How Being Overworked Can Severely Affect Your Life

Experts help us unpack this staggering, but often ignored cause of mental and physical disorders.

Updated
Mind It
4 min read
While it would have to be a unique and extreme case for it to be fatal, overworking can still severely damage the quality of your life.
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Karoshi is a Japanese term that roughly translates to death by overworking. It was coined in the seventies and then made part of everyday speech by the eighties in the country. Asia in particular is notorious for witnessing deaths caused by ailments that, in turn, are a consequence of being overworked beyond the point of regular exhaustion.

While it would have to be a unique and extreme case for it to be fatal, overworking can still severely damage the quality of your life. Experts help us unpack this staggering, but often ignored cause of mental and physical disorders.

Dr Raj Kumar Srivastava, Senior Consultant & Head Department of Mental Health & Behavior Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, New Delhi lists down common problems that working an unacceptable number of hours can lead to.

“Overworking can lead to many problems like depression, anxiety, heart problems, sleep disorder, interpersonal disputes and so on. Cardiac problems and stress are strongly correlated in recent times to the point of stress being considered the most common factor for fatal heart attacks.”
Dr Raj Kumar Srivastava

Stress is the most pivotal word here because, beyond the fatal aspect of it, which might not be very common, there is the shattering effect that work-related exhaustion has on mental health. During the pandemic and the consequent lockdown, several words were used in our online conversations frequently. One of the most common ones was ‘burnout’.

Stress and Quality of Life

“Stress, especially if it continues over a prolonged period of time, can lead to extreme fatigue and cause what is known as a burnout where an individual experiences a low sense of personal accomplishment, high levels of emotional exhaustion and feels increasingly distanced and depersonalized from their work, surroundings, and people,” says Kamna Chibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.

Dr Srivastava emphasizes the correlation made earlier when he says:

“Stress can precipitate pre-existing mental disorders like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), sleep disorder and substance abuse disorder.”
Dr Raj Kumar Srivastava

In more extreme cases, this can even lead one down the path of suicidal thoughts, requiring immediate assistance by professionals as well as loved ones, adds the doctor.

Symptoms: How to Identify If You’re Overworked?

While symptoms are several and unique to each individual and their own relationship with their body and work, there are some broad categories for one to look at.

“In an overworked person, there can be few symptoms that can be useful. For example irritability, episodes of violence decreased sleep and appetite, restlessness, frequent heated discussions with those around them, road rage, and excessive alcohol and nicotine consumption. These symptoms should not be ignored since they can lead to severe mental disorders as well as physical problems.”
Dr. Raj Kumar Srivastava

Chibber adds to it in the following manner:

“Individuals going through such a situation can often feel rather helpless and even hopeless which can impact the ways in which they envision the future, and also their optimism for change. Overlooking the signs could be rather detrimental, leading to a compromise in how an individual solves problems, makes decisions and choices and copes with difficult circumstances, while also damaging their productivity.”
Kamna Chibber

How Does One Target Being Overworked?

The first and foremost step is to set healthy boundaries at work and get a clear idea of when you are expected to be available for office tasks. It is also important to completely be on the same page as your employer regarding the nature of your job (for instance some media or technology-related jobs, to name a few, would require irregular hours from you) so that you are fully prepared for what is to come.

Both experts also suggest the need for a healthy balance between professional and personal life. This balance lies within the person, avers Dr Srivastava, and not anything external.

“If somebody wants to lead a healthy life, they have to learn the ‘switch on and switch off’ technique. After winding up their work, they need to completely switch off their mind from the office and switch on for their home and family.”
Dr Raj Kumar Srivastava

His advice for maintaining this is to ensure minimal use of gadgets once at home, spending time with family, even if it is something as simple as having your meals together, maintaining a proper sleep cycle, and to try and work out at least forty to fifty minutes every morning to start your day.

Chibber further mentions the need to reach out and seek help when things become too overwhelming, “Every individual should be self-aware to recognize and identify when things are getting overwhelming for them and when it is becoming hard to cope with situations. It is important to be able to take an approach where one proactively works to reduce stress and it is important to share and discuss when such extreme fatigue or burnout is setting in so that those around you can support you better and help you manage the varying situations of your life.”

(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)

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