The stress of living to work: how to deal with it?

living to work

Living to work has become one of the most difficult challenges of our time. In general, stress related to our work can be due to different reasons. One of them is our perception of how we allocate our time. This leads us to constantly ask ourselves a question that can be very uncomfortable: are we living to work or working to live?

Work is a very relevant aspect of every person’s life. It is not limited to just “doing” things for a certain amount of money. Keep in mind that what we call somewhat imprecisely “work” has to do with something in which we invest a great deal of time, which provides us with our bread and butter and in which social relationships are very much involved.

ifeel mental wellbeing at work

It’s often said that we spend far more time with our coworkers than we do with our friends and family. Unless you work alongside those close to you or are a freelancer working at home on your own, that’s just the way it is.

In other words, work is like a kind of nucleus in which many other areas of our life depend on: personal fulfillment, leisure, income that we can invest in different things, quality of life, worries, big and small satisfactions…

recomend ifeel

living to work

Living to work: avoiding it to the best of our ability

We invest far more time in things that have to do directly or indirectly with work than we invest in any other aspect of our lives. Of course, the good news and the bad news is that, when it comes to time, it’s not just about quantity but, above all, quality.

This is why it is so easy to lose track if you are living to work, and it is very important that you do not do so. Life is not perfect, we all know that. You know: you will earn your bread with sweat and all those things we have been taught since the world began. Your forehead can get very sweaty, so it is best to know how to find good shadows and have enough refreshments on hand that can compensate for so much effort.

When we talk about the eternal dichotomy between living to work or working to live, a huge jumble of theories, commonplaces, prophetic fantasies of inspired -or directly enlightened- people in the world of work opens before us… There is constant talk about the idea of being your own boss (euphemism for becoming self-employed), distinguishing effort from sacrifice (it almost works), entrepreneurship (euphemism for “make a living”), or the longed-for promised land of turning your passion into your way of life.

There is also a lot of talk about more serious aspects: occupational health, burnout syndrome, reconciling work and personal or family life, etc. It’s not that you don’t have to look at everything, you never know where the inspiration to live better will come from! But the professional recommendation is that, in order to reduce your stress and increase your occupational health, you should adapt poetic theories to your reality without getting frustrated when you realize that they do not always fit.

Working, living, and crossing the street

Distributing the time we dedicate to our work and the time we dedicate to other aspects of our life in a balanced and fair manner can generate great tension. When work takes up everything, it is better to have a nice, meaningful, and well-paid job.

If we are living to work, we will end up associating everything related to work with a lack of motivation, with something so demanding that it prevents us from developing different areas of our life or with demands that are so difficult to satisfy that they become a threat from which we can only escape by working more and more hours to keep the monster quiet.

living to work

Thinking about this issue is a very recurrent concern in our lives, especially if we compare ourselves with some cultures similar and not so similar to ours.

Have you ever heard of the Shibuya zebra crossing? It’s in Tokyo, said to be the most crowded crossing in the world, and it probably is. What is clear is that, with as much stimulation as there is in Shibuya and as much ambient noise to process without saturating us, rarely has crossing a street posed such a clear challenge to our stress tolerance.

Occupational stress, a lethal weapon

The good news, at least for Tokyoites, is that their way of working should have them pretty well trained to tolerate the urban challenge that sometimes comes with getting to the sidewalk across the street. After all, the Japanese are known to devote a very large part of their time to work and very few days to vacation. In fact, they divide their working days and rest days in a very different way from ours… and unbalanced, according to our standards and values.

Trained or not, the truth is that, sometimes, living to work gets out of hand in terms of occupational health. So much so that they themselves have a word, karoshi, to refer to those situations in which someone dies due to an overload of work. Disturbing, isn’t it?

Inspiration from the north

There are other models too. Some European countries, especially the Scandinavians, also have a reputation for being very hard-working but, at the same time, very efficient in terms of the time they devote to the office, avoiding what would seem to us to be “Japanese excesses”. This is due, among other things, to the fact that they consider their way of organizing themselves to be good for the workers’ health. And you know what they say: what is good for the workers’ health is good for the business’ health.

In addition to giving importance to work, in these countries, they also highly value people’s ability to have “a life outside the office”.

To encourage their employees not to be living to work but to set aside time for other things, these countries often have very strict rules that regulate working hours. In particular, companies that are very committed to their employees’ health encourage them to set aside sufficient time for other activities, and even frown upon anyone who spends “too much” time at work. Why? Because they do not consider that person to be a hard worker, but rather someone who does not know how to organize themselves sufficiently well.

According to various international reports, these countries have been developing a formula for decades to ensure that the famous work-life balance is not something that everyone talks about but only a fortunate few have seen, but a reality that benefits people’s health and, more importantly for some, the results of all types of companies.

Living to work: work-related anxiety and depression

Whether or not we put into practice what the most modern work gurus recommend, it is more than proven that when we do not distribute our work time properly, it is easy to develop severe anxiety and depression symptoms related, without a doubt, to a very high level of stress.

