Burnout is the result of prolonged exposure to life stressors, and can manifest as decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and reduced job satisfaction at work. If you want to learn more about recognising the signs of burnout, then read on for some tips that may help restore balance in your life and regain your optimism.
Stress and Burnout Triggers
The truth is we all face stressful situations daily and our stress response can vary. The contributing factors include:
- Approaching deadline
- Natural disasters
- High workload
- Job insecurity
- Life-changing or traumatic situation
- An important office meeting
- Toxic workplace culture or unsustainable work environment.
We feel stressed when our brain recognizes a threat. According to the American Psychological Association, this threat activates the nervous system and, consequently, the body’s fight-or-flight response. Our body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in this state to enable us to face and manage stressful events in our life.
The body then goes back to its “unstressed state” once the situation is over. Harvard describes this “coordinated fear response” as a means to protect ourselves from the “dangers in our environment.” But while the fight-or-flight response is beneficial in certain situations, sustained high cortisol levels as a result of our body’s stress response is never good because it may result in serious physical and mental concerns, such as anxiety and depression.
Numerous studies have associated chronic stress and burnout with anxiety and depression, as well as physical health issues such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. As stress takes a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health, it may inevitably impact your personal life or relationships with your loved ones as well.
According to a study, poor work-life balance is a major stress and burnout trigger since it is at this state when your energy and attention are mostly spent on handling stressors, with no time in between to take a step back, recharge, and take care of yourself. On burnout, specifically, Psychiatrist Dr Marra Ackerman pointed out that the problem is more serious now than “it’s ever really been.”
Know When You’re Burned Out
According to Cleveland Clinic, it is possible that you may not even be aware that your stress levels are already leading to burnout, which is difficult to recognize as it develops gