Workaholics gather to find ways to a more balanced life

Workaholics Anonymous of the Capital District meets each Monday night from 6 to 7 p.m. to help membe
When your work interferes with your family time, it may be a sign that you are a workaholic.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
When your work interferes with your family time, it may be a sign that you are a workaholic.

After working a 70-hour week, Chuck, a 45-year-old attorney in Albany, decided he would invite some men friends over for brunch to help him relax.

“I ran around cooking, making coffee, and making sure the music was just right,” recalled Chuck, who asked that his last name not being used in this story. “One of my buddies pointed out to me that I spent the whole time working. It just permeated my entire life.”

Spending excessive time working at the office or at home can wreak havoc on your family, your social life, your health and, ultimately, your career.

Workaholics Anonymous of the Capital District

WHERE: Niskayuna Reformed Church, 3041 Niskayuna Road, Niskayuna

WHEN: 6 to 7 p.m. every Monday

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.workaholics-anonymous.org

According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, stress related to work can lead to heart disease and mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Chuck, who is married with no children, was addicted to work.

“For me, the way I got my self-worth was through work,” said Chuck. “It’s like I was always chasing something.”

About two years ago, through a friend, Chuck learned about a group called Workaholics Anonymous of the Capital District, which meets each Monday night from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Niskayuna Reformed Church, 3041 Niskayuna Road.

“I’m more present in my relationships now,” said Chuck, who cut his hours back to between 50 and 60. “I’m more at peace, more accepting of the outcomes in my work and more content with the process of how I approach my work. But it’s a struggle. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”

The group is free. Its primary purpose is for members to stop working compulsively and to carry the message of recovery to other workaholics who still suffer.

Dr. Rudy Nydegger, chief of psychology at Ellis Hospital, described workaholics as people who are obsessive about thinking about work.

“It’s on their mind almost incessantly, and there is a compulsive quality to it as well,” said Nydegger. “If they are not working all the time, they are either annoyed or feel guilty that they should be working. And yet we know that the most productive and effective people typically don’t work like that.”

Recognizing symptoms

How do you know if you are a workaholic?

According to the “Workaholics Anonymous Book of Recovery,” a few questions to ask yourself are:

* Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?

* Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

* Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won’t otherwise get done?

* Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?

* Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop working to do something else?

* Have long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

Dave, 57, a social worker who lives in Schenectady, said he grew up in a home where workaholism was admirable.

“My mother was a chemist, and my parents wanted me to be a chemist, too,” recalls Dave. “But I found out in college that it just wasn’t for me.”

He changed majors in his third year of college and decided he was best suited to work with people in the social sciences field.

“The problem was, I had this sense that I had to keep helping and giving,” said Dave, who is married with two adult children. “People’s problems never go away. I would bring reports home on the weekend and work late every night. I had this feeling that I had to get things done today, when in fact, it could have waited until tomorrow.”

Dave read an article about Workaholics Anonymous in 1992 and decided he was reading about himself.

“I think there are a lot of people who experience what I do in terms of feeling anxious about work and guilty over not getting everything done,” said Dave. “But there is also the excitement about having work to do. There’s some sense of satisfaction in feeling like you are accomplishing something.”

With practice, Dave said he has learned to say enough is enough. He no longer brings work home, and he leaves the office at 5 p.m. He takes walks with his wife and accompanies her shopping.

“I realized I had to get a balance with all this in order to stay healthy and be effective at home and at work,” said Dave.

Few workaholics recognize themselves, said Nydegger.

“Worse than that, many of them are proud of it,” he said. “I’ve heard it described as the only socially acceptable addiction.”

While Nydegger said there is nothing wrong with working hard, workaholics take it to an extreme.

“In terms of their personal lives, clearly if people overwork, the trade-off is that other things in their personal lives that should be important slip away,” he said.

Workaholics seem to have a need for recognition and acknowledgement, he added.

“They seem to consistently need external validation,” he said.

Henry, 57, of Saratoga, the divorced father of three daughters, said society often rewards workaholism.

Seductive rewards

“You get a lot of reinforcement for it. So it’s very easy and seductive,” said Henry, the director of a mental health organization. “However, in terms of heart attacks and strokes, I think there’s a tremendous amount of disease and damage that comes with this addiction. And it makes you unavailable for intimacy with other people.”

At his worst, Henry said, he worked 15-hour days and several hours on weekends, working until he was completely drained.

“I thought that’s what you were supposed to do when you were dedicated,” said Henry. “I also liked the intensity and fulfillment I got from working so much.”

Since a friend brought him to Workaholics Anonymous about a year ago, Henry said he is learning how to relax.

“I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be a producer, and it’s not too late for me to have a balanced life,” said Henry. “I play the guitar. I like to take walks. I still work hard, but I feel like I’m in a better rhythm now with how and when I work. Hopefully, by reducing the number of hours we work, our lives will be more integrated and balanced.”

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