Society tends to laud Type As. The people who constantly push themselves personally and professionally in the pursuit of greatness. While many people reach the pinnacles they aim for, plenty of others end up burnt out. Perhaps what society should be doing is promoting health over wealth with an approach to work that leaves room for rest, recuperation, and reflection.
Read on to find out how you can tell if you are heading for betterment or burnout. This article lists the tell-tale signs of burnout, how to prevent it, and what to do if you are already there.
The pandemic has exacerbated the stress placed on today's workforce. According to Indeed, a survey of 1,500 US workers found that over half experienced burnout in 2021. But even before the pandemic, over 40% had an intimate relationship with burnout. Excessive stress is an insidious problem that needs to be addressed.
The trouble with burnout is that it zaps people mentally and physically. Even if your body struggles, your mind will scream no. When you are deep into burnout, its debilitating effects make it practically impossible to pull out without drastic changes. Here are the top symptoms of burnout.
Related: “7 Time Management Tips to Reduce Burnout”
Stress is the precursor to burnout. There is good stress and bad stress, but too much of either can take its toll. Let’s say you have been working on a highly visible project at work. You’ve been habitually staying late and hustling to meet deadlines.
To begin with, the adrenaline is stimulating and exciting, but after a couple of weeks, the stress accumulates and becomes unmanageable. Chronic stress—stress that is long-term and persistent, changes our physiology. It increases blood pressure and stimulates a hormone called cortisol, which can affect sleep and eating patterns. If you notice changes in your appetite or sleeping habits, you could be heading for burnout.
Elevated cortisol levels may prevent you from sleeping. After a hard day’s work, you will feel even worse if you get no rest and toss and turn all night. The result will soon be physical exhaustion. Worse, emotional exhaustion is sure to follow. A sure sign of emotional exhaustion is when little things upset you, and you find yourself in tears frequently. This could be a precursor to depression and declining mental health.
Sooner or later, a body that gets no rest will succumb to illness. When exhausted or stressed, our immune systems weaken, and we cannot fight infections. If you notice that you frequently get colds, your allergies are worse, or you have other physical symptoms, you could be burnt out and your body is screaming for rest.
To perform well at work, you need to be at your best physically and mentally. Your well-being depends on good nutrition, exercise, and plenty of rest. Work-life balance is the only way to incorporate all that we need to avoid burnout. If we fall out of balance and face job burnout, it’s difficult to think clearly and react appropriately.
Do you wake up every morning and dread going to work? Your boss is likely to notice your lack of energy and engagement, and your stress levels may cause you to snap at co-workers and have little patience. Depending on your mental state, you may become paranoid and worry that everyone is talking about you. Basically, if work is a cause of your stress, it is the last place you will want to be.
You may have little energy for friends and socializing. Burnout affects your self-confidence too. It can cause self-doubt and damage our self-esteem. If you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster, you are more likely to feel lonely. Maintaining social contacts requires work, and you may not have the energy to reach out to people.
We all have times when we are tired, ill, or burning the candle at both ends. When balance and self-care seem difficult to achieve, take a step back and think about what you can do to make sure you don’t start down the road to burnout.
It takes self-discipline to be a hard worker. But it also takes discipline to nurture yourself to be the best you can be. That means not always pushing so hard. Preventing burnout requires being kind to ourselves. Here’s how.
We gave the example before of having to work intensely on a project for a while. That’s fine, but you will need some time to decompress afterward. No one can work full-on all the time, so make sure to take stock of your sources of stress after a busy period.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy and Jill similar. We all have lives outside of work. We need relationships with friends and family, time to exercise, and time to chill. As much as you might be a Type A when it comes to work, consider ways to relieve stress. Take advantage of vacation days, try yoga or mediation, exercise, or read a good book.
For more on balance, read “Work-Life Integration: Gaining Control of Your Life”
Mental nourishment and physical nourishment are equally as important. When we are stressed, we are more likely to eat poorly, drink more alcohol, or choose other behaviors detrimental to our health. Plan your life so that you have time to shop for nutritious food and even cook it! Get enough sleep so that your body and mind are strong.
The good thing about taking time out to slow down and reflect is that you get to know yourself better. Part of getting to know yourself is understanding stressors and how we react to certain situations during the workday.
Most people have “triggers,” people or circumstances that can make us behave in ways we shouldn’t. It could be a colleague at work who gets under our skin or a relative we don’t get along with. Find ways to either avoid your triggers or manage them when you can’t.
For more on stress, read “How to Reduce Stress at Work”
First of all, good for you for reading this article and realizing you might need help. Recognizing you could be in trouble with burnout syndrome is half the battle. If you are burnt out, realize that you are not likely to be thinking clearly, and this is not a good time to decide on your career or your life. But it is a good time to do the following.
We all seek a trained professional if we need healthcare, and it is no different if we have a problem in the work environment. Seek help from a trained career professional or coach who can be objective and help you think through your situation.
If your problems stretch beyond work issues, a therapist can help too. At the end of the day, we are not experts in psychology or work issues, but those who are can provide rapid relief.
Finding support does not mean spilling your guts to anyone who will listen because that will just push people away. But connecting to others and hearing about their lives can give us a different perspective. It helps us realize that we are not the only ones with troubles, and we are not alone.
It will take courage and strength, but your health may be at risk if you experience burnout, so take steps to change your high-stress situation. Are your employer’s expectations unreasonable, long hours, for example, and has that contributed to your burnout? If so, have a conversation with your manager to set boundaries and mitigate your stress.
Prepare well for the meeting and have one or two solutions to discuss. If you can suggest ways to resolve the situation, your boss will be more likely to agree to one or more of them because you take the initiative and solve the problem for them.
The above are immediate actions you should take if you are burnout. These should start you on the road to recovery. Then, it's up to you to start on a healthier path and to follow the suggestions under, “How to Prevent Burnout.”
Burnout recovery will look different for everyone. Rather than setting a time limit to feeling better, celebrate small steps. For example, reward yourself for eating more nutritiously and getting more sleep. Take an afternoon to lay on the couch and watch Netflix without feeling guilty. Notice changes in your mood and energy levels. Spend time with loved ones. Start a new hobby and meet people.
Once you gain a clearer perspective, you may find that your recovery may mean finding a new job or starting a new career. Consult a career professional and feel good about taking the steps toward a better career and a healthier life.