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Published: Monday March 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday March 3, 2014 MYT 8:30:15 AM

Are you addicted to stress?

Obsessing over work is a problem. - Filepic

Obsessing over work is a problem. - Filepic

Some people are real workaholics ... and it's a real problem.

A FRIEND who had recently changed jobs complained that the higher levels of stress at her new workplace were affecting her sleep.

“I actually dream about work some nights now,” she told me and a group of our friends.

I laughed in response, not realising this was an actual problem. “Do you mean you’re having more nightmares about work? Because of course, we all dream about work all the time, right?”

My other friends gave me a weird look. “No, not really,” they said, not in unison and not so succinctly.

It was my turn to look at them strangely. “You mean you guys don’t have regular work dreams? You don’t dream about spending a whole day in the office and then wake up and realise you didn’t actually do any of the tasks you dreamt you finished?”

Silence descended on the table. “I dream about being late for meetings sometimes,” one friend piped up kindly. “But ... not only for work meetings.”

That wasn’t the first time it had occurred to me that I may be spending more time thinking about work than is strictly healthy.

But it hadn’t crossed my mind that other people – including my close friends, all supposedly hardworking folk – were not equally devoted to making their jobs the centre of their lives.

I had been misled by the fact that we all seemed to have the same habits: sacrificing dinner appointments to stay longer in the office; spending birthdays, leave days and public holidays on the job; voicing envy of colleagues with strict 9 to 5 hours while secretly volunteering to work overtime.

But the discovery that perhaps I was a bigger workaholic than the friends I used to mock for being workaholics was a bit of a shock.

So this year, I made a U-turn on one of my usual new year resolutions. Instead of pledging to work harder in 2014, I decided to spend less time working and more time finding out what it is people do when they aren’t working.

This may sound like a no-brainer. But I am ashamed to say that, one month into the new year, I haven’t even managed to get past the initial stage of weaning myself off my office laptop.

Every time I try to put my mouse down and step away from the desk, one more e-mail comes in that I have to be the first to reply-all to. Before I even complete any piece of work, I compulsively start one or two more assignments and set myself an unrealistic deadline for those.

People say the first step to curing an addiction is admitting you have a problem. I have realised I am indeed addicted – not to work, but to stress. It’s a fine line between workaholism and stressaholism, but the big giveaway is that stressaholics are hooked on feeling stressed even about things that most people do to avoid stress.

Take books. I used to read for fun but now I read to derive a sense of accomplishment. I never finish a book without starting a new one in the same sitting, because I need the stress fix of a half-read book waiting to be completed.

I also find that I can’t focus on any task these days unless there are several things all competing for my concurrent attention and weighing on my mind. While working, I feel unsettled unless I multi-task by surfing the Internet and reading my never-depleting news aggregator. The moment I turn my focus to browsing the Web, I have to flick on the TV.

When I watch TV, I usually have one eye on a book. And when I sit down with a book, I obsessively check e-mail on my phone every two minutes – so that I can reply to messages seconds after they come in.

To be honest, I should have realised earlier that I was a stress junkie. My bedtime reading comprises unfinished to-do lists and my best dreams are those where I finish clearing my inbox and fresh new e-mails come in. What stresses me out most, in fact, is having nothing to be stressed out about.

Things came to a head last week when I started playing an iPhone game called Tiny Death Star, based on the Star Wars franchise. It entails building floor upon floor of a towering Death Star, moving teeny residents in, earning money from their work and using that cash to build new floors.

The game is ridiculously low on fun content, but it has one huge redeeming quality: It must be constantly monitored so that you can move in residents, collect more money and build more floors.

In other words, Tiny Death Star is a never-ending to-do list disguised as a game. And I love it so much that my husband threatened to stop speaking to me unless I turned off my iPhone and watched the entire Star Wars series with him, no distractions allowed. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, work, stress, jobs

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