Do you frequently work overtime? Do you neglect to sleep or eat properly because of your schedule? Then you may be at risk of burning out.
America is among the most overworked countries in the world. Our work culture encourages rapid growth and efficiency, often at the cost of our physical and mental wellbeing.
What is burnout syndrome?
Burnout Syndrome, also known as occupational burnout, is a collection of symptoms that arises from chronic, work-related stress. The symptoms include feelings of lethargy and exhaustion, mental or emotional disconnection from work, and sentiments of negativity. Burnout does not occur immediately, but over the course of certain stages. According to Inc, there are 12 stages involved. Here are just a few:
- Compulsion to Prove Oneself: burnout usually begins when certain employees take on more work than they can reasonably handle. These individuals feel accomplishment and recognition in doing their work well.
- Neglecting Needs: At a certain point, these individuals begin to forego basic necessities: such as personal hygiene, sleep, healthy eating, or even socialization. Work begins to take over their life.
- Denial of Emerging Problems: Those experiencing burnout will likely deflect their problems— either by blaming their friends or family, or taking out their anger on coworkers.
- Depersonalization: Over time, burnout can cause people to develop low self-esteem, constantly putting themselves down for their shortcomings.
- Burnout syndrome: Finally, the stress will become too much for one person to handle, and can lead to a major health concern.
Everyone experiences burnout differently, but failing to spot the signs can lead to more concerning symptoms. Now, let’s explore the various symptoms of burnout.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
Tired constantly – Burnout means almost never having the energy to accomplish your tasks on time. You may try to support it with coffee, but this ends up being a temporary crutch.
Sick frequently – Burnout can lead to a weaker immune system, which in turn means your body is unable to fight common colds and diseases. A simple cold may linger for weeks, with much more severe symptoms than usual.
Lack of sleep – Sleep is important for physical and mental rest, memory retention, and quality of life. When you’re constantly working or looking at a screen, it becomes harder to get the ideal hours of sleep that you need each night.
Detachment – Exhaustion leads to depression and detachment from your passions and hobbies. You’ll also feel less connected to your peers, and it may seem like you have no one to turn to about your problems.
Becoming impatient – Mental turmoil will hinder your patience. Simple work tasks may seem more aggravating as they approach deadlines, and you may even lose your temper more frequently with others.
Loss of motivation – Finding the meaningin your work is important to maintain peak efficiency. Without a sense of purpose, work becomes mundane and repetitive, and your time in the office will seem like a waste of your potential.
Feeling of defeat – It’s not uncommon for people to find satisfaction and fulfillment from their work. Without that feeling, work and life may not seem worth it. When people experience burnout, it may seem like everything you do ends in failure, even when you’re doing well.
Dealing with burnout syndrome
Talk to someone
Talk to your supervisor, friends or family. Talk to anybody. Bottling up your thoughts and feelings is toxic, and can only make your symptoms much worse. Help is always available as long as you ask. And don’t feel guilty or bad for asking for help either- most people want to help you however they can. If talking to your friends and family isn’t an option, try dialing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7, toll-free network available to people in severe emotional distress. Remember— there’s always someone willing to listen to what you have to say.
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to combat stress and depression is through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Staying active helps keep your mind and body healthy, which directly affect your overall mood and self-image. Set aside some time to work out each week for a few hours.
Doctors recommend an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Anything less and you could be at greater risk for burnout and more severe medical problems. Sleep helps to regulate and restore your body, even preventing heart attacks, stroke, cancer, and inflammation. Depression and stress can also be linked to people with inadequate sleep. To sleep better at night, shut off all your electronics an hour before bed. Give yourself time to recover from the day.
Take a break from work
Overworking can be an addiction like any other. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but working without breaks can be dangerous. Remember to take frequent breaks- whether it’s a fifteen minute walk between tasks, or a week-long vacation in the summer. At times you just need to step away from work to gain a better understanding of it.
Tips for a better work-life balance
Prioritize/set manageable goals
It can be a major challenge to measure the amount of work we have to do, and how much we’ve already accomplished. Without a system in place to prioritize workloads, the list of tasks to complete can quickly pile up in front of you, seemingly with no end in sight. To prevent this, find ways to prioritize your work. Start by finishing quick and easy tasks, or assigning a value of importance to each assignment. When in doubt, develop to-dos based on the SMART system.
