I worry about several young adults I know. They seem chronically overworked, stressed out and exhausted by the demands of their jobs. They work long hours, skip lunch, and take work home at night. Yes, it’s important for us all to work at something we care about. But it’s also important for us to care about out-of-the-office life.

Why are these young people working so hard? Some of it is in response to very real demands. Jobs are hard to find. Advancing in a job is even harder. The key to getting ahead, at least in many workplaces, is to be observed going the extra mile.

Financial stress about unpaid school loans, high rents, and the general cost of living also put some people in a not entirely unreasonable panic. By working hard, perhaps doing overtime, it may be possible to keep the proverbial wolf away from the door. And some of these overworking young adults are in the grip of the need to prove themselves to themselves or others or are really addicted to the adrenaline rush of setting almost impossible goals and meeting them anyway.

Recognize yourself? If work is taking over your life, maybe it’s time to take a step back and reconsider what you’re doing. Being in overdrive at work does have its costs. It’s hard on your body. It’s tough on your relationships. It doesn’t really fill whatever hole in your self-esteem you are trying to fill. Keep this up and burnout will become your middle name. You can be successful without being crazed.

Tips for working hard without working crazy:

  1. Remember that you are merely mortal. Stress is responsible for 75 to 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians. Stress contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, premature aging and a number of autoimmune diseases. Depression and anxiety also are common responses to chronic stress and fatigue. Big goals require good health. Taking it down a notch may in fact help you get where you’re going without having a breakdown along the way.
  2. Take care of your body. If you are going without sleep and drinking 12 cups of coffee and four energy drinks a day to do your job, you are setting yourself up for physical collapse. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night (yes, 7 to 9 hours, not 4 to 5) to get truly restorative sleep.
  3. Take care of your psychological self. If those long hours are your attempt to fill up a sense of worthlessness, inadequacy or inferiority, go at the problem directly. Working long hours and even achieving awards and accolades are only stopgap measures for a limping self-esteem. If you feel somehow essentially unworthy of your own and others’ respect, you will have to keep striving and striving in order to feel good enough. You’ll be mentally healthier (and you’ll be easier for the people who care about you to live with) if you get into therapy instead of trying to fill a bottomless hole with more work.
  4. Work smarter, not harder. You don’t have to do everything you can think of doing to be successful in your field of work. Be strategic about the tasks you take on. Whenever possible, choose tasks that meet more than one goal. Ask yourself if doing every detail of a job is really worth your time and your life. If you aren’t already aware of Lean Principles, read up on it. You’ll be more efficient and less stressed.
  5. Give yourself time. You do not have to do everything yesterday to be successful. Unless you are in your senior years, you probably have plenty of time to get to where you want to go. I’ve known people in their 20s and 30s who already feel like they blew their chances at success because they are comparing themselves to some of the wunderkinds who became millionaires at 19.
  6. Don’t lose sight of your relationships. People do need people. Love and companionship are a basic human need. Relationships, particularly close, loving relationships, require time. If you are working crazy hours, chances are that friends are detaching and your partner (if you’ve had time to find one) is getting resentful. If you have to, schedule regular time to be with friends and family just to hang out. No agendas allowed. No cell phones in sight.

Stress is not an inevitable, chronic part of life. It is your creation. By following these tips, you can pare it down to what is manageable. Take care of yourself and your relationships and you can be both successful and relaxed.

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