How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

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“I haven’t seen you smile in a week,” Anne vividly recalls her husband saying. She was in the depths of burnout. She worked as a medical professional in a relentlessly pressure-packed environment, with an unreasonably heavy workload, yet she didn’t think her job was the source of her unhappiness. She had come to blame herself, believing she was simply incompetent.

With the support of her husband and a counselor, Anne began to see that work and misery didn’t have to be synonymous. She realized there was a difference between being busy and burdened, and she regained control, partly by making an effort to pause throughout the day to relax or exercise. Eventually, she even recognized that she could truly be good at her job.

Anne is just one of an increasing number of people who have experienced workplace burnout. “It’s more common than the average worker recognizes,” says Chris Ebberwein, Ph.D., a behavioral faculty member at Wesley Family Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita and member of the American Psychology Association. “It can creep into your life and make you start to think unhappiness at work is normal.”

What Is Burnout?

Career burnout is a chronic psychological condition characterized by exhaustion, cynicism and a lack of professional efficacy, says Christina Maslach, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. “It’s not simply that people are tired…It’s not just that people have a bad attitude,” she says. “It’s that they’re working in a socially toxic workplace,” one that lacks support and transparency from supervisors and colleagues.

The idea of workplace burnout first gained traction in the 1970s, but awareness of the problem has peaked lately. “The workplace is just squeezing people harder and harder in a lot of ways, and burnout is that reaction to chronic, everyday stressors,” says Maslach. “People experiencing burnout talk about erosion—I love my job, I’m good at my job, but working in this environment is socially toxic.”

Job burnout affects professionals working across all occupations, but appears to be most prevalent among those in service jobs, particularly physicians, 46% of whom have reported experiencing it, according to the Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2015.

Why People Experience Burnout

Excessive workloads, unrealistic time pressures and resulting exhaustion certainly contribute to burnout, but they alone are not responsible. Day-to-day social interactions and a lack of civility in the workplace are a primary cause.

“Something as little as someone rolling their eyes can wear away at you,” says Maslach. “It’s also sarcastic tone of voice, being nasty and rude. It’s what you say, how you say it and how you act.”

According to Maslach, there are six areas where trouble can lead to burnout. These are:

1. Workload: Do you have too many tasks and not enough time to complete them, or too few resources? Is the flow of your assignments unsustainable?

2. Control: Does your job allow you a level of autonomy? Do you have control over what you’re doing and when?

3. Reward and positive feedback: When you do something valuable for your employer, are you recognized for your work? Do you feel appreciated?

4. Workplace community: Do you work in a supportive, transparent environment, or are you surrounded by destructive competition and gossip?

5. Fairness: Is everyone within your organization treated with respect, fair opportunity and equal access, or do you perceive favoritism and cheating?

6. Values: Do you find your work meaningful, or does it require you to compromise your personal values?

Overcoming Burnout

If you feel like you’re on the path to burnout, here are five ways to get back on track.

1. Seek input from within your organization.

In many cases, professional burnout is not exclusive to one individual within an organization. Identify other employees who may be experiencing the problem and collaborate with them to start to fix it. “People have to work together to figure out what’s creating a less than ideal working environment,” says Maslach. “Ask yourselves, ‘How do we turn this around?’ See if there are ways for the organization to work with everybody to find a solution.”

A successful example of this is CREW (Civility, Respect and Engagement in the Workplace), a burnout intervention program first implemented in Veterans Health Administration hospitals. Over a six-month period, participants met weekly to discuss respectful workplace relationships and participate in communication exercises. Outside of meetings, they were encouraged to practice positive social exchanges. The program yielded improved civility and decreased burnout more than one year later.

2. Establish new relationships.

If everyone in your office social circle has given up on escaping the burnout rut, it’s time to make a change. Surround yourself with coworkers who want to make positive strides in their work lives and draw support from one another. In “Conquering Burnout,” in Scientific American, Maslach and a coauthor write, “Receiving good vibes from others is an uplifting experience, but so, too, is expressing them to others.”

3. Find meaning in your work.

Identify the most fulfilling elements of your work and dedicate more time to them. If you can, talk to your supervisor about better aligning your responsibilities with your strengths and interests. “If you feel like the projects you’re taking on match what you like to do, burnout will diminish, because you’re enjoying yourself at work,” says Ebberwein.

