We are not born high-achieving, work all-hour, perfectionists. It’s not some core facet of our selfhood. Overworking can be a subtle form of fighting and flighting.
These days it is less a real tiger activating our threat response. It’s more likely to be inflation, cost of living, war, pandemics, climate emergencies, intersectional discrimination, e.t.c.
Our system thinks: if I over work, then either the threat will go away, or I’ll be better equipped to deal with it. There will be some element of truth to every response. Working hard can create stability, safety, and resolve threats. But sometimes we don’t know how or when to switch it on and off.
As well as this sticky or sensitive on off switch, our culture celebrates over working. Success, expensive possessions, power, hard graft, rags to riches, it’s all part of the every day narrative around work.
If someone can’t switch off, or is working so hard they’re neglect relationships and personal life, they might be acting from a threat response. It’s not their fault.
It’s important to acknowledge the economic, political, and social systems around us that are activating and alarming our nervous systems. Overworking is a manifestation and a signal of the dysfunctional and toxic elements of culture.
We can have agency over developing an awareness of our response switch, and developing more control over it. Self inquiry can help:
• Do I really need to do this right now? Is it actually urgent?
• Is working on this actually going to alleviate the core distress that I'm experiencing underneath the desire to work?
• What power structures are exerting themselves over me right now that might be confusing my switch?
• Is there something unresolved from my past that’s contributing to my switch being fired off unnecessarily, or causing it to get stuck on?