As an ambitious young woman who went straight from college to law school, I dove into the working world at the age of 25 with nothing but naive enthusiasm. Imagine my surprise when, about a week into my fancy law firm gig, I realized that I hated my job. Things only went downhill from there. For three years, work consumed my life, and I was absolutely miserable. Naturally, there was only one solution: I quit my job, went back to school and became a therapist who specializes in helping women with career stress.
Not everyone who experiences stress on the job requires such a drastic career change, of course. In fact, I'd say every job comes with a certain level of stress, and in many cases, it's totally manageable. But sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether you’re a dedicated professional, or a woman on the verge of burnout.
Here are seven signs work is consuming your life ... and not in the good way:
1. You regularly cancel plans with friends and family.
Or you’ve stopped making plans altogether, because you know that the moment you decide to leave work “early” at 7 pm, another “urgent” assignment will undoubtedly land in your lap. Perhaps you regularly receive passive-aggressive text messages from friends you haven’t seen in weeks (saying things like, “Hey stranger, where have you been?”), and less passive phone calls from family members who miss you dearly, and simply do not understand your busy schedule.
2. Everyone you know is tired of hearing you complain about work.
Remember that time when you weren’t complaining about work? No? Well neither does anyone else. Whether it’s your spouse, your roommate, or your taxi driver, everyone is getting an earful about how unreasonable your boss is, or how much you despise your co-worker across the hall who chews carrots too loudly. In any case, you are basically unable to create mental space for yourself away from thoughts about work ... and other people are noticing, too.
3. You feel anxious if you're not "plugged in.”
During the odd hours that you’re not at work, you’re glued to your phone, your laptop, your tablet and any other gadget that will connect you to the world you so desperately want to leave behind. While you fully intend to make the most of your time away from work, you’re so wracked with anxiety that dinner dates become disastrous when you’ve already checked your email three times before the breadbasket hits the table.
4. You can't sit still.
Although you spend most of your days at work wishing you were curled up on your couch with a Breaking Bad marathon, you aren't really able to be present when you do have free time. When you actually do have time to yourself to relax and decompress, you ironically spend most of it thinking about what you should be doing instead.
Your body has become so accustomed to the fast pace of corporate life that you have no idea how to slow down. You’ve heard time and again about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for stress relief, but the mere thought of spending five minutes focusing on breathing is about as appealing as getting a root canal.
5. You feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster.
One minute, you’re over the moon because you’ve landed a new account, and the next minute you’re in tears because a client yelled at you. Since you spend so much time at work, your self-esteem has become inextricably linked to your performance on the job. When you’re doing well, you feel like you’re on top of the world and nothing can stop you. When you receive “constructive criticism,” on the other hand, you’re practically inconsolable.
6. You get sick a lot.
Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to the nasty bugs that are going around your office. Even if you manage to dodge the flu, you may find yourself feeling generally achy and unwell on a daily basis. Anxiety from a stressful job can manifest as physical symptoms, causing headaches, stomachaches and numerous other unpleasant ailments.
7. You have this nagging feeling that you can't quite put your finger on.
Maybe it’s the sense of dread when your alarm goes off in the morning, or the flutter of anxiety when your phone rings at work. You try your best not to think about it, but something keeps gnawing at you. You know deep down that this job isn’t the best fit for you, but you’ve invested so much into your career, and the prospect of change is terrifying because there’s a risk that your next job might be even worse.
So you try your best to make things work. But, if you’re honest with yourself and relate to any of these signs, ask yourself some tough questions. Listen to your gut. If you’re unsure of your next steps, consider seeking guidance from a career counselor or therapist who can help you determine what kind of changes you can make for a more satisfying career, and a more balanced life.