Are you an overfunctioner? Are you overscheduled, overwhelmed, and over it? Do you burn the candle at both ends? Self-care for overfunctioners looks different for everyone. In this article, you’ll learn what overfunctioning is, how to spot it, and what to do about it.
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What is Overfunctioning?
The first time I heard the word overfunctioning was at a networking event in Seattle, where I was chatting it up with a room full of other female solopreneurs.
Eventually, the topic of self-care came up and I shared with the group that almost all of my clients were busy. They were juggling multiple roles and commitments at work, at home, and in their communities.
And they were tired.
Really, really tired.
That’s when someone asked if I’d ever heard the term overfunctioning.
At the time, I hadn’t. But even though I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, it resonated with me.
And I wasn’t the only one, because everyone else nodded knowingly, too.
When I worked in the corporate wellness space, my calendar was frequently double-booked with meetings. At the time, I wasn’t skilled at setting healthy boundaries, and I said ‘yes’ to almost everything, not realizing I had a choice.
Plus, I was a people-pleaser who hated the idea of letting anyone down. On several occasions, I would dial into two conference calls at once. With my company phone on one ear and my personal phone on the other, Id’ listen anxiously for my name in case I needed to answer a question.
It was a completely unsustainable existence. So, how do you know if you’re an overfunctioner?
What Does Overfunctioning Look Like?
Well, the word kind of speaks for itself.
Over means “excessive” and functioning relates to how something “operates” or “behaves.”
One Forbes article describes it this way: “doing more than is necessary, more than is appropriate and more than is healthy.”
Of course, it’s okay to occasionally go above and beyond, stretching yourself beyond your normal capacity. After all, that’s how we grow. But it’s when that’s the norm, and there’s a negative impact on our health that we need to pay closer attention. Self-care is especially important for overfunctioners.
Essentially, overfunctioning is being overscheduled, overwhelmed, and over it. But when you reach your breaking point, realizing something’s gotta give, it’s usually too late.
Signs You’re an Overfunctioner
Here are some telltale signs you may be an overfunctioner:
- You spend all your waking hours DOING. In fact, you feel uncomfortable when you have downtime—so uncomfortable that you immediately find a way to fill the void. You rarely take vacations, and even when you do you’re still working.
- You don’t have time for self-care. When others talk about the things they do to care for themselves you often say, “I don’t have that luxury.” But the truth is, you tell yourself you don’t have the time, money, or energy so you don’t have to change your familiar routines. Besides, you secretly like feeling busy because it makes you feel valuable and needed. Self-care is something you’ll have time for…later.
- You can’t remember what you really want to do, have, be, or feel. You focus so much on everyone else’s needs, problems, and happiness that you forget about your own.
- You don’t have a community. You don’t have a trusted support circle, and instead have just one or two people you can count on. At least one of them is probably a family member, and the other is likely someone you’ve known since you were young. And you don’t believe you need a community because you rarely need (i.e. ask for) help anyway.
- You’re sad or angry a lot. While you like feeling needed, you also feel taken advantage of. You often feel resentful and bitter that no one is helping you. In fact, when you look closely, you realize you’re surrounded by underfunctioners.
- You help when no help is needed. You do things for others that they could easily do themselves because that’s just what you do. Instead of allowing them to fail (which is often part of the process of learning how to solve problems) you jump into fixing and saving mode.
- You can’t say NO. You wish saying NO was easier, and that you could let go of some of your roles and commitments. But you worry about what people will think—or would happen—if you did.
Who’s at Risk for Overfunctioning?
Overfunctioning doesn’t discriminate. It isn’t relegated to a select few professions or personality types. It affects romantic relationships, friendships, and it can even disrupt teams in the workplace. Here are a few common examples:
Overfunctioning is quite common in stressful professions that are heavily regulated and routinely have short deadlines. Teachers, lawyers, researchers, and medical professionals are notorious for working long hours and being available around the clock.
Students & Parents
Students are particularly vulnerable to overfunctioning, facing ever-increasing pressure to be high-achievers so they can get into college and nail a good paying job. The stress that comes with adjusting to life as a responsible young adult often creates anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies.
Similarly, parents can assume overfunctioning roles when they over-manage their children’s’ lives, whether it be to avoid judgement about their parenting styles or simply wanting to help them get ahead—remember the news story of the wealthy families paying millions to get their kids into elite colleges instead of allowing them to get there on their own?
Couples can also fall into over/underfunctioning roles. Generally, one person in the relationship assumes the overfunctioning role while the other accepts their fate as an underfunctioner.
Overfunctioners often feel frustrated and angry because they feel like they do everything (probably because they do). On the other hand, underfunctioners commonly shut down because they feel like they can’t control anything.
It’s a viscous cycle that leaves both parties emotionally depleted.
Is Overfunctioning the New Normal?
One of the biggest challenges today is that we glorify overfunctioning. The hustle. The grind. The GSD. The expectation is that work comes first, at least if you want that promotion or pay raise or fancy title.
There’s little sympathy for the inevitable repercussions—family strain, physical and mental illness, and burnout. Many companies create competitive cultures to drive higher performance.
When employers reward overfunctioning, it’s not uncommon for employees to push their own limits. They work on vacation, eat lunch at their desk (or skip meals altogether), and sacrifice sleep just to crank out a few more hours of work. And over time, they teach people that this behavior is okay, expected even.
Put simply, overfunctioning is doing too much. It’s stretching yourself beyond your capacity, to the point that it negatively affects your well-being.
What to do if You’re an Overfunctioner
If you’ve self-identified as an overfunctioner, then it’s probably time to take a closer look at your daily habits and patterns, especially if there’s been a noticeable decline in your health. For overfunctioners, self-care is non-negotiable.
Here are some things you can do to move out of survival mode and into a more a balance flow:
The Lifestyle Design Planner can help you manage your priorities and create new habits to bring more balance to your life.
Get More Physical Activity
Physical activity releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Exercise can help relieve muscle tension and stress, and it can often help you generate ideas to solve problems. Aim for getting at least 30 minutes of movement each day. If you struggle with weaving activity into your day-to-day routine, consider getting a wearable device like the Fitbit to help encourage you to reach a specific step goal each day.
Get Better Sleep
Stress can interfere with your sleep patterns, leaving you feel sluggish, irritable, and exhausted. Lack of sleep can also make you short-tempered or even aggressive. Here are some simple self-care strategies for getting more sleep:
- Set a bedtime alarm at night
- Keep your bedroom temperature between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit
- Add a couple drops of essential oils to your pillow to encourage relaxation
- Buy a new pillow if yours is old or worn
- Upgrade your mattress
- Address the sources of stress in your life
- See your healthcare provider if your attempts to get better sleep don’t work
Information on this website should not be interpreted as providing or replacing medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is intended for adults over the age of 18. LivingUpp is a participant in affiliate programs, which means we may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases on links to Amazon and other sites at no additional cost to you.