yourself. Sunshine and nature are, after all, natural remedies. And, you deserve it. A break from work is restorative and can also help you think through ways you want to adjust your work routines in the future.

Tip # 6: Release the guilt

Are you leaving the office when a few other team members are still working? Let go of the guilt you feel, and remember that you're prioritizing your health. Think about how good it feels to complete your work for the day; you can go home and relax.

Tip # 7: Create a routine

Maybe you're a little unorganized with your time and think you should work longer than you need. With a routine, you'll know when it's time to go to work, leave for home, and when you can enjoy your personal life. It'll also help with your time management and what you accomplish within the day.

Tip #8: Try mindfulness meditation

Whenever you have the opportunity, whether during your lunch break, before work, or after, work in some micro-moments of mindfulness and meditation. It allows you to pay attention to how you're body feels. Think about if you're getting enough sleep, doing enough exercise, and your work-related stress levels. It's a chance to check in with yourself during the workday and figure out what you need the most.

Tip #9 Set professional boundaries

Setting boundaries doesn't just have to be for others to follow; they can be for yourself, too. Establish some boundaries for what you're going to accomplish and what you're going to avoid. They could be things like staying firm when you take your lunch break to eat or how late you stay at work. It'll remind you of your commitment to your wellness and how you're trying to stop working too much.


Taking charge

Unfortunately, being a workaholic is becoming a staple of contemporary work culture, and people are working too much. But we're humans, not robots. We aren't meant to go nonstop. A company's greatest asset is its workers. And you can't help others if you aren't helping yourself. 

As a human transformation company, BetterUp champions personal and professional development, mental fitness, and social connections, all in the name of helping every individual reach their full potential. It's hard to stop working too much, but if you're willing to put in the effort, we’re here to guide you as you navigate this crazy journey called life and become your best self.

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Published February 9, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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