Written by Brooke Thomas
Burnout: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. –Merriam-Webster
Burnout is mental exhaustion that develops when we invest our energy for a long period of time into something or someone that is emotionally draining often without the desired outcome. By that definition, a vast majority of the human population is at risk of suffering from burnout in the workplace because few of us are lucky enough to have the perfect job with the perfect coworkers and the perfect supervisor.
Because burnout creeps in slowly, many times people don’t even know when they’re suffering from it.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are you often short with your coworkers and/or have increased irritability?
- Do you feel apathetic, hopeless or that your work is meaningless?
- Do you squeeze in lunch while you continue to work?
- Do you have ongoing physical pain such as headaches, stomach issues or a weak immune system?
- Is there rarely enough time in the day to complete all of your tasks?
- Have you neglected to take a vacation recently?
- Are you struggling to focus on your tasks?
These, along with the list below are signs you may be experiencing burnout:
- Lack of motivation and focus at work
- Weak immune system and chronic physical ailments
- Negative attitude at work
- Trouble sleeping
- Missing work often/work absence
- Feeling as though your work is insignificant and doesn’t make a difference
- Low energy and attention for work
- Always needing more time and needing to hurry to get everything done
- Not taking any breaks
- Dreading work
- Low work productivity
- Considering quitting your job
- High anxiety and stress levels
The symptoms of burnout effects both your mental and physical health which is why it’s important to take it seriously.
You may experience some of these from stress as well, but the difference between stress and burnout is that stress is short-term, related to a specific overwhelming situation that may be out of your control, and has an end in sight. Burnout is usually a long-term issue and many times connected to a feeling that your work is unimportant and hollow.
There are a lot of reasons people experience burnout, so it’s important to assess which of the symptoms above you may be experiencing and pinpoint exactly why. Are you dealing with a micromanager? Are your job expectations and goals vague? Are your tasks monotonous and boring? Is your supervisor failing to recognize you for your hard work and accomplishments? Figure out the ‘why’ so you can begin fixing the problem.
Here are a few ways you can overcome burnout:
1. Address the root of the problem
Figure out exactly what’s bothering you at work. Take time to make a list of the situations that cause you anxiety, stress, anger or frustration. As you encounter these issues at work, make a note. This could take a while, but it will be worth it. Getting to the root of the issue is a great start to fixing a problem.
2. Find meaning and purpose in your work
No matter how much you make, a paycheck is rarely enough. You spend 1/3 of your life at work, so make it worth that much of your life. Dig deeper into what it is you do and how you’re making the lives of people better. Assess your work’s purpose with a new lens.
3. Don’t ask to be a leader
Stop waiting for your boss to tell you what to do and take the initiative to figure it out on your own. Live by the mantra “Do first and ask for forgiveness later.” When your goals feel ambiguous and leadership fails to lead, determine your own goals and take on responsibilities and tasks that you see need done. If your boss doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you, but a good boss will also recognize your motivation which may set a positive course in motion for you.
4. Exercise regularly
The benefits of exercising are both physical and mental. Regular exercise has shown to lessen stress, boost energy levels, improve your mood and help you sleep better. Make weekly exercise a priority by setting aside time in your schedule. It helps to have a plan ahead of time so you know what you’re doing. Here are a few resources to help you figure out the best plan for you.
5. Offer kindness
Kindness is contagious and it will lighten not only the heart of your coworkers, but your own as well. When you see that a coworker needs an extra hand, offer them assistance. If you see someone is having a rough day, give them encouragement.
6. Have a friend who holds you accountable
It’s easy to slip back into old habits and mind sets, especially when there’s no one holding you accountable. An honest and trusted friend will help you stay on track, especially when you’re facing particularly difficult situations.
7. Manage Your Stress
This one is hard for a lot of people, but it’s important to learn the art of saying ‘no.’ If your plate is already full and a coworker asks to add more to it, you have the right to tell them you can’t take any more tasks. Know your boundaries and capabilities and stay within both. Managing your stress is about not taking on more than you can handle. If you’re stressed right now because your workload is too much, start delegating.
8. Give it a rest
Take a lunch break every day. Take vacations where you don’t do anything involving work. Socialize with friends outside of work. Turn off your work email while you’re not at work. Get up and stretch every couple hours at work. The theme here is to make it a habit to get your head out of work regularly. A battery doesn’t recharge nearly as fast while it’s being used, so step away and recharge yourself so you can do better work and be a better you.
9. Walk away
There are some issues that are not within your control. If the problem is coworkers or a supervisor, give them the opportunity to know and understand what’s happening in a respectful manner. If things can be changed for the better, that’s great news, but if they cannot, it might be time to start looking for a new job. We can only change ourselves and if others aren’t willing to change or compromise, you have to take the steps to properly care for yourself.