High performing males:
They are called by many names, including workaholics, overachievers, workhorse, or perfectionists.
A workaholic can be defined as someone whose need for work is so excessive that it interferes with personal health and happiness, social relationships and functioning.
Men’s Health Australian Stats:
According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare some leading causes of death among Australian men are:
- Coronary heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Dementia and Alzheimer
- Cerebrovascular disease
Among these conditions, there are widespread differences among different age groups. For example,
- Suicide is the leading cause of death among males 15 to 44 years old
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death among males 45 years old and over
Other conditions, not leading to death, but commonly affecting the health of Australian men include:
- Sexual dysfunctions, more than 1 in 2 males.
- Mental health problems, affecting 1 in 2 males
- Chronic diseases, affecting nearly 1 in 2 males
While there are many factors influencing these diseases of men’s health, a well-known driver for conditions like heart disease sexual dysfunctions, mental health problems or chronic diseases is stress – one of the most common health conditions affecting overachievers and workaholics.
Some common lifestyle risk factors among Australian males include:
These are all common driving factors found among workaholics.
Men’s Health consequences of excessive work:
- High stress, which is related to cardiovascular disease, stroke, sexual problems, anxiety, and a compromised immune system.
- Anxiety, which can cause stomach problems, ulcers, altered blood pressure, heart conditions, and mental health problems.
- Depression, which can last over their lifetime
- Death, chronic stress caused by excessive work can lead to strokes, heart attacks and eventually dead. Japanese have a term for this: “karoshi”, which can be translated as “overwork death”.
Focus on the HPA axis
Overwork affects the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, an organ system composed of:
- The hypothalamus, a part of the brain responsible for hormone and temperature regulation.
- The pituitary gland, called master gland and controlled by the hypothalamus, this organ controls the function of most hormone-producing glands in the body.
- The adrenal gland, this gland produces important hormones, like adrenaline and aldosterone and cortisol.
- Adrenaline increases your heartbeats, and lung function. It can increase the amount of blood sent to the brain and muscles and raise your blood sugar. All meant to optimize the body’s response to stressful or dangerous situations.
- Aldosterone, this hormone regulates levels of salt and water in the body, controlling sodium absorption and potassium excretion. This process influences blood pressure levels.
- Cortisol, this hormone affects multiple sites in the body that contain cortisol receptors. Some of the function of this hormone include regulation of blood sugar levels, metabolism, reducing inflammation.
Overwork can lead to burnout, which affects the lead to dysregulation of the HPA axis, according to research. People who overwork are at high risk of burnout, which is generally defined as a status of physical and emotional exhaustion. Some common work burnout symptoms include:
- Lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Headaches, stomach, or bowel problems
HPA axis and digestive health
Dysregulation of the HPA axis and its alteration on cortisol levels have been associated with digestive problems. One study found that patients with elevated cortisol levels exhibited IBS-like pathologies, particularly diarrhea. Another study found that patients with depression (a condition associated with workaholism) more commonly had a dysfunctional HPA axis, and suffered from gastrointestinal problems like abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
Why overworking affects your health?
The basic idea, according to studies, is that workaholics spend most of their time an energy working, even during time where we normally rest, like weekends, and after-hours. Over time, this cycle of work and no rest does not give time for restoring key body resources, such as cognitive, physical, and emotional integrity.
Study: Balducci C, Avanzi L, Fraccaroli F. The individual “costs” of workaholism: An analysis based on multisource and prospective data. Journal of Management. 2018 Sep;44(7):2961-86.
A 2016 study that investigated workaholism among 16,426 Norwegian workers found significant associations between workaholism and conditions like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCP), anxiety, and depression.
Study: Andreassen CS, Griffiths MD, Sinha R, Hetland J, Pallesen S. The relationships between workaholism and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: a large-scale cross-sectional study. PLoS One. 2016;11(5).
Another study, which employed 343 PhD students, measured perceived health outcomes with different levels of work. Workaholism was found to influence perceived stress and sleep problems, job satisfaction and co-worker support.
Study: Caesens G, Stinglhamber F, Luypaert G. The impact of work engagement and workaholism on well-being. Career Development International. 2014 Nov 4.
A 2013 study that analyses data from 3,899 Japanese workers found that workers that engaged in long working hours, matching the definition of workaholism, suffered from psychological health, disabling back pain, and mental health problems.
Study: Matsudaira K, Shimazu A, Fujii T, Kubota K, Sawada T, Kikuchi N, Takahashi M. Workaholism as a risk factor for depressive mood, disabling back pain, and sickness absence. PloS one. 2013;8(9).