The Absolute True Confessions Of A Workaholic
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Health and Wellness

The Absolute True Confessions Of A Workaholic

How overwork can seriously impact mental health.

The Absolute True Confessions Of A Workaholic

I was 16 years old when I was first called a workaholic. At the time, I was insulted. Lots of my high school peers were working hard, studying for classes and AP exams. What made me any different? But over time, I realized how much of that statement was actually true.

I enjoy working hard; putting my effort into a project that I’m passionate about. I love the feeling when I finally solve a problem that I had been grappling with for hours. I never saw this as a problem before. If I work hard, I would later reap the rewards: a gain in knowledge, a good grade, the satisfaction of a job well done. That all changed when I started graduate school.

I was spending hours both in the lab and outside of lab working endlessly. I was withdrawn from friends and family, and I couldn’t enjoy what I used to without feeling extreme guilt. I couldn’t hang out with other people, watch a movie, or spend time with family without a little voice in the back of my head reminding me of my work and a heavyweight would begin rising in my chest.

I started to rearrange my weekends so that I would complete my work first, spending Friday night and Saturday morning working so that I could relax the rest of the weekend knowing that my tasks were done. While this might sound good in theory, my work was never done. I ended up spending the entire weekend working without any rest. When I did take a break on a Monday night after working a full weekend, I felt tremendously anxious as I sat in front of the computer trying to relax while turning on Netflix.

I had always been taught that education is the most important thing. Work always came first. But when work begins to cause such severe stress and anxiety that it begins to impact the basic functions of life, the solution is not more work. Mental health is the most important thing. Finding a balance between work and life should come first. However, that’s more easily said than done. In a culture where “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a common phrase and people brag about the most hours spent in the lab, it’s easy to feel inadequate and a failure.

This past February, academic working hours became a major concern in the science Twitter community when a tweet went

viral after a professor stated that graduate students working 60 hours per week are working less than their peers. This caused outrage among many academics, who responded with their own working practices and highlighted the importance of establishing boundaries and practicing self-care in academia.A recent article published in Nature calls the issues of mental health in graduate education a “crisis.” This is not poetic hyperbole. Reading this article was like reading a description of myself. In addition to the daily stress that accompanies academia, factors such as mentorship quality, gender, and race compound already difficult situations.

A call to action and cultural change is absolutely essential for training the next generation of academics and educators.

When working in the lab and an experiment failed, those hours “wasted” seemed not to count. I had to work extra hard to make up the “lost” time in order to feel like I was actually working. I have noticed my thoughts change drastically in graduate school to include this negatively impactful language, and every day I am working to reverse that.

I have to constantly remind myself that my work is something that I do, it does not define who I am. I have to give myself permission to relax, not when all my work is done, but when I decide I need to.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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