4. Make a conscious effort to take breaks.

Whether for a few minutes or a few days, take time away to recharge. Set an alarm every 30 minutes as a reminder to get up and move around the office, suggests Maslach in “Conquering Burnout,” and make use of your vacation days. “Some companies love people who never take breaks,” says Ebberwein. “But that praise is moving them down a path to burnout.” If appropriate, talk to your employer about switching to a more flexible work schedule. Customizing your schedule to your needs can offset burnout by giving you a greater sense of control.

5. Change organizations or career paths.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you can’t possibly overcome burnout where you work. In that case, beating burnout may require you to consider a new job or an entirely new field. “Some jobs are, by nature, difficult, tiring and stressful,” says Ebberwein. “If you can’t say you do it for a specific reason, explore other options.”

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

People who are struggling to cope with workplace stress may place themselves at high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave people feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with the demands of life.

Burnout may be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms as well. If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for an individual to function well in their daily life.

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

What Is Burnout?

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.

More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.  

The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stress from your overall lifestyle can add to this stress. Personality traits and thought patterns, such as perfectionism and pessimism, can contribute as well.  

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. And if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don’t gain any satisfaction out of what you’re doing, it can take a serious toll on your life.  

Signs and Symptoms

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:  

  • Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
  • Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

It shares some similar symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression. Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work. Depression symptoms may also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms as well as thoughts of suicide.  

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Individuals experiencing burnout also may be at a higher risk of developing depression.  

Risk Factors

A high-stress job doesn’t always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not be any ill-effects.

But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.

The 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44 percent of physicians experience burnout.

Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.

Of course, it’s not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry at every level are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:  

  1. Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
  2. Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
  3. Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  4. Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
  5. Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.

Prevention and Treatment

Although the term “burnout” suggests it may be a permanent condition, it’s reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.  

Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.

In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.

It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.

A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won’t be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout and you’re having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.

Talking to a mental health professional may help you discover the strategies you need to feel your best.

Have you ever faced this scenario? Work is not going well for you. Despite your best efforts over the last few months to complete all your tasks and hit your targets, you realize that you’re not only going to fail on both these counts — but you’ve burned yourself out in the process.

How does this make you feel?

Not great, I would guess.

However, I sympathize, as when I first started working as a software engineer at Red Hat, I thought the secret to success was to work as hard and as much as possible. But I was wrong. This approach simply led me to a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

So how about you? Are you suffering from work burnout?

Here are a few warning signs that you might be:

  • Disillusionment about your job
  • Difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand
  • Abusing food, drugs or alcohol to help you cope with work stress
  • Breakdown of your sleeping habits
  • Lack of motivation (do you have trouble getting started on projects?)
  • Cynical attitude towards your work
  • Irritability or impatience with co-workers and clients

If you’re experiencing some or all of these symptoms, I recommend talking to a health professional about your concerns. This is important because, burnout — if not addressed — can lead to health issues such as: anxiety, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Why We Experience Burnout

According to Psychology Today, burnout is more than just the result of working long days and weeks. It’s also to do with how much control over their job a person feels they have.((Psychology Today: Burnout)) If they feel that they have little control, this can — over time — lead to fatigue, cynicism, depression, and eventually burnout.

Other factors that can lead to burnout include:

  • Working towards a goal that doesn’t resonate with the individual.
  • Lack of support, either in the home of office (or both).
  • Failure to take adequate breaks from work.
  • Unclear job expectations.
  • Extremes of activity (think monotonous or chaotic tasks).
  • Loss of work-life balance.

As I’ve already pointed out, if you allow yourself to burnout, you’ll be faced with a mountain of physical and mental health problems. Which is why it’s so important that you tackle this issue head on.

I’ve coached many people who have suffered from work burnout, and I’ve started to notice some typical risk factors:

  • They try to do everything and please everyone.
  • They have a huge workload.
  • They often work overtime.
  • They work in a helping profession, such as health care or teaching.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

If yes, don’t worry, as I’m about to share with you four techniques that will help you defeat the causes of work burnout.

How to Overcome Burnout

1. Pinpoint Your Purpose

To overcome burnout, having a sense of purpose is extremely important. Whether it’s in a broad way, such as the nature of your career, or finding small purpose in tasks you perform day to day.

So, do you know your purpose in life

If not, I suggest you make it a goal to find it (this article will help you out).

Research shows that people who have meaning and purpose in life have higher levels of life satisfaction and well-being, as well as having superior physical and mental health.

2. Reassess Your Options at Work

If you’re experiencing burnout, there may be a specific reason for it.