Request flexible work days
Depending on your employer, you may be able to change your schedule to be less taxing on your health. A study by the American Sociological Review showed that flex hours led to better sleep schedules, healthier employees, and less stress. You may think that flexible hours leads to less productivity, but the opposite is true. A study from the University of Kent suggests that those with more control over their schedule tend to work more. Even just choosing one day a week to work from home or to be able to leave early- can have a tremendous impact on one’s energy.
Unplug from phones and computers
Our phones and computers are like drugs, delivering hits of dopamine via social media feeds or instant notifications. Constant attachment to digital devices can skew our vision of reality, giving way to feelings of jealousy and the fear of missing out. Our real lives become punctuated by an always-connected, digital world. Unplugging, even for just a day, can have a major impact on one’s mental health.
Schedule personal time
You are more than the work you do. Even for people who live and breathe their professional life, you need to set aside time for hobbies, for friends, and for family. Downtime is crucial to keep any sense of sanity and perspective during work. Work-life balance isn’t just important for staying healthy, it helps you stay productive as well.
Meditation in the workplace
For those that struggle to find some outlet for their stress within the demands and confines of work, meditation is a great solution. You can practice it for a few minutes, or for a whole hour, at your desk, on the way to work, or at home. Just a few moments of intentional breathing and mindfulness can do wonders for your mind and body.
We’ve spoken highly of the importance of meditation before, make sure you read our previous blog post on how to meditate at work.
Benefits of meditation
Better focus – Our daily lives are filled with distractions and deadlines that clutter our mind. Between household chores, projects at work, and outings with friends and family, it can be overwhelming to keep track of everything you need to do. Meditation puts all your tasks in perspective. By setting the time to think of each task without being pressured to act immediately, your mind is better able to concentrate on the day ahead.
Less stress – Stress can build up in our bodies throughout the week, without us even realizing it. Meditation is about focusing on your breath and mindfulness. It’s the time we give ourselves to decompress and disconnect from the world, even for a few minutes. But those few minutes can do wonders for your mental and physical health. A short break is all you need.
Higher creativity – Meditation has shown to stimulate the neocortex, the part of your brain associated with creativity and emotional intelligence. It’s no surprise that companies like Disney and Google have even adopted meditation in the workplace, as they tend to lead to more positive business and creative outcomes.
Apps to help you meditate
As wonderful as meditation is, not everyone is familiar with how to meditate. Sometimes the mind can wander off, or it may be difficult to meditate effectively. Whatever the reason, we have a few suggestions of apps you may use to boost your meditation efforts.
Headspace isn’t just the most popular meditation app, it’s one of the most popular apps period. In a single app, you can find hundreds of different sessions around a certain theme, whether it’s trying to sleep at night, reducing anxiety, or increasing focus. They even have brief minute-long exercises and meditations for those with extremely busy schedules. Headspace is totally free, but the subscription (starting at $8 per month) adds even more themed sessions, sounds, animations, and expert guidance.
Calm is the other big meditation app, winning Apple’s App of the Year in 2017. Similar to Headspace, Calm has hundreds of guided meditations, as well as “Sleep Stories” from familiar voices such as Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey, and May Charters. Free for 30 days, Calm offers plans that start at $60 per year or $400 for a lifetime license.
With over 250,000 five-star reviews, Insight Timer cannot be overlooked in your meditation app arsenal. Unlike Headspace or Calm, Insight Timer offers its library of over 25,000 titles completely free. But if you’re looking for more, there’s a $5 per month plan that gives you exclusive daily content, courses, offline listening, and night mode.
Don’t forget about your built-in podcast app, and the millions of podcasts on meditation and relaxation! The Daily Meditation Podcast from Mary Meckley features a new theme each week, and episodes are no longer than ten minutes. The Meditation Podcast from husband-and-wife Jesse and Jeane Stern use guided meditations, binaural beats, and 20+ years in healing arts in each episode. Finally, started just last month, Meditative Story from WaitWhat + Thrive Global explores a new narrative each week from a leading expert or industry figure, coupled with helpful meditation exercises.
Burnout syndrome may not seem like a problem, until work begins to creep up on you and completely take over your life. Whether you’re preventing an eventual burnout, or finding ways to avoid burning out again, take the necessary precautions and seek help to avoid a mental and physical shutdown. This goes beyond your work- this affects your very livelihood. Find a work life balance that suits you, so you can continue to perform at your best without compromising who you are.
To learn more about improving work life balance among your team, check out our previous blog here.