The Psychological Effects of Living to Work

Living to work produces an imbalance that affects your quality of life and your relationships with others. These are its main effects.
The Psychological Effects of Living to Work
Ebiezer López

Written and verified by the psychologist Ebiezer López.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Today’s society tends to value productivity at work above other aspects. Consequently, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to visit a psychologist suffering the effects of simply living to work.

Although work is important and can bring satisfaction, it shouldn’t dominate your life. Because when this happens, you start neglecting other areas of your life. For instance, family, friends, or even your partner. In the long term, this can have consequences, such as loneliness, depression, or even physical illnesses that are associated with excessive work stress.

Next, we’ll take a look at the negative effects derived from focusing your life on work. We’ll also look at some helpful strategies for reducing these risks and finding a balance between your work and personal life.

The consequences of living to work

Stressed woman at work
Putting all your energy into work produces an imbalance in other aspects of your life.

Being productive in the workplace can have certain benefits. For example, you might earn more money to meet your needs, pay rent, and even afford some luxuries. It can also provide you with rewarding experiences and opportunities for professional growth. However, life isn’t just about work.

In fact, your relationships with your partner or family are also essential for your happiness. They also require your time. The same thing happens with hobbies or passions. If you put all your time and energy into work, you’ll hardly be able to fit anything else in. Although at first, it may seem that these actions have no consequences, you’ll gradually notice that this isn’t the case.

1. Burnout syndrome

This syndrome is linked to overwork and job dissatisfaction. Its symptoms can be manifested on a physical level. For example, back pain, headache, fatigue, muscle tension and nausea. On a psychological level, it can generate irritability or hinder motivation.

According to a review by Méndez Venegas (2019), burnout is one of the main causes of absenteeism and incapacity to work. Therefore, while excess productivity may sound good, in the long run, it’ll force you to stop. After all, your body and mind have limits that you must recognize and respect.

2. Feelings of loneliness

One of the main negative consequences of overwork is feeling alone. Indeed, focusing too much on work makes you forget to take care of your connections with your environment. In this way, you could end up missing out on important relationships, such as those with your partner or children.

Seppala and King (2017) published a study in which they related loneliness to burnout syndrome. According to the authors, this disorder isn’t only associated with overwork or dissatisfaction. They claim that a loss of meaningful emotional ties with colleagues, friends, family, and partners also contributes to it.

3. Cognitive impairment

One of the psychological effects of living to work is chronic stress. Scientific evidence suggests that this type of stress can damage your cognitive abilities and impair your performance.

In 2020, a meta-analysis of the effects of psychosocial stress on cognitive ability and memory was published. The results demonstrated that stress decreased the performance of executive functions (planning, decision making, anticipation, etc.). However, in the case of memory, no conclusive data was obtained (McManus et al, 2020).

4. Depression

Considering the factors above, it’s no surprise that overwork is linked to depressive symptoms. Taken together, all of these conditions put people at higher risk of having a depressive episode.

Zadow et al. (2021) conducted a study concerning how long working hours, work commitment, and the psychosocial safety climate are linked to depression. Their evidence indicated that an unsafe psychosocial environment and long working hours are positively related to depressive symptoms. Likewise, having a greater commitment to work can increase the number of hours worked and, in turn, result in depression.

5. Insomnia

man with insomnia
Overworking can lead to insomnia. That’s because you tend to focus on your problems and difficulties, as well as your to-do list.

Constant exposure to stress and depression are associated with difficulty sleeping. For this reason, one of the most well-known psychological effects of living to work is insomnia.

If you work too much you’ll tend to sleep little. This can happen because your routine doesn’t allow it or because stress prevents you from resting well.

6. Sedentary lifestyle

As a rule, you tend to work in a specific position and don’t need to move around a lot to accomplish your tasks. For this reason, dedicating yourself to work implies maintaining sedentary behavior. Therefore, if you spend most of your time working, you increase the number of hours you spend without undertaking any physical activity.

Over time, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even diabetes. At the same time, these conditions can significantly disable you and diminish your quality of life.

How to avoid the psychological effects of living to work

When it comes to living to work, the problem not only affects your emotional well-being but also your economic situation. Needless to say, you probably can’t afford to quit your job or take vacations whenever you need to. Therefore, these kinds of conditions make you more vulnerable.

As much as possible, you should try to find time to take care of yourself. For example, exercising for at least 30 minutes a day reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease. In turn, it decreases the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

In addition, spending quality time with your loved ones combats feelings of loneliness. As a result, you’re less likely to develop burnout or depression.

To conclude, reducing the psychological effects of living to work is necessary to find a balance between duty and pleasure. Although you can’t abandon your responsibilities, it’s also not healthy to dedicate all your energy to them. After all, money and material possessions soon lose their meaning if you don’t have either the time or the company to enjoy them.

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Work stress is the pressure that an individual suffers at a physiological and emotional level, due to psychosocial risk factors.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • McManus, E., Talmi, D., Haroon, H., & Muhlert, N. (2021). Psychosocial stress has weaker than expected effects on episodic memory and related cognitive abilities: a meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
  • Méndez Venegas, J. (2019). Estrés laboral o síndrome de’burnout’.
  • Seppala, E., & King, M. (2017). Burnout at work isn’t just about exhaustion. It’s also about loneliness. Harvard Business Review, 29, 2-4.
  • Zadow, A. J., Dollard, M. F., Dormann, C., & Landsbergis, P. (2021). Predicting new major depression symptoms from long working hours, psychosocial safety climate and work engagement: a population-based cohort study. BMJ open, 11(6), e044133.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.