You’re Pushing Yourself Too Hard: Signs that You’re Overtraining or Over-working and What to Do About it

People tend to want too much of a good thing. I hate to open by stating something that everyone knows, but there you have it.

Usually we associate our lack of moderation with tangible things, such as food, alcohol, television, video games, and so forth. We know that over-consuming these things can lead to addiction, obesity, lack of socialization, brain damage, and a seemingly endless number of additional problems, depending on our levels of overuse. But I’m not here to focus on these. At the current moment, I’m interested in the tendency people have to overindulge in actions that are overtly positive.

We all know that the drive to exercise, be productive, and exert a strong work ethic are all good things to build into our lifestyle, whether we do them or not. The benefits are countless and don’t bear mention here as the ways we profit by them is not focus of this post. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to discuss what happens when we give them too much emphasis.

Let’s start with exercise.

Give Yourself a Break

When it comes to working out, it seems logical that the more you do, the healthier you get, but this is not always the case. Take weight training, for example.

Many people who work out do so under the impression that when they’re lifting weights, they’re gaining muscle. That’s not how it works. In reality, you hit the gym in order to do as much damage to your muscles as possible. When you lift weights, you’re causing microscopic tears to develop in your muscle fibers. The gains come later, when you’re resting. The tears repair themselves, and your body adapts to the stress of working out by making them larger. Viola—muscle gain.

The fact of the matter is that if you don’t give yourself a chance to rest and recover, your muscle-building efforts will stall, and can even backslide.

Besides sabotaging the potential benefits of working out, when you overtrain you also run the risk of injuring yourself. Nothing will interrupt your fitness endeavors faster than a torn ligament or joint injury.

But exercise isn’t the only positive endeavor that product people tend to overdo. Overtraining is dangerous for the body, but it’s also common for go-getters to overtax their minds.

Over-Productivity Leads to Overwhelmed

Productivity hasn’t always been my strong suit. I wouldn’t exactly say I was lazy, but when I entered the realm of freelance writing several years ago, I realized that my somewhat-procrastinatory habits were not going to cut it if I was going to actually float on the uncertain waters of self-employment. So I buckled down and started pushing myself.

As the months ticked by, one success after another served as positive reinforcement that my new-found productivity was indeed a good thing, so I began to push myself even harder. I started planning things further. Emails were flying left and right. No publication went on-contacted, no potential copywriting gig stone left unturned. Never before had a calendar been soon important.

And then all at once I realized that I had stopped making money. But how could that be? I was working constantly. It was all I ever thought about, all I ever did. I kept up my furious pace as a month raced by. Still no fruit from the income tree, or at least not enough to keep my belly full. And at the time my girlfriend and I were living in Spain, and the threat of being homeless in a foreign country began to loom. The stress mounted.

Then one day it struck me—I was so busy racing frantically toward future opportunities that I wasn’t taking a breath to stop and focus on those that were already right in front of me. I was exerting my energy everywhere but where I was. To my girlfriend, friends, and family, all I ever spoke of were my plans. I had work—potential income—on my plate already, I just wasn’t taking any bites. Too busy looking forward to dessert, you might say.

So I slammed on the breaks. I started paying attention to the work that I already had, and allotted a portion of my morning to the administrative and networking stuff which had previously consumed most of my day.

I also realized around that time that I hadn’t been out on the town in quite a while, that I was living in one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, and I was spending all of my time making LinkedIn contacts. One day I forced myself to put it all down, and Ashlee and I went to castle Alhambra. Its garden is one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been, and I can see why kings would have gone to there for rest and reflection.

When We’re Doing the Most, We’re Often Missing the Most

Exercise is fantastic. So is working hard and achieving goals. The problem is that whenever we overemphasize one aspect of life, we’re often negligent of another. We work to the point where we miss out on opportunities to build and enjoy relationships with our friends and family. We exercise for health to the point of deteriorating it. My point goes back to the age old “moderation in all things” axiom.

If you’re overtraining or over-working, you’ll notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Gains plateau

Whether working or working out, if you push too hard you’re going to encounter a push-back. If you notice that you’ve stopped gaining muscle, you might not be giving them enough rest and recovery time. Or if you’ve noticed that your income level has leveled off, you might be over-working in one area of your business to the detriment of other key aspects.

  • Nagging pain

While this is more directed toward overtraining, over-working can lead to injury as well. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome comes to mind in the case of people who spend a lot of time typing.

  • Depression, anxiety, or irritability

People who overtrain or over-work commonly experience depression, anxiety, or irritability, often over the fear that they’re not working or working out enough.

  • Sleeping issues

Whether you’re sleeping too much or not enough, it’s time to take a look at what you’re doing during your normal waking hours.

  • Regular illness

While exercise is great for your immune system, if you’re overtraining then you’re forcing your body to play constant catch-up, which makes it difficult for your body to fight off illness. The stress and odd hours associated with overwork can also wreak havoc on your immune system.

  • Lack of motivation

If you find that you can’t get in the mood to work or work out no matter what you try, maybe it’s time to take a break.

Escaping the Grind

So once you recognize that you’re overtaxing your body or mind, what’s the solution? When you’re in the habit of doing something, it can be difficult to simply stop.

  • Shift your focus

Maybe you don’t need to stop working out or working entirely, you just need to change how you’re doing it. Try doing it in a different setting. Or if you usually run or lift weights, try swimming for a few days. If you spend all of your work hours maintaining client relations, spend some time focusing on another aspect of your job, like administration or updating your website.

  • Take a vacation

I know it can feel like if you don’t work out for a week your fitness with fall apart, or if you step away from your desk for too long your business will collapse, but the truth is that it takes weeks of inactivity for a person’s physical fitness to ebb, and your work will all be there when you get back.

  • Clean your living space

So you feel like your body must be active and you must be productive? Spend a day rearranging and cleaning your home rather than working or exercising. You’ll get in some light motion and feel the sense of accomplishment you crave.

  • Meditate

I know it sounds cliché—the age old answer to everything, right? Well, there’s a reason for that. It works.

At 1,400 words, I’m reaching the point where I’m over-producing this post, so it’s time to shift my focus and let you move yours on as well.

Bottom line—work hard and work out vigorously. Just make sure you make time for rest, relaxation, and recovery.

All work and no play, well, you know the rest…

5 thoughts on “You’re Pushing Yourself Too Hard: Signs that You’re Overtraining or Over-working and What to Do About it

  • October 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    I really love this article. I could relate this to my career and my family responsibility. Doing to much something positive will also give you a negative effect. Sometimes it is good to take a breather.

    • October 25, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Even something as wonderful as family can burn you out if you never give yourself a chance to step back and have a moment to yourself! Thanks for reading.

  • October 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Another great post. I also find that if you’re too busy trying to be productive, you aren’t really “living” anymore. You’re like a machine, rushing from one task to the next, and forever focusing on the intangible future.

    After a few weeks of this, or months…or years (let’s hope not) you realize that the whole purpose of working so hard is so that you can enjoy life and be happy, but for some reason…you still aren’t happy.

    This happened to me, I had to take a step back and start making “me time” a priority. I started scheduling portions of my day for leisurely activities that often hit the back burner when we’re in goal mode. Like you said, meditation, breaks, vacations, even just sitting for 40 minutes and staring at a wall lost in your thoughts…these things are not optional, they are absolutely necessary.

  • October 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Nothing can kill a person’s productivity like hitting a wall and burning out. It’s all about pacing.

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