Pulling away from a job can be difficult due to pressing deadlines, insufficient staff, and financial incentives. While technology makes some aspects of work easier, it has lengthened workdays for many people. This extension further drains physical and mental resources and decreases recovery time. Logging extra hours and staying in work mode mentally do not appear to translate into increased productivity. Research suggests overworking may kill more people than kidney disease or Alzheimer’s, claiming more than 120,000 lives annually. The takeaway? Overworking and overthinking about work doesn’t pay when it comes to your health.
According to studies published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, workers who exhibit a lack of psychological detachment from their jobs are more vulnerable to chronic work-related fatigue. Experts call this obsession “work-related affective rumination” and cite it as a risk factor for exhaustion. Research indicates that effective rumination in the evenings can compromise health and psychological well-being over time.
Many factors related to overworking can affect blood sugar levels. People who take on too much tend to eat nutrient-poor foods that induce blood sugar spikes and inflammation. Indigestion and sleep disruption make people even more vulnerable to metabolic disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine reported that job strain — resulting from high demands and low control — can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 45%.
Overworked staff often develop habits that culminate in potentially life-threatening conditions. Combined with stress, poor eating, and lack of physical activity, working too much may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A University College London survey found that employees who work a 55-hour week have a 33% higher risk of stroke than those who work a 35 to 40-hour week. Another study found that working between 60 and 70 hours a week heightens the risk of heart disease by 42% and working between 70 and 80 hours a week increases the chances by 63%.
The brain and digestive system share an intricate connection that is largely susceptible to emotion. The gastrointestinal tract contains more nerve cells than the spinal cord and produces 95% of the body’s serotonin. Stress can trigger the release of hormones, and long-term increases lead to imbalances that cause stomach aches, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and nausea.
In a large European study, occupational researchers found that individuals with high levels of work-related rumination reported the most sleep complaints. Those with chronically poor sleep quality experienced greater fatigue after work, as well as less pleasure and well-being during working hours. A lot of research confirms that sleep deprivation can lead to a host of illnesses such as cancer, metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.
A myriad of external and internal factors can pile up to make workloads too heavy to manage healthily. Sometimes, stress can trigger the secretion of hormones such as cortisol that help spur us into action. However, consistently high levels of these hormones may spur inflammation and reduce the white blood cells that protect against infection. This increases the risk of viruses, including cold sores and the common cold, taking hold.
It is common knowledge that extended work periods can be taxing on the body. Research suggests that disrupted sleep patterns may affect workers on a chromosomal level. An observational study published in Anaesthesia reported that even one night of sleep deprivation could lead to decreased DNA repair gene expression and increased DNA breaks. The study’s authors hypothesize that this damage could be responsible for diseases linked to sleep deprivation.
Sleepiness and exhaustion from overwork can make workers vulnerable, dangerously impairing cognitive function. A person awake for 17 continuous hours has the performance ability of a legally drunk individual. Working nonstop often diminishes one's ability to focus on the tasks at hand, not to mention overall life goals. Researchers know inadequate rest makes it harder for workers to manage emotional reactions, make judgment calls, and communicate and read people effectively.
Excessive consumption of food, alcohol, and drugs often accompanies compulsive working. These could be signs of unhealthy addictions. Work addiction, unfortunately, is socially acceptable, so it is difficult to detect and treat. Sometimes, this pattern can mask or worsen substance addictions. Workaholics Anonymous or therapy can help provide insight and treatment options for people dealing with these issues.
The Harvard Business Review reported that workaholics who enjoy their work experience fewer physiological issues related to overworking compared to those who are not engaged in their work. However, experts advise everyone to acknowledge a compulsive work mentality and find ways to “switch off” from the job. Detaching psychologically from work can help mitigate the negative emotional and physical effects of overworking.
Whenever possible, decide exactly how much time you will put into work each day. Wind down for the evening by stopping work a few hours before bedtime. Pursue non-work activities such as reading, spending time with family or friends, exercising, or learning new skills. Setting boundaries for work and engaging in meaningful activities outside of work can enhance recovery and mitigate work-related stress.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.