When Work Takes Over Your Life

Acknowledging that we are over-burdened can be the first step toward preventing office troubles from spilling over to our personal relationships


“I work in an advertising company and I had been doing overtime at the office for most of the last three months. We had bagged a new client, who had given us insane delivery deadlines. I was barely sleeping for more than 4 hours at a stretch and could not remember the last time I had had a hot meal. My wife had told me more than a dozen times that I was getting increasingly irritable and cranky. Yesterday was my 6-year-old daughter Meera’s birthday. She made me promise that I would be there to help her blow out her birthday candles. It was the first time she had invited friends over. I had spent another all-nighter at the office the previous night. I now asked my boss if I could take off for a little while for Meera’s birthday. He screamed at me for prioritising my personal life over work, while my co-workers smirked. I kept my cool because I really wanted to be home on time for once. I somehow convinced my boss to give a couple of hours off. I made it home in time before Meera cut the cake but I struggled to keep my eyes open. Soon, the incessant laughter and chatter of her bubbly friends started to grate on my nerves. When Meera accidently dropped a piece of cake on my shirt, I finally lost it. I shouted at her for being careless and ruining my shirt. She burst into tears while all her friends stared at me in fear. Looking at my daughter’s tearful face and my wife’s disappointed face is when I realised the impact that work stress was having on my personal life. I have never felt so sad and helpless in my life.”


When stress at work becomes too much, we often end up displacing our anger and frustration on our family. Fuelled by the temporary adrenalin rush that comes with chasing tight deadlines, we often miss out on signs that the pressure might be slowly building up inside. Thus, we often don’t realise that we’re ruining our personal relationships until it’s too late. Cutting back on sleep and food make it worse because your body’s ability to fight stress is further compromised.

Although you don’t always have control over how much work lands up on your plate, here are some ways you can reclaim your personal life:

  1. Tie up loose ends: Just as you would plan your work in the morning, spend a few minutes planning the end of your work day. Before signing out for the day, check for any leftover tasks that might overflow into your personal time after work. For example, a document that you need to review or a call that you might need to take when you’re home. Try and schedule these so they don’t interrupt important family time. A good rule of thumb can be to not attend to any work-related matters for at least a couple of hours after you reach home so that you have had time to wind down and catch up with the family. Another could be to avoid attending to work during meal times.
  1. Plan ahead for breaks: Try and think ahead so that you can schedule work around important family events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, vacations etc. wherever possible. Keep your boss or team leader informed well in advance so that they are mentally prepared for your unavailability during that specific period.
  1. Switch off: Try and mentally switch off from work when you stop out of the office, at least for a little while. Use the drive back home to listen to music or catch up on phone calls with friends (if you’re being driven back). If you are on vacation or leave, then actively push away thoughts of work for that period. Keep your phone/laptop away. If you must stay connected, check your phone/emails once every four hours instead of every few minutes.
  1. Look at the bigger picture: Remind yourself that even though it might feel like it, the world does not begin and end with work. A meaningful life is built with a combination of work, relationships and personal interests because as human beings we have multiple needs. Look for ways to find balance so that you are able to satisfy most if not all your needs and create a more well-rounded life.
  1. Be realistic: If your work is coming in the way of your relationships, it might be time to review whether your current job/vocation fits in with your personal needs. Is there something that can be done to cut down on responsibilities at work? Do you need to switch jobs and find an office that is closer to home? Or is your professional ambition your main goal, in which case, are you willing to consider sacrificing your relationships?


Take some time out to identify and tackle your stress triggers at work before they overwhelm you. Once you are able to reduce pressure on yourself, the rest of your personal life is likely to fall back on track, too.