'My corporate job was giving me anxiety and panic attacks. I had to quit to recover.'

This story discusses anxiety and depression and may be triggering for some readers.

To the outside world I was living a successful life in the corporate world. Based in Hong Kong, working in financial markets, professionally I was at the top of my game. I had worked my way up the corporate ladder in banking and financial markets for 16 years and now was managing a team and trading 13 markets across Asia. I thrived on the intensity and the high-pressure environment of working on a trading floor. As a female in a very male dominated industry, I had to work extra hard to be seen as anything other than a 'token female'. My value as a person was aligned with how big the trades were, how much money I made for my company and clients and how big my bonus was each year.

However, personally I was suffering. Living alone in a foreign country with no partner or children on the horizon, work became my world. Everyone I knew was connected to work - colleagues, clients or competitors. When I'd leave the office after a 12-hour day, I wasn't clocking off - the social aspect of my role would just be beginning. Wining and dining clients was a big part of my role and to be successful in my industry the 'work hard, play hard' culture needed to be adopted. But this wasn't just an hour or two of after-work drinks as many nights wouldn't finish until the early hours of the morning, sometimes going straight into the office. Backing up the next morning was tough. As one of my bosses once said to me very early in my career "out with the boys, in with the men!"

Watch: If you're struggling to cope, here are some things you can do. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

I was exhausted, running on adrenaline and struggling to switch off. I no longer enjoyed the thrill and intensity and felt completely disconnected from my value system. I had no self-esteem. I was suffering from anxiety and started having panic attacks at the thought of going into work. Looking back, work was the only thing in my life. I didn’t have any boundaries or balance. After a period in rehab, I entered recovery, learned to esteem myself from within and I now implement healthy boundaries and prioritise time away from work.

It has been several years since I left behind the world of financial markets and embarked on a new career in mental health. As a therapist at South Pacific Private I speak with many people about work addiction and burnout. The truth is in our fast-paced and demanding world, many of us get caught in the grips of work addiction and burnout. The relentless pursuit of professional success and perfectionism at work often takes a toll on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. However, recognising the signs, understanding the underlying causes, and implementing strategies to break free from this cycle is crucial for achieving a healthier work-life balance. 

What is work addiction and burnout?

Work addiction, often referred to as 'workaholism', is an unhealthy pattern of compulsive work behaviour that goes beyond dedication and commitment. Those struggling with work addiction may feel an overwhelming need to constantly prove their worth through work-related achievements, often at the expense of other aspects of life. This addiction can lead to a vicious cycle of neglecting self-care, personal relationships, and overall well-being.


Burnout, on the other hand, is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged work-related stress. Many people who experience work addiction end up also experiencing burnout. It is characterised by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and reduced productivity. When work becomes overwhelming and all-consuming, burnout can take hold, negatively impacting both personal and professional spheres of life.

How to overcome work addiction and burnout.

1. Recognise the problem.

Acknowledging that work addiction and burnout are real issues is the first step towards change. Reflect on your work habits, assess whether they are sustainable, and honestly evaluate the impact on your physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

2. Set realistic goals and boundaries.

Reevaluate your work goals and ensure they are realistic and aligned with your overall well-being. Establish clear boundaries by defining specific working hours, limiting overtime, and learning to say "no" to excessive work demands. Delegate tasks when possible and seek a healthy work-life integration that promotes balance and fulfillment. While not everyone is in a position to switch jobs easily or make a career change, it's important to try and establish a healthier work environment in your current workplace. 

Listen to Fill My Cup to learn how to set better boundaries and reminds us why we need to look out for our own needs. Post continues after podcast.


3. Seek support.

Reach out to trusted friends, family, or a therapist to share your struggles and seek support. They can provide valuable perspectives, encouragement, and guidance as you navigate the journey towards recovery. Additionally, professional therapy can help uncover underlying issues, such as childhood trauma or unresolved stress, that may contribute to work addiction and burnout.

4. Prioritise self-care and cultivate mindfulness and stress management.

Set healthy boundaries between work and personal life, allowing yourself time for relaxation, hobbies, and meaningful connections. Make self-care a non-negotiable priority. Engage in activities that rejuvenate you, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature. 

Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other stress management techniques can help reduce anxiety, increase self-awareness, and foster resilience in the face of work-related pressures. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish but essential for long-term well-being.

Amy Forde is a psychotherapist and the Inpatient Program Manager at South Pacific Private - one of Australia's leading treatment centres for trauma, addiction and mental health. 

If you think you or someone you know needs help, please call South Pacific Private on 1800 063 332.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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