For example, are you in a role that doesn’t suit your skills, talents and personality? And, how about the hours you work–are you doing too many?

If these factors (or similar ones) are pushing you to the edge, then it will definitely be worth your time talking to your boss or your HR representative about it. They may be able to offer you some solutions to help reduce the pressure and stress on you.

3. Engage in Self-Care

Here’s a favorite quote of mine by Richard Louv, a quote that I’m sure you’ll find thought-provoking:

“Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.”

Richard hits the nail on the head in this quote, as there’s no doubt that sitting in front of a computer for 35+ hours a week is detrimental to our physical and mental health.

However, spending time in nature is just one way to fight work burnout. The following article lists a whole lot more: 30 Self Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

I recommend you read the article, adopt some of the ideas, and start moving your life away from burnout.

4. Get Support from a Professional

Whether you seek guidance from a mental health professional or a career counselor, oftentimes having a second (and reliable) opinion can be a key to overcoming and preventing burnout.

These specialists can help you assess the root of your burnout, as well as giving you strategies and goals to enable you to overcome it.

Final Thoughts

Try not to let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health and your confidence. Instead, begin putting into action the tips I’ve shared with you today:

Finding your life purpose, reassessing your options at work, taking better care of yourself, and seeking the support of a professional.

Burnout is a serious thing — so start taking serious action to tackle it right now.

CamTrader brings you human interest articles from around the web to spice up your day. We hope you like it.

Learning to deal with emotional exhaustion effectively.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Burnout?
  • Find a therapist near me

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

There are different types of burnout. Emotional burnout and occupational burnout are the most common while social burnout is common amongst introverts. This post will focus on emotional burnout because all kinds of burnout center on the unpleasant emotions we feel because of a particular situation.

Emotional burnout is a state in which one feels worn-out mentally because of accumulated stress from a situation in their personal life. It could be work-related, school-related, relationship related or it could be related to any other aspect of your life. Burnout can be very exhausting to experience. It affects how we function and how we interact with other people. It can be that itch at the back you can’t reach but it is there nonetheless.

Anyone can be at risk of experiencing emotional burnout but it is most common amongst people with demanding jobs, care-givers, people going through a major life change such as a loss of a loved one, living with a chronic illness and financial stress. The list of life challenges is endless. People who are facing major life challenges are at high risk of emotional burnout.

It is therefore essential to know how to deal with emotional burnout because it can happen to anyone at any stage of life.

Effects of not dealing with emotional burnout

Before talking about dealing with emotional burnout, it is important to talk about the effect of emotional burnout on mental and physical health if we do not deal it with. Below are several effects that emotional burnout has on your health.

  • Unhealthy release of stress hormones. Stress hormones are very important in helping us detect threats in our day-to-day life. They even motivate us to take action to eradicate the threat. When the threat resolved, the body goes back to its normal functioning state. However, a continuous release of stress hormones is bad for your health because stress hormones put the body in a state to deal with a threat. That means high heart rate, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and increased use of energy. Cortisol will also impair other bodily functions that are not useful in a fight-or-flight situation and this means a continuous release of the hormone will interfere with the digestive system, immune system, and reproductive system.
  • Physical ailments. Because the body is continuously on fight-or-flight mode, emotional burnout can cause a change in eating habits, change in sleeping patterns, digestion problems, weight loss or weight gain, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and headaches.
  • Challenges in social interaction. Emotional burnout may also result in failure to interact well with loved ones and coworkers. This is because of certain feelings that the individual is dealing with such as anxiety, depression, apathy, lack of motivation, confusion, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. These feelings may be difficult or confusing to deal with and they interfere with how one interacts with the people around them.

Ways to deal with emotional burnout

Emotional burnout and stress are not the same. Emotional burnout results from accumulated stress over time. When you are going through emotional burnout, you think your situation can not be changed, and you feel stuck. There are a few ways that you can deal with emotional burnout if you are struggling with it.

