People who overwork themselves because deep down they’re lonely often display these 5 subtle behaviors

A recent Gallup poll revealed that 27% of young adults between the ages of 19-29 feel “Very/fairly lonely.”

Yes, that’s more than one in four.

And what do many do to fill that void? They overwork. 

I know this because this was me.

In my early twenties, I moved to Vietnam, where I was fortunate to form close friendships. These friendships became a cornerstone of my life abroad, providing me with a sense of community and belonging.

However, as is often the case in expatriate communities, those friends began to move away one by one. This, eventually, left me in a state of isolation. I found myself without the tight-knit group I had once relied upon for support and companionship.

So I turned to what I had left, my work.

As an entrepreneur, there was almost more to do. So it was easy to engross in my work. But I was burning the candle at both ends.  

However as I realized a little too late, this relentless dedication to work wasn’t driven by career ambition or a burning passion for my entrepreneurial ventures, but rather, it stemmed from a deep sense of loneliness. My work had become an escape. 

Think you know someone like this? Are you in a similar situation yourself? 

Let’s find out. 

Today, we’ll explore seven subtle behaviors that can indicate someone is overworking themselves, not just for the sake of their career, but as a means to cope with loneliness.

1) Prioritizing work above all else

This one sounds obvious but is easily masked in a world that praises being busy and values the hustle culture.

When I was lonely, my days stretched far beyond the typical work hours, and even my weekends were consumed by work. 

I would cancel the rare plans I did make. I would avoid going out to meet new people. I stopped doing hobbies that I once loved. Hell, I would even forget to call my family back home regularly.  

To the outside world, this might have appeared as a commendable dedication or an admirable work ethic. In fact, some told me they admired my “get up and go.” 

However, the sad reality was that diving into work, any work had become my way of escaping the sense of loneliness

When work takes precedence over personal relationships and self-care, it’s often an attempt to fill a void in one’s personal life.

2) Not getting enough quality sleep

A lack of quality sleep is another common issue among those who overwork themselves due to loneliness. There are two primary reasons behind this.

The first is rather straightforward: individuals who overwork often burn the midnight oil. They stay up late, tethered to their work, unable to detach and give their minds and bodies the rest they need. 

This was me, working into the early hours of the morning, either ‘inspired’ or burdened with worry about my business

The second reason, which is less obvious but deeply rooted in science, involves the quality of sleep, especially when feeling lonely. Research has shown that loneliness can significantly impact how well we sleep. 

In his bestseller Lost Connections, Johann Hari discusses how people who feel lonely often experience micro-awakenings throughout the night. This phenomenon is believed to be a defense mechanism; historically, sleeping away from one’s tribe posed real dangers. The body’s response?

To sleep lighter or wake up more frequently, ensuring that we could protect ourselves if necessary.

So, even when someone like me managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour and clock in seven to eight hours of sleep, I’d still wake up feeling exhausted. 

At the time, I couldn’t pinpoint why. But now I understand it was likely due to this ingrained protective response. 

This dual impact of overworking and the physical effects of loneliness on sleep creates a vicious cycle. The more I overworked, the less quality sleep I got, which in turn affected my mood and productivity the next day, often leading to doing even more work to compensate. 

Sleep is not “the cousin of death.” It is essential for a healthy, balanced, and productive existence. 

If you find yourself or someone you know caught in this cycle, it might be a sign to reevaluate work habits and address the underlying feelings of loneliness. 

Employees who dont like their bosses People who overwork themselves because deep down they're lonely often display these 5 subtle behaviors

3) Measuring self-worth solely on work achievements

Picture a person whose entire sense of self-worth is inextricably tied to their latest work achievement.

They beam with pride at a successful presentation yet plunge into self-doubt when a project doesn’t go as planned. Their mood swings with the ups and downs of their professional life. 

It sounds somewhat exaggerated, right? 

It’s not, this was me.

