What Is Burnout
People suffering from chronic stress may eventually find themselves experiencing burnout. Burnout manifests in physical and psychological symptoms, which exacerbate the ill effects of chronic stress if left unaddressed. Burnout sufferers often experience ongoing and extreme fatigue, physical aches and pains, headaches, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and unhealthy levels of disengagement or detachment in their work and personal relationships.
Types of Burn Out
According to a 2014 article posted on the Association for Psychological Science, burnout occurs in three subsets. These subsets are characterized by the coping strategies used by the individuals suffering from burnout. When the coping strategy a person utilizes to deal with extreme and chronic stress can be identified, alternative and positive coping strategies can be applied to relieve the effects of burnout.
A person suffering from overload burnout endures high levels of stress associated with their work life. The personality type which suffers from this form of burnout tends to vent emotionally. They constantly share their unhappiness regarding their work situation describing its ill effects on their ability to do their job or advance professionally. This is in spite of the exceptional levels of time and energy they pour into their work, which creates an energy depleting cycle that leads to burnout.
Stalled Personal Development
Where a vacuum in personal development occurs some workers cope by applying avoiding behaviors. Their boredom and lack of engagement causes them to become ever more detached from their jobs and the work they are assigned. These people slowly remove themselves from their current job after an extended period of feeling like an observe in their work life and developing high levels of cynicism.
Workers suffering from worn-out burnout no longer have the energy or mental wherewithal to overcome challenges to their desired objectives. They may possess the appropriate levels of desire and great aspirations, but cannot manage to take action to achieve them. These workers cope by withdrawing their efforts, quitting, when confronted with stressful circumstances.
Along with the three work related types of burnout, personal relationships may also be a source of chronic stress. Spouses, children, and extended family members place demands on a person’s time and energy–often in addition to the responsibilities of a regular job. These demands ebb and flow in relationship to a person’s life stage and any extenuating circumstances, acting as a caregiver to aging parents, poor health or an accident affecting the individual or a loved one who needs their assistance.
The best defense against burnout is a proactive preventative plan. By implementing daily activities and planned interventions, a person may prevent burnout from manifesting. It requires a little strategizing and some time, but provides a huge payoff in health, mental wellness, and general productivity.
Many people who experience burnout do not realize they have it. They press through fatigue and negative feelings to get their job done or do what they need to care for their family or significant other. Working and maintaining healthy relationships is not sustainable when functioning at burnout levels. While work and personal life may not suffer equally or simultaneously, one or both do.
If you feel a little off of your game at work or home, take a few moments to evaluate your emotional status and energy levels.
Note whether or not you seem to be experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Feeling fatigued or drained the majority of the time
- Low immune response, becoming ill frequently
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Body aches, headaches and back pain
- Decreased motivation
- Cynical perspective and tendency to see negative instead of positive
- Increased sense of detachment and feeling alone
- Feeling trapped or defeated, activities permeated by a sense of failure
- Distancing oneself from responsibilities
- Coping with drug use, alcohol consumption or food
- Delaying tasks or skipping them
- Venting your personal frustration on others
- Withdrawing from social interactions
- Reporting to work late and leaving early
If you are, you may try several of the recommended activities, which follow to alleviate or end your burnout.
- Take time to relax. This means adequate time off work in the short and long term, which includes resting in between work days, and taking vacations regularly.
- Prioritize your life. Make self-care a priority at all times.
- Consider and learn what causes you stress. All people are different, all of us perceive stress in different ways, so it is important to pinpoint and identify your stress and burnout triggers.
- Re-evaluate the stressors in your life. Make every attempt to rid yourself of all possible stressors that can be eliminated. For example, if your commute is made miserable because of high traffic, can you move closer to work? Do you have people in your life that cause you undue stress that you can say goodbye to?
- Evaluate your job as to its stress level. If work is a great source of stress is it possible to get another job, possibly somewhere that is not so stressful or at least with employers who take their employees stress levels seriously?
- Evaluate your job contentment. Are you miserable at work every day? Do you hate what you do or the people you work with? If so, it is well worth your while to take whatever action possible to make a change in job or even a career. People start over all the time, and while it may take some effort, it is also very much worth your while because the happier you are in your day-to-day life, the less stress and burnout you will feel.
- Live in the moment. Nothing is more stressful than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. All we really have is this moment, so take that to heart and learn to live in the moment.
- Learn to manage ambition without sacrificing self-care. While ambition is a great thing and can take you far in life, at some point it becomes overkill that can lead to great stress, and burnout, really, if you think about it, what’s the point of getting to the top if you collapse when you get there?
- Take the guesswork out of your morning activities. Select and prepare your outfit, lunch, and briefcase at least the night before you will use them. If you can set up for several days or a week, this activity becomes more effective. The fewer decisions made under the pressure a time restriction, the less a person experiences stress.
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Healthy eating helps combat the physical effects of burnout. Planning and preparation is key, many fail to eat well and wind up grabbing junk food on the go because they have no other alternatives in a time crunch.
- Exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins, which elevate your mood. It also improves sleep quality, which means you wake feeling more rested and refreshed.
- Meditate to relieve stress and improve cognitive function. Even five to ten minutes of daily meditation significantly improves your mood.