  1. Acknowledge that you are suffering from emotional burnout. The first stage of every recovery is accepting where you stand. Acknowledge that you are emotionally exhausted and that you are not OK. Most people pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t and living in this denial does not help your situation. Acknowledging the emotional burnout puts you in a better position to deal with it.
  2. Identify why you are experiencing emotional burnout. It could be a single reason or several reasons you are suffering emotional burnout. It is important to take a few minutes to figure out why you are feeling emotional burnout.
  3. Establish solutions to your problem. Coming up with solutions to a problem can be a challenge and intimidating because sometimes you may feel like the problem is too big to solve. It is OK to give yourself time to come up with effective solutions to the problem and trust yourself that you can solve the problem. It is also Ok to seek counsel from loved ones or anyone who you feel can give you the best advice regarding the issue.
  4. Take a time-out. Taking a break can help you refocus the direction in which you are going. We often hesitate to take a time out because we have responsibilities to attend to and deadlines to meet, but it is important to understand that your health comes first above everything else. You are no good for your job or your relationships if you cannot fully give yourself. It’s OK to take a few days off work to recover from emotional burnout, it’s OK to take a break from your social life and relationships to focus on yourself.
  5. Take better care of yourself. While you are recovering, it is vital to put necessary measures in place to allow yourself to fully recover. Listen to your body, get rest when you feel tired, eat when you feel hungry and do activities that elevate your mood such as exercise or watching a funny movie. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and eat lots of vegetables. Spoil yourself with a treat once in a while too. Learn to do things at a pace that you can manage and don’t be afraid to say no if you can’t do something or attend an event.

Emotional burnout in most cases can be avoided if you always take measures to care of yourself. Do not overwork yourself, be kind to yourself and your body, be a better communicator and love yourself enough to put yourself first always.

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

What is workplace burnout?

Physical exhaustion at the end of the work day. Cynicism and detachment from coworkers and customers. Extreme dissatisfaction with your work, and uncertainty about how to improve and progress in your career.

These are classic symptoms of workplace burnout, and more people are impacted than you think.

Job burnout is specific work-related chronic stress. It’s emotional and physical exhaustion that leads to job dissatisfaction and loss of personal happiness.

Burnout at your workplace usually creeps in subtly, over time, impacting workers in a way that they almost don’t notice.

Signs and symptoms include chronic fatigue, insomnia, physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, anger, isolation, irritability, depression, and more.

Causes of job burnout.

There are many things that can lead to job burnout, and it differs for every person. But there are common factors that can be identified as reasons behind burnout and stressors at your workplace

A feeling of little control. Not being able to make decisions about your schedule or workload can lead to job burnout.

Being unsure about your expectations. If you don’t know what your manager will expect of you, you’re likely going to be frustrated with your work.

A poor work culture. The attitude and morale of people around you will directly impact your satisfaction with your job. A boss who micromanages you, cliquey coworkers, and a lack of friends at your office can lead to job burnout.

A lack of work-life balance. If you’re giving a lot of your energy and time to work, your personal life can suffer, which can lead you to resent time at the office.

High engagement with your work. Being over-engaged with your job can lead you to feel a constant need to overwork and be involved with projects. This leads to stressful situations, and emotional exhaustion. While being highly engaged good thing, it can also lead to high job stress and burnout. For example, while millennials tend to value work/life balance, they may have an increased risk of developing burnout because they are highly driven and motivated in the workplace.

Have you ever faced this scenario? Work is not going well for you. Despite your best efforts over the last few months to complete all your tasks and hit your targets, you realize that you’re not only going to fail on both these counts — but you’ve burned yourself out in the process.

How does this make you feel?

Not great, I would guess.

However, I sympathize, as when I first started working as a software engineer at Red Hat, I thought the secret to success was to work as hard and as much as possible. But I was wrong. This approach simply led me to a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

So how about you? Are you suffering from work burnout?

Here are a few warning signs that you might be:

  • Disillusionment about your job
  • Difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand
  • Abusing food, drugs or alcohol to help you cope with work stress
  • Breakdown of your sleeping habits
  • Lack of motivation (do you have trouble getting started on projects?)
  • Cynical attitude towards your work
  • Irritability or impatience with co-workers and clients

If you’re experiencing some or all of these symptoms, I recommend talking to a health professional about your concerns. This is important because, burnout — if not addressed — can lead to health issues such as: anxiety, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Why We Experience Burnout

According to Psychology Today, burnout is more than just the result of working long days and weeks. It’s also to do with how much control over their job a person feels they have.((Psychology Today: Burnout)) If they feel that they have little control, this can — over time — lead to fatigue, cynicism, depression, and eventually burnout.

Other factors that can lead to burnout include:

  • Working towards a goal that doesn’t resonate with the individual.
  • Lack of support, either in the home of office (or both).
  • Failure to take adequate breaks from work.
  • Unclear job expectations.
  • Extremes of activity (think monotonous or chaotic tasks).
  • Loss of work-life balance.

