Six Self-Care Secrets for Weary Workaholics

Posted on May 1, 2019

self care secrets for workaholics

Today is May 1. For more than 20 years, this day has had a special meaning to me. It was at Noon on May 1, 1996 when my mother – Juanita Thacker Hart Robertson M.D. – breathed her last labored breath and left this world. Two days before she died, she looked up at me with longing in her eyes and said, “I never got my turn.” My mother was an inspiring, remarkable human being, making a huge difference in thousands of people’s lives; she was also a workaholic.

Workaholism is possibly the most socially acceptable addictive process in the world today. According to psychologist and professor Mark Griffiths Ph.D.: “While work addiction does indeed have many similarities to other behavioral addictions (e.g., gambling, gaming, shopping, sex, etc.), it fundamentally differs from them in a critical way because it is the only behavior that individuals are typically required to do eight hours a day and is an activity that individuals receive gratification from the local environment and/or society more generally for engaging in the activity.”

You are not judged but rather rewarded for investing your life in productive activity. Work – whether or not you get paid for it – feeds your sense of value and importance; and when you’re a bit short on those qualities, it’s a pretty reliable fix.  

Are you a workaholic?

  • Do you need more and more hours each day to do what you need to do?
  • Do you ever turn to work to make yourself feel better about life?
  • Do you make – and break – your promises to stop working, take breaks, have fun?
  • Do you ever feel guilty, jittery or anxious when you’re not working?
  • Do the people who care about you ever complain about how much you work?
  • Does work occupy the number one position in your life?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then you may have a problem. But, workaholic or not, recovering or not, if you are called by a big vision, you may have trouble taking care of yourself.

It was soon after my mother died when I first identified myself as a workaholic and found support in a 12-step recovery program just for that. It was a very small group, because of course we were all too busy to attend meetings. But it was there I learned to admit how difficult it was for me to stop, to sit with my discomfort about being a limited human being, and to make better choices in those moments of compulsion. 

Living in France for more than a decade show me that it’s not the only way of life, and there is a very good reason to close the computer and walk away every day of the week to something that gives you pleasure and nurtures your spirit. And yet many of us have a great deal of difficulty giving ourselves permission to do that. 

There are better ways of living… and secrets hidden in plain sight you can use today to start taking better care of yourself.

Six secrets of self care:

  1. No is a complete sentence. Say it now to yourself, “No.” Feels a bit uncomfortable, right?  We’re conditioned to follow that word with a reason, an excuse, an apology. It’s not enough to own our own lives… and let other people own theirs too. We feel guilty about putting our needs first. And with that guilt our choices become obligations… and we forget what we even wanted in the first place.
  2. Your cellphone is a tool. Let it ring. Let the caller leave a message. Listen to it when you’re ready. I was taught that my life belong to you, especially if you pay me. But when you consistently put other people’s agendas above your own, your own needs go unmet. The well runs dry. And you end up depleted. Give this simple step a try. Give yourself periods each day to turn off your phone. Do a digital detox day once a month. The world will keep turning. And maybe you’ll learn a little more about your place in it.
  3. Time is a measurement device. We live by the clock, we die by the clock. Somewhere in world history, the human animal decided to break up the spaces between sunrise and sunset into segments. Before then we lived our lives in the light and drew close to rest in the darkness. Today we have hours and minutes and seconds to push against. Everyone has the same 1,440 minutes in a day. Whether you perceive time as an expanse or constriction depends on you. Time is not money. And it’s not an excuse. Take some of it now to answer these questions. What’s your natural personal rhythm? What matters most to you? Then make sure those things get some of your minutes first. 
  4. Sleep is your greatest asset. Arianna Huffington woke us all up with her 2017 book The Sleep Revolution. After her own personal wakeup call, she made the link for us between success and sleep. Our hours of passive horizontality, when our minds and bodies let go to be supported by the wisdom of the autonomic nervous system, restore our bodies and replenish our minds. When sleep is continually dismissed as wasted time, the well will run dry. When good sleep is nurtured like a good investment, it will pay dividends that last a lifetime. Block time for sleep in your calendar first.
  5. You are only human. What does it mean to be human? With computers, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence nipping at our racing heels, age-old definitions of humanity are coming into question. Our measurement standards have become digital – 1 and 0 – and our expected output, inhuman. If our value comes from what we do rather than who we are, and our output is measured against an inhuman standard, we will never measure up. Is that really what you want – to be faster, slicker, more efficient – if in the process you miss the experience of being alive? Make a space in each day to be and see what your heart tells you.
  6. Now is the time to start. It will not get easier. You will not have more energy later. Everything will not get done so you can relax. Stop making excuses and start now. Sixty seconds is all you need to take your turn in your own life.
Six secrets of self care for workaholics

This is your turn.

