Burnout is caused by long periods of excessive stress and tiredness, and is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. People who are burned out lack their usual productivity, often causing them to feel cynical and resentful due to a lack of energy and being overall severely disengaged.
Burnout can often be caused by the everyday stresses of work, and if so, will spill into your home and social life. While burnout has a negative impact on our mental health and ability to be productive at work, it also shows physical symptoms as well. So aside from behaving more withdrawn and agitated, you can also feel permanently tired, have frequent headaches, and become more susceptible to illnesses like cold and flu.
As burnout is a result of stress, the key is spotting the signs of excessive stress so we can tackle them before we end up burning out. The signs are different to burnout – they’re actually quite opposite. With stress you’ll often see overactive emotions, whereas with burnout your emotions become blunted. People who are stressed are also often over-engaged as their stress drives motivation to keep on top of things, whereas people experiencing burnout are very disengaged.
The best approach to burnout is prevention – spotting the early signs means that you can tackle it before it hits you fully. If you wait until you’re in too deep, it can take a lot longer to budge. If you feel on the verge of burning out, here are our top tips for getting back on track:
Take time for relaxation
This may seem like a simple suggestion, but it’s surprising how many of us don’t know how to switch off from the office when we get home, or even on a weekend. Find an activity that works for you that helps you to relax, whether that’s reading, listening to music, visiting family and friends, going for a walk, or even sports. You need to ensure that you designate time for you, doing something that makes you feel better.
Take some of your annual leave entitlement
Time away from work will give you the time and space needed to get yourself back on track. Before you leave work, ensure that you’re up to date and anything you’ll miss while you’re gone will be covered. When you’ve got a lot to do at work it can seem daunting taking some time away. No one wants their workload to build up, so all you have to do is make sure you’re prepared. That way, you’ll find yourself thinking less about work while you’re off, allowing you to focus on yourself.
Allow yourself to say no
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty from time to time of taking on extra work when asked, even when we feel like we don’t have the time. Especially if you’re on the brink of burnout, or you’re trying to recover from burnout, saying no is okay. Instead, try suggesting someone else who would be suited to taking on the task, explaining that your current workload is already at its maximum.
Talk to a professional (or even just your family and friends)
We’re going to start this one by saying there is absolutely no shame in seeking help from a medical professional. Asking for help is a strength, not a sign of weakness! One of the biggest triggers behind burnout is our mindset, and not being able to work through things strategically when we get overwhelmed. A professional will be able to coach you through different ways of getting yourself back on track and can really help to put your different life situations into perspective.
If you don’t want to take that route, always make sure that you’re talking to those closest to you about how your feeling. Talking in itself can help to ease the burden a little bit, and outside advice can help you to look at things in a new light.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
Another big contributor to burnout is lack of sleep. It’s no secret that stress can interrupt sleep, so you need to put strategies into place to make sure you’re getting your 8 hours per night. Research has shown that having less than 6 hours sleep per night can impair our cognitive abilities, meaning we’re less motivated and more sensitive to stress.
As we mentioned, we need to take time for relaxation. Doing so can have a great impact on our sleep! Find things to do before going to bed that help you wind down. That means turning off the electronics – studies have shown that watching TV right before bed makes for a worse nights sleep. Trying something like reading a book, don’t drink coffee after 3pm, reduce any alcohol intake, taking a relaxing bath, avoid big meals at night, exercise during the day – there’s a very long list of things you can do that will help you to naturally improve your sleep!
Talk to your boss
We realise this one can seem really daunting. No one likes to admit to their boss that they’re struggling. But, when your physical and mental health are dependent on it, we just have to take the leap and tell our boss how we’re feeling. In this situation we can end up with extra support on our workload, along with other accommodations being made to help us get through the rough patch.
And, well, if that fails, it’s probably time to look for a new job. If your employer isn’t willing to make reasonable adjustments to support you during stress and burnout, your mental and physical health can seriously suffer in the long run. So if they won’t support you, move on.
Recovering from burnout can be difficult. It takes a toll on us in so many different ways that it can be a hard battle to fight. We’ll all respond better to different strategies too, so it’s important to persevere until we find the right solution. Creating a good work-life balance is a good way to ensure work-related issues aren’t reflecting in our personal lives. We’re all going to feel stressed at work sometimes – that’s inevitable – the important part is creating a support system that correctly manages that stress, working for an employer that will allow you to have a healthy work-life balance, and making sure we take time out for doing what we love.