As I’ve already pointed out, if you allow yourself to burnout, you’ll be faced with a mountain of physical and mental health problems. Which is why it’s so important that you tackle this issue head on.

I’ve coached many people who have suffered from work burnout, and I’ve started to notice some typical risk factors:

  • They try to do everything and please everyone.
  • They have a huge workload.
  • They often work overtime.
  • They work in a helping profession, such as health care or teaching.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

If yes, don’t worry, as I’m about to share with you four techniques that will help you defeat the causes of work burnout.

How to Overcome Burnout

1. Pinpoint Your Purpose

To overcome burnout, having a sense of purpose is extremely important. Whether it’s in a broad way, such as the nature of your career, or finding small purpose in tasks you perform day to day.

So, do you know your purpose in life

If not, I suggest you make it a goal to find it (this article will help you out).

Research shows that people who have meaning and purpose in life have higher levels of life satisfaction and well-being, as well as having superior physical and mental health.

2. Reassess Your Options at Work

If you’re experiencing burnout, there may be a specific reason for it.

For example, are you in a role that doesn’t suit your skills, talents and personality? And, how about the hours you work–are you doing too many?

If these factors (or similar ones) are pushing you to the edge, then it will definitely be worth your time talking to your boss or your HR representative about it. They may be able to offer you some solutions to help reduce the pressure and stress on you.

3. Engage in Self-Care

Here’s a favorite quote of mine by Richard Louv, a quote that I’m sure you’ll find thought-provoking:

“Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.”

Richard hits the nail on the head in this quote, as there’s no doubt that sitting in front of a computer for 35+ hours a week is detrimental to our physical and mental health.

However, spending time in nature is just one way to fight work burnout. The following article lists a whole lot more: 30 Self Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

I recommend you read the article, adopt some of the ideas, and start moving your life away from burnout.

4. Get Support from a Professional

Whether you seek guidance from a mental health professional or a career counselor, oftentimes having a second (and reliable) opinion can be a key to overcoming and preventing burnout.

These specialists can help you assess the root of your burnout, as well as giving you strategies and goals to enable you to overcome it.

Final Thoughts

Try not to let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health and your confidence. Instead, begin putting into action the tips I’ve shared with you today:

Finding your life purpose, reassessing your options at work, taking better care of yourself, and seeking the support of a professional.

Burnout is a serious thing — so start taking serious action to tackle it right now.

Working hard should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health.

  • Stress
  • Healthy Workplaces

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming—and harmful to both physical and emotional health.

Unfortunately, such long-term stress is all too common. In fact, APA’s annual Stress in America survey has consistently found that work is cited as a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans. You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.

Common sources of work stress

Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:

  • Low salaries
  • Excessive workloads
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement
  • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
  • Lack of social support
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions
  • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations

Effects of uncontrolled stress

Work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being.

A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity, and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol.

Taking steps to manage stress

  • Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
  • Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts, or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
  • Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
  • Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best. When you’re not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on nonwork activities for a while.
  • Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking, or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.
  • Talk to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
  • Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program, including online information, available counseling, and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.

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Life Kit: Pandemic Burnout

Amid the pandemic, more people say they’re feeling burnt out often. Researchers say it’s important to address burnout before it takes a serious toll on one’s mental health.

Life Kit

Burnout Isn’t Just Exhaustion. Here’s How To Deal With It

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you’ve been feeling burnt out lately, you are not alone. A recent survey of workers in more than 40 countries found that more than 60% reported they felt burnt out often or very often during the pandemic. Research shows that workplace burnout poses a serious risk to people’s mental health. Our Life Kit team looked into this, and NPR’s Rhitu Chatterjee has some tips on how to know when you’re burnt out and what to do about it.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Work was relentless in 2020 for Diane Ravago. She’s an EMT in California.

DIANE RAVAGO: I work 24-hour shifts. Just the way that it falls, I’ll work anywhere between two to three 24-hour shifts in a seven-day period.

CHATTERJEE: After an especially busy summer, Ravago hit a wall.

RAVAGO: It was an overwhelming set of feelings where I wasn’t making the right decisions. I was beyond exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally.

CHATTERJEE: Then she began to doubt herself.

RAVAGO: I started to question myself. Like, man, like, can I do this? Can I do this for the rest of my life? Can I do this every day?

CHATTERJEE: That kind of self-doubt is part of the burnout experience, says psychologist Christina Maslach.

CHRISTINA MASLACH: Thinking, what has gone wrong with me? Why am I not good at this? Why can’t I handle it?