Seven of the 10 women in my six-month mastermind program admitted that Self Care is one of their toughest challenges. These are intelligent, creative, successful women with big visions, meaningful lives and plenty to live for. Yet as women (And surprise! It’s true for men as well!) what we do to ‘earn our keep’ on a daily basis can leave us feeling exhausted, drained, ineffective and wondering why we’re doing it all anyway.

“I never got my turn.” How I wish my mother had voiced those words earlier in her life… had given herself permission to take her turn. But hearing them on her lips gave me the greatest gift of my life… to learn from her experience and live my life differently. Some days it’s a real struggle, but I have tools she didn’t have. And now you do too. 

Self Care is one of the pillars of my six-month Love the Life you Live program. If you’d like to learn more, check it out here. There are only two more enrollment periods this year, and one of them starts today. 

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  1. My dearest Katherine, thank you for sharing the story of your amazing Mother.

    Just this week, I said “No” to an “appointment” I had made the day before. It was an early morning event that would have required me to wake up extra early to get ready and to navigate the early morning rush hour.

    When the alarm went off, on impulse, I cancelled just because my body didnt feel like it had had enough sleep/rest.

    I thought about the event, the circumstances surrounding how I got “drawn in” to attending it but most importantly, I thought about the physiological “cost” of attending and within less than 3 minutes, I DECIDED that my rest and total well being was more important in that moment.

    I appreciate the choice I made for ME that morning. I had an AMAZING day that day, with absolutely no regrets about choosing me, for once.

    Your Mom’s Legacy is not lost. She lives… through your annual memorials and in every NO we choose, to ensure we don’t miss our turn.


  2. Dear Debra, You are so generous with your comment. I’m delighted that this post has spoken to you and validated something you just did for yourself yesterday! Some days taking care of ourselves means making ourselves more comfortable, and some days just the opposite. Yesterday was a good day! And so is today! Love you too, Katherine

  3. Dear Katherine,

    After retiring due to illness, only now have I realized my own 40-year run of workaholic tendencies. However in my 9 months of being off the work treadmill I have learned to relax and notice the simplest beauty surrounding me. My corporate career in marketing communications and Public Relations had me on the grid 24/7 and I paid a great price…my health suffered due to lack of self care and nurturing my spirit. Workaholism even affected my parenting and being present for my children.

    Your mother is a blessing to remind us all. Take your turn now because tomorrow may be too late.

    Entrepreneurs have an advantage to design the course of their day. But those too in the corporate world are deadline driven, bottom line conscious, technology bound and the demands of meetings and leading others is taxing without self care. Eating lunch at our desks. Calls and international meetings in various time zones allow little time to stop and eat a meal in peace and simply smell the roses. Being productive 24/7 in business feeds our work addiction and egos but not our souls. Worcoholism is accepted as healthy behaviour and we are congratulated for it…but it is a big mistake.Life is to be lived and savored every day. Take care of you and your relationships because in the end that is all that matters.

    I have a gift of an early retirement due to serious cancer to see this now. Your blog is a wake up call for us all!

    I especially notice that my smart phone and social media addiction is the last hurdle for me. I like the idea of having a digital day off and plan to do just that.

  4. Dear Anita,

    Thank you for sharing your story so openly. You express so beautifully a feeling familiar to so many, particularly in the US. As your comment comes in, I’m putting together the content for this Sunday’s Community Call in my Love the Life you Live program – about Self-Care. You remind me that the women in that group, myself included, are all on this journey, at different points. Some are just stepping onto that treadmill, some have just stepped off, and some are decades in, searching for a clear exit strategy. What keeps us engaged in that toxic expectation of ourselves is as much about the battle in our own minds and hearts as it is about the demands of those around us. It takes what it takes for each of us to awaken to our choices and their consequences. Thank you for offering your wake-up call as a gift for the rest of us. I’m so glad you see ways to nurture yourself today, right where you are. And I pray for the full, healing flow of Life through you for many years to come.

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