Stress Less: Confront Your Workaholic Ways


Face it. You’re not superman, superwoman or superhuman.

In psychological circles, replacing old habits with new is called “shaping.” It’s a way of redefining attitudes so we can move toward positive results. It’s also a way of making friends with the clock, the calendar and our stressed-out selves.

Replacing counterproductive, stress-inducing ideas doesn’t demand a career overhaul. It requires a change in thinking. If any of the following statements sound familiar, it may be time to rethink and release your workaholic ways.

I Feel Guilty When I Goof Off

Of course you do. The “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” admonition has been around for centuries. Is that why you think you shouldn’t give yourself some time out? You know you work hard, don’t you? Psychologist and life coach Martha Beck says to lighten up when you feel angry, frustrated, stressed or panicky. “Yuk it up,” she advises. Laughter is good medicine.

I Can’t Seem to Say No

Yes, you can and sometimes, you must. Prioritize the five most important goals of the day, week or month. Then focus. That habit helps you stay grounded in the same way a gymnast balances on a beam without falling off--by keeping a focus. Knowing what is an absolute “yes” helps you say “no.” Or more diplomatically, “I wish I could...I just can’t work it in this week.”

Saying “no” protects us from becoming what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book, Eat Pray Love, calls being an over-giver. “My whole life, I’ve been an over-giver,” Gilbert said in O magazine. “I have over-given with my money, my stuff, my opinions, my time. You might think that’s a good thing, but there’s a down side.” She’s right. Eventually, over-givers feel overworked, under-appreciated and seriously stressed.

It’s Hard For Me To Ask For Help

We are most productive when we develop a spirit of teamwork and collaboration. There are colleagues who are willing to chip in and it’s remarkable how much progress can be made when we ask for a helping hand. Then one day, we can return the favor (when we’re less stressed!).

Also seek help if the pressures of your job, workload or personal situations create a chronic state of stress. Getting counseling when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I Don’t Have Time To Exercise

Frazzled?Pressed for time? Just take a hike. Ideally, hike up a hill. Besides building muscle and burning a bagel’s worth of calories, most all physical activity chases anxiety away. Experts at Mayo Clinic have called walking a Miracle Cure for physical health and mental health, too. 


(This post originally appeared as an article in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of OfficePro magazine. Martha McCarty is an author, journalist, columnist and contributing book critic.)