How being a workaholic affects your health, as Idris Elba admits he struggles to relax

Idris Elba has admitted he is a workaholic. (Getty Images)
Idris Elba has admitted he is a workaholic. (Getty Images)

Britain is a nation of workaholics, and Idris Elba is no different.

The Wire star, 51, has appeared in numerous TV shows and films throughout his career, but his unrelenting work ethic seems to have taken a toll in recent years.

In a recent appearance on the Changes podcast with DJ Annie Mac, Elba revealed that he has been in therapy for the past year due to being an 'absolute workaholic'.

He said that taking on so much work constantly has led to some 'unhealthy habits', which he is working to change in therapy, adding that he needs to 'chill and sit still sometimes'.

"I could work 10 days on a film, underwater sequences holding my breath for six minutes, and come back and sit in [his studio] and [feel relaxed], more so than sitting on the sofa with the family," Elba admitted. "Which is bad, right? This is the part where I’ve got to normalise what makes me relaxed, it can’t all be work."

Elba is one of four in 10 Britons who said they can’t leave work alone, according to a 2020 study conducted by Spana. The research also showed that one in six respondents frequently spends more than 11 hours a week working when they are away from the office.

Read more: England's most sleep-deprived counties revealed – do you live in one? (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

Signs you’re a workaholic

According to the Priory Group, which provides mental healthcare in the UK, work addiction or 'workaholism' may be identified with the following signs:

  • Regularly thinking of ways to create more time to work, even on your days off

  • Finding yourself working late at night or doing overtime in the office unintentionally

  • Believing that work reduces symptoms of emotional stress, anxiety, helplessness or depression

  • Ignoring requests from loved ones of colleagues to work less

  • Experiencing stress or becoming irritable if you are not able to work for an extended period

  • Hobbies becoming less important than completing work tasks

  • Working excessively to the point your overall health and wellbeing has been negatively impacted

A woman wearing a hijab sitting in front of a computer at an office desk covers her eyes with her hands
Working late at night or doing overtime unintentionally may be a sign of workaholism. (Getty Images)

What are the health impacts of workaholism?

Dr Sarah Boss, clinical director at The Balance, explained that working too much can "take a significant toll on one’s health in numerous ways".

"Excessive work habits can lead to chronic stress, which is not only a mental strain but also a physical one," she says. "Persistent stress has been linked to a multitude of health concerns including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and weakened immune systems.

"The continuous mental preoccupation associated with workaholism can often result in sleep disturbances too. A lack of quality sleep can cascade into additional health issues, such as impaired memory, focus, and cognitive functioning, and in the long term, may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases."

She adds that anxiety and depression are common among workaholics because of persistent stress and neglect of their personal lives and relationships.

"It’s a cycle wherein the compulsion to work incessantly exacerbates mental health issues, which then, in turn, can further fuel unhealthy work patterns," Dr Boss says.

How do you address workaholism?

If you think you might be a workaholic, you must first assess how your work habits are impacting your physical and emotional wellbeing. Recognising and accepting the issue is the first step towards addressing and mitigating the health impacts of workaholism, Dr Boss says.

Dr Tania King, a business and wealth management expert who previously experience burnout from being a workaholic, adds that individuals must prioritise self-care and set boundaries to break away from the cycle.

"Encouraging a balance between work and personal life, practicing mindfulness and nurturing positive relationships are all effective ways to combat burnout," she says. "Additionally, learning to delegate tasks, setting realistic goals, and seeking support through therapy or coaching can be transformative steps in the recovery process."

Read more: Do you still take a tea break? Survey reveals 15% of Brits 'not allowed' one at work (Yahoo Life UK, 2-min read)

She continues: "As for carving out a healthier work practice that still allows for financial freedom, it’s essential to redefine success... Achieving financial freedom doesn’t necessarily mean working excessively; it’s about making intentional choices that align with your values and long-term wellbeing.

"This might involve creating a budget, investing wisely, and exploring alternative income streams or entrepreneurial ventures that provide financial stability while allowing for a healthier work-life balance."

Watch: "I'm a workaholic and went back to work straight after giving birth"