CHATTERJEE: Maslach is at the University of California, Berkeley, and has studied burnout for decades. She says exhaustion is also a symptom.

MASLACH: You’re tired. You can’t focus. It’s hard to get up the next morning and go back to work.

CHATTERJEE: Then, she says, people also start to feel cynical about work.

MASLACH: It’s kind of take this job and shove it, you know, sort of thing.

CHATTERJEE: But it can be hard to recognize you’re burnt out when you’re in the middle of it. Dr. Jessi Gold is a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis.

JESSI GOLD: One of the things that I tell people is trying to pause and take almost like an inventory of how you’re doing.

CHATTERJEE: If you find yourself feeling exhausted, angry, irritable or stressed often, chances are you’re burnt out. Gold says it can help to check in with your mood multiple times each day.

GOLD: Well, every time I have a meeting with so-and-so, I feel horrible. And then every time I’m with this person or doing this thing, that’s where I find most meaning.

CHATTERJEE: She says find ways to make little changes to your workday to make it less stressful. Maybe skip those meetings you hate. If you can’t do that, Gold says, maybe do something you really enjoy right after the meetings.

GOLD: We can rearrange our day to have some positives with some negatives, so it’s not a horrible day of just negative.

CHATTERJEE: This is important, she says, because a lack of control at work is a factor for burnout, as is working too much. So even short bursts of rest can help.

GAURAVA AGARWAL: And so taking that five minutes in an hour or one day a week to your ability to recuperate is going to be a big part of dealing with that exhaustion.

CHATTERJEE: Dr. Gaurava Agarwal is a psychiatrist and a wellbeing coach at Northwestern Medicine.

AGARWAL: And once we have our tanks refilled a little bit more, we have the ability to face the ongoing stressors moving forward.

CHATTERJEE: And for people working from home right now, Jessi Gold says, have clear boundaries between work and personal life. Wake up at the same time, shower, get dressed, have a clear beginning and end to your workday.

GOLD: This really allows your brain to think, like, this is work. This is life. I can have both and distinguish between the two. And that can allow me to have, like, enjoyment in my day-to-day life as well.

CHATTERJEE: Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.

MARTIN: To hear more about combating burnout, go to npr.org/lifekit.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

How to deal with feelings of burnout at work

Feeling exhausted, over-stretched, and unable to fit all your commitments into a single life? Burnout is a common feeling. Fast Company reported in 2016 that several high-paced industries, including journalism, are experiencing the consequences of burnout among female employees who scale back on their work lives after reaching a tipping point. A recent viral BuzzFeed article explored the phenomenon in depth, leading many people to ask what are ways we can actually deal with burnout?

There are, according to Verywell Mind, three main elements to burnout: “exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.” Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, emotional absence and irritability as you struggle to maintain your workload and also live a healthy, fulfilling life outside of work.

One of the major causes of burnout, according to a study from 2014, is conflict between obligations at work and at home — or an absence of work-life balance. According to data gathered from the Bustle Hive, many women struggle with this aspect of their lives and find it difficult to challenge their employers to give them better working hours or more support.

Let’s be real: a lot of burnout can be traced not to our own expectations but to the pressure placed on us by employers. When it comes to the parts of burnout you can individually control, though, there’s research to help you out. Here are seven science-backed ways to help manage feelings of burnout.

Do Emotional Intelligence Exercises

A 2018 study of burnout in physicians found that when they had higher levels of emotional intelligence, they were more capable of avoiding burnout and managing its symptoms. The researchers achieved this through training, but you can boost your own emotional intelligence at home. Psychologist Daniel Goleman told Verywell Mind that there are five elements to emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation to fulfill your own needs rather than search for external motivation. Preston Ni at Psychology Today has a range of exercises and techniques for boosting your emotional intelligence over time; it seems that the more tuned in you are to your own needs and those around you, the more resilient you are in a job that’s burning you out.

Understand The Roots Of Burnout

Burnout isn’t just about working far too hard. According to a study published in 2016 in Frontiers In Psychology, it’s actually about a mismatch between expectations: what you unconsciously need from your workplace, and the opportunities and rewards you’re actually given. If you happen to need work that’s personally fulfilling or gives you a lot of time on your own, but your work doesn’t do any of that, you’re much more likely to experience burnout, the research says. The study identified two common “implicit motives” that people often don’t know they have — power, when people want to be in charge, and affiliation, when they want to bond with others — but there are many others. What do you really need from your job, and what isn’t it giving you?