There was a time when I measured my worth solely by how well my business was performing. It was a constant rollercoaster of emotions, with each business success lifting me to the skies and every setback sending me into the depths of self-criticism.

It’s a trap many fall into, whether climbing the corporate ladder, working in sales, or any field where achievements are highly visible and rewarded.

It took me longer than it should to realize the toll this was taking on my well-being. Eventually, I began to adopt a more stoic mindset, focusing on what I could control and learning to detach my self-worth from my professional achievements. 

This shift towards stoicism helped me build resilience and find a more stable sense of self, independent of external successes or failures.

Since then, I have come to appreciate that our worth is not defined by our job title or the accolades we receive. True fulfillment often begins with the people around us, building relationships that enrich our lives beyond the confines of work

If you know someone who gauges their worth solely based on their career achievements, it might be time for a heartfelt conversation. 

If you see this trait in yourself, consider it a sign to start incorporating other things into your life.

Are there hobbies you once loved but no longer do? Are there friends you haven’t seen in too long? 

Make time for these things. They pave the way for a more balanced and emotionally rewarding life.

4) Feeling guilty for taking a day off (and not knowing what to do with it)

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.” – Arianna Huffington

There’s a common misconception that being constantly busy is synonymous with being productive and successful. 

As a result, for people like me, who used work as a way to escape loneliness, the idea of taking a day off was fraught with guilt. 

I’d tell myself and others, “I’m too busy to take a day off,” or as cringy as it sounds now, “I need to outwork the competition”.  

But it was actually about facing the emptiness and solitude of a day without work.

The truth is we all need a break and the notion that more hours equals more productivit?

It’s a myth for most of us. Don’t believe me?

A study by Stanford researchers showed that productivity does not increase significantly after 55 hours of work per week. In fact, those who work over 70 hours a week don’t accomplish more than those who stick to a 55-hour limit, but they do risk serious health consequences.

If you have a friend or loved one who shows this sign, it’s important to gently remind them of the value of taking a break. Encourage them to step away from work, emphasizing the benefits of rest and relaxation not just for their mental health but for their productivity and creativity as well.

They will struggle to ‘do nothing’, so suggest activities that can help them recharge, whether it’s a hobby they enjoy, spending time in nature, or taking a road trip.

It’s also important to listen and provide support if they express feelings of loneliness or isolation. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there to talk to can make a significant difference.

5) Late night messages to old friends

There’s something inherently lonely about the evenings. Or at least that was my experience.

After finishing my work – often late at night – I would feel an overwhelming need to connect with someone, anyone. This would usually result in late-night messages to old friends, starting with something like, “Hey man, how you doing?”

As I later learned, this is normal for those of us feeling alone. Researchers have found that lonely people are “more likely to make and interact with online friends, and to use the Internet for emotional support.”

However, these conversations often fizzled out quickly. The reality was that my life had become so consumed by work that I felt I had nothing else to talk about. It felt like work was all I had. 

Furthermore, the occasional message through a screen is no substitute for real, face-to-face contact. 

One study conducted during the pandemic even suggests that for older people, having no contact at all is better for their well-being than only virtual contact. I’m not over sixty, but the study certainly highlights the importance of genuine, in-person interactions for our mental health.

If you notice a friend who frequently sends messages like this late at night or simply out of the blue, it could be a sign that they’re feeling lonely and are using these messages as a way to reach out for some form of connection. 

It might be worth looking into and finding ways to offer them more meaningful and personal interactions. Perhaps suggesting a regular catch-up or a simple coffee date could go a long way in helping them feel more connected and less isolated.

The bottom line

Overworking, often a mask for loneliness, can lead to a cycle of unhealthy habits and missed connections.

Recognizing these signs in ourselves or others is the first step towards fostering healthier work-life balance and rekindling meaningful relationships.

If you’re still here, well done on sticking it out! As always, I hope you found this post valuable. 

Until next time.

Mal James

Mal James

Mal James Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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