We’ve all heard someone say it, often with a dismissive laugh and a bit of self-deprecation: “I’m a workaholic.” No big deal. Except if you’re one of the estimated 10% of Americans who suffer from workaholism, a real addiction, which can wreak havoc on your body just like any other disease. As a result of unfortunate workplace culture, being overworked is often worn as badge of honor, as if a seventy-hour work week is as victorious as coming home from battle. The reality is that workaholism is much like waging war on your body and your mind.
Like other addictions—to cigarettes or alcohol—workaholism works at the physiological level. The body receives a rush of adrenaline, a reward for fulfilling its craving like it would, for example, with sugar. Workaholics receive a hit of satisfaction when they complete a project or create something useful or meaningful, otherwise known as the Builder’s High. But elevated adrenaline over periods of time causes stress. Stress is manifested in many ways, and the oral and maxillofacial are no exceptions.
How TMJ Could be Related to Workaholism
One of the early signs of a body reacting or succumbing to stress is stiffness. Tightly crossed legs, clenched fists, even a rigid way of walking. This is because the body, under duress, is constantly contracting—ready for the next obstacle or challenge—and forgets how to relax. Similar to clenched fists, a clenched jaw and teeth-grinding are common symptoms of anxiety and stress, and can lead to health issues like temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Headaches, facial pain near the ear or tenderness in the cheek, joint locking, and difficulty chewing can all be caused by stress-related TMJ .
Treatment for TMJ Headaches and Pain
While workaholism requires a diagnosis and long-term therapeutic treatment of its own, TMJ and its effects can be treated right away. Like any tense muscle, the facial and jaw muscles can be treated with a massage called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help them unclench and relax. For some people, that may be all that’s necessary to relieve your symptoms.
But if you find that your jaw tension and headaches persist, we might need another treatment. Orthotics, sometimes called a bite splint, can help hold your jaw in a position of maximum rest, reducing muscle tension, nerve irritation, and headaches. They can also help protect your teeth from excessive wear as you’re trying to get past your workaholism.