We may not be close to a karoshi zombie apocalypse, but you may have noticed that, although Spain is not Japan, it is not Norway either… or even close to it. Or, to put it another way: long hours, little output, lots of things neglected outside the office and not so much money either. And meanwhile, bad moods, a lot of sick leave due to anxiety, and a lot of sick leave due to depression.

living to work

Beyond the jokes or the laziness from the “Sunday blues”, we should pay attention to certain warning signs that, in the long run, will have an impact on our physical and psychological health due to living to work.

When someone perceives the goals imposed by their job as too demanding or only achievable at the price of sacrificing their time, they end up wearing out their health at work and generating burnout. These are the first symptoms of work-related stress.

Among other things, the person ends up learning that their main source of validation is the level of excellence of the performance they can do for their company. Our correspondents in psychology practices inform us that this is a bad business.   

Living to work: 4 tips for dealing with work anxiety

Did you know that depression and anxiety are considered true epidemics in what is known as the Western world? Did you know that sick leave due to anxiety and depression is the number one reason for absenteeism from work in countries like ours? It is clear that the connection between work and quality of life (or severe lack of quality of life) is very close.

1. Be assertive

Unless you are a fireman or president of the government, it is highly likely that you can put off until tomorrow what you could also do today if you put in a couple of extra hours of work. There you have an example of a decision about life outside and inside work.

Maybe your bosses suggest you attend something completely optional outside your schedule and you see that some of your colleagues easily dodge the issue with the excuse that they have children to pick up from daycare, parents to accompany to the hospital, second and third jobs to get to on time… And you, who are free as the wind, are only gripped by the idea that you have no excuse to say no to your bosses to that extra task, that coffee, that meal before you all go your separate ways.

Don’t fool yourself or feel guilty: you also have a baby to take care of, and that baby is you, that baby has an unavoidable commitment with your sofa, with your shopping, with your household chores, with your appointment, with your little time on the beach after the morning at the office. Remember that we all have a work-life balance, not only people who have children (or other dependents). Remember that the single or childless person is not necessarily the useful fool in the office.

Set limits. First to yourself and then to others, to the system. Do it in that order. When you set a limit for someone else, it is because you have set it for yourself first. That is because you have previously made the decision not to give in, not to say yes to everything in an impulsive or unwanted way, but you have restrained yourself and have chosen to try to share the sacrifices.

2. Know when to stop

On the other hand, we all know the satisfaction of crossing things off the list and going home with the feeling that we have done a lot of things (this is beginning to be known as a feeling of self-efficacy, how do you feel?) but we insist: if you are not a fireman or president of the government you have to know how to switch off and leave for tomorrow what can be done tomorrow. How about spending a little time on your leisure and your friends instead of crossing things off the list like crazy?

3. Don’t stress if you can’t unwind

If your work fulfills you, you like it, or, simply, you have nothing better to do than to work a lot, there is nothing wrong with you turning your attention to your tasks -in the short term- or to your career in the long term. The suggestion is that you learn to distinguish: do I have nothing better to do because I leave no room for other possible activities or is it that my life-is-work and this is my particular and respectable way of enjoying my life? The nuances are sometimes blurred, but the subject deserves a reflection. Think about it on the way home.

Be careful with this last point: there is nothing wrong with working a lot as long as it is something chosen as much as possible, enjoyed as much as possible and, moreover, does not isolate you. It is good to cultivate different aspects and above all to cultivate deep and satisfying relationships in environments other than work. Colleagues are colleagues, and exceptionally some of them become friends, but in most cases, they are not going to be there forever because your current job is not going to be there forever. Don’t forget to pay attention to your life outside of work.

4. Be precise

If you have come to the conclusion that you do not want to be living to work but working to live, it is good that you put it into practice, that it is reflected in concrete things in your daily life. This does not mean that you have to make a radical change in your life (or yes, but don’t be anxious, don’t get stressed now, because it is not essential to be so drastic).

Sometimes it is enough to continue doing practically the same thing you have been doing until now but with a different attitude. Other times you can make small changes in your schedule, in your eating or transportation habits, distribute your time differently outside and inside the office, plan your activities better so that time is more useful, take the step of finally dedicating some resources (time, money, physical or mental effort…) to some activity that you would like to undertake, either in the form of a hobby or training, for example.

The important thing is that if you want to have a life that is not based only on what has to do with work, you can make it as concrete as possible, make it real as much as possible and, as far as possible, not postpone it for a distant or undefined “later”.

Today is the first day that you can live a little more and work a little less without traumas, without dramas, without big changes that are more scary than enjoyable and without having to request a leave of absence due to anxiety. If you don’t know how to do this or if you have already gone too far in your stress picture, don’t worry: at ifeel, we are here to help you. Our team of psychologists works every day with this kind of problems and can help you to take those steps you need at this moment so that you do not end up being an employee who is just living to work.

Employee Wellness Platform
  • online therapy ifeel
  • We think these articles may interest you