- Schedule rest and recreation. Really driven workers forget to take breaks or time off not realizing the cumulative effects of doing so becomes detrimental. Lack of recreation leads to physical and mental fatigue, makes a person more susceptible to illness, and negatively impacts relationships. Time off is not a luxury. It is a requirement for continued success.
- Schedule breaks. Breaks allow you to refresh yourself mentally and physically (taking a walk, stretching or practicing deep breathing), so you can work more effectively.
- Take up a hobby. Hobbies provide personally satisfying and rewarding ways to recharge from daily demands on your time and energy. They can also act as a backup to ensure your personal development when it is lacking in your work life.
- Listen to classical music. Studies show listening to classical music prior to exposure to stressors shortens the length of the stress response.
- Practice aromatherapy by using essential oils, incense, or candles. Certain scents like lavender and sandalwood have a calming effect on the mind and body. Follow the accompanying directions and use in a well-ventilated area.
- Get a massage. Touch elevates production of feel good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins.
- Practice visualization. When stressed, take a few moments to visualize a more relaxing setting or a favorite activity. Paint a mental picture which includes high levels of sensory information, sights, smells, sounds, etc.
- Spend time outdoors and get appropriate levels of sunlight. When exposed to sunlight, the skin produces Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to low energy levels and depression. Connecting with nature also induces greater states of relaxation.
- Do not try to keep all of your appointments and commitments in your head. Keep a calendar and set reminders for yourself so your daily schedule is not a like a program running in the background draining your mental energy.
- Learn to say no. If you are over extending yourself, learn to politely decline additional opportunities. Know your limits. For some this is a skill that takes practice, but it can be perfected over time. Too many commitments means added stress and increased risk for burnout, consider yourself first. Also, evaluate your current commitments to see if a few of them may be removed to open up time on your schedule for rest or personally rewarding activities.
- Seek out support where appropriate. If you need assistance with chores or caregiving, responsibilities ask friends and family to pitch in. If you can afford it, hire service providers to take care of small jobs like light cleaning, cutting the lawn, small errands, and food preparation to cut down on your list of things to do. Also seek out support groups; talking to people who share your challenges can help you cope with stressors.
- Make big projects a series of smaller projects in order to give yourself the opportunity to experience incremental progress, a series of small successes motivate you until the entire project reaches completion.
- Practice gratitude. Make a list of five to ten things for which you are thankful each day. People who practice gratitude experience better sleep, enriching relationships, a greater sense of engagement with life and stronger immune systems.
- Do something to help someone else. It is a simple way to add meaning to your work or personal life. It leads to a more positive emotional state for you and elevates energy levels.
- Increase your level of engagement at work by seeking out opportunities to take control of your work direction. Ask your supervisor for more control over your assigned duties and scheduling of deliverables.
- Set a time preferably a few hours before you go to bed to disconnect from all technology, televisions, phones, computers, and tablets.
- Laughter lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, and elevates mood.
- Acknowledge the way you feel during stressful situations then choose a coping strategy to manage your emotions: taking a walk, using aromatherapy, or visualizing a more relaxing circumstance. Once your head is clear and your emotions are calmed evaluate your situation and develop a plan to deal with it.
- Vary your location. Simply change your position or location as your tasks allow can help you refocus and stay motivated during the day.
- Enjoy a weekend retreat. Take a day or two to spend doing a few relaxing activities without overscheduling yourself with “fun” things to do. Leave your schedule open to allow time to relax and reflect. Turn off your phone and put an auto responder message on your email.
- Take a bath instead of a shower. Water is therapeutic. It soothes and relaxes the body, which in turn calms the mind.
- Try coloring. It seems to have many of the same benefits of meditation. While coloring, you exercise creativity and clear focus on one activity, which calms and relaxes the mind.
- Make new friends and acquaintances beyond your professional sphere. You’ll get a break from conversations about your daily grind and the pressure you feel to perform or your negative feelings regarding your work.
- Try something new. When you try new activities, it breaks your normal routine, which can be a relief if you are feeling the effects of burnout. It also creates new neural pathways in the brain, which boosts cognitive function.
- Keep a journal. It can be a series of reflections on your day or a way to capture your thoughts, feeling, and plans. A journal can be a free space to manage thoughts and emotions without judgement.
- Take time to enjoy noncompetitive physical and mental activities and games. Play is important for adults too. It helps build emotional connections between people; it also fosters creativity and problem solving skills.
- Get a punching bag, this is a great way to vent the day’s stressors and frustrations, and get a really great cardio and muscle toning workout at the same time.
- Create a downtime ritual. Consider exactly what works for you to calm your mind, body, and spirit AND make sure to do that ritual every single day. For some it’s a hot bubble bath, for others it’s a run, reading a book in low lighting works too, as does playing Frisbee with a dog, the possibilities are endless.
Burnout is neither an inevitability nor a requirement of a successful and fulfilling life. Burnout is preventable, manageable, and reversible. In order to deal with actual burnout, reverse it or prevent it, manage your stress levels and responses daily.
Know your limits and set boundaries accordingly at work and at home. Also, pursue happiness; make activities, which give you personal fulfillment and allow you to grow as an individual, a part of your lifestyle.
If you find this proactive approach still leaves you losing your battle against burnout, seek out professional counseling to assist you with coping strategies.