Navigating the Thin Line Between Ambition and Burnout

India’s rapidly growing population and competitive job market have created immense economic pressure on individuals to secure stable employment and achieve financial stability.
Nearly half of all Indian workers fail to use all their allotted vacation days , the reasons workers cite include having too much to do, concern about falling behind at work, reluctance to ask coworkers to cover their responsibilities , peer pressure.
What’s more revealing to us is what they left unsaid — and often don’t recognize. None of us want to admit that we would rather feel overwhelmed than underwhelmed. Most of us prefer being too busy to not being busy enough. We often experience a greater sense of our own value when we’re working than we do when we’re not. Working is not just a way to stay busy, but also to prove our worthiness — to others and to ourselves.
We dread being bored. Even if we don’t particularly enjoy the work we do, we often consider it less anxiety-producing than the alternatives. The result is that without proper safeguards, we inadvertently cooperate with employers who promote excessive workloads. Workaholism, It’s called workaholism precisely because it is a form of self-anesthetizing. Whether the drug of choice is work, alcohol, drugs, the internet, video games, food, shopping, or countless other activities, the point is to escape from feelings we’re determined to avoid.
The irony is that putting in long and continuous hours and thinking constantly about work actually makes it harder to be fully absorbed and engaged in our jobs. Over time, it leads to diminishing productivity, higher rates of burnout, and even to increased likelihood of mortality. A 2021 World Health Organization study found that working 55 or more hours per week — compared to 35-40 hours — is associated with a 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease.
In a capitalist economy that reveres money above all else, workaholism is not only socially acceptable, but also materially and socially rewarded. Unless we take the time to introspect, most of end up being the victim of our addiction without even realising we have one. The changemaker’s constant challenge is to resist the pressure to value work above all else in a corporate world that continues to overwhelmingly reward those who push themselves the hardest.
When it comes to overwork, people have different rationalizations: loves what I do. It doesn’t feel like work. Get great satisfaction from making a positive difference in people’s lives. Despite these noble-sounding explanations, work has been a “drug” of choice. It’s the most reliable way to feel a sense of one’s own worthiness — and to avoid difficult emotions.
So, what are the most effective ways to intervene if you find yourself compulsively overworking? Based on our experiences, we recommend trying these strategies:

Recognize the extent to which compulsive work habits apply to you.

You can’t change what you don’t notice. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How clear and focused is your mind when you’ve been working long and continuous hours?
  • How fatigued are you?
  • What’s the impact on your mood?
  • What is the cost to others in your life?

Approach the narratives you construct to justify your actions with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Focus on two primary commitments: sleep and exercise.

This requires rhythmically expending and renewing energy. It’s critical to prioritize sleeping enough hours every night to feel fully rested, whatever that number means for you. For the vast majority of us, it’s at least seven hours. The second commitment is to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of brisk exercise during the day.

Identify an activity in your life that brings you pure joy.

It should be something that gives you the most freedom from your work. It can differ from person to person – meditation, working out, dancing etc. Whatever you decide to do, schedule it at designated times each week. Doing it so planned increases the likelihood that you’ll make it happen.

Humans are not designed to operate like computers, at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. We’re at our best when we work for no more than 90 minutes at a time and then take a rest. The body is the most reliable barometer of whether you need to renew and refuel, but all too often we ignore its signals, or override them.

In a culture that often rewards overwork, it’s natural to feel some anxiety when you allow yourself time to rest and recharge. Instead of immediately returning to work, try extending your time with these emotions. By simply observing the anxious part within you, you’ll realize it doesn’t define your entire being. Your worst fears about taking a break won’t materialize, and your ability to embrace non-doing will gradually expand. When it comes to combating burnout and addressing workaholism, even small acts of self-care can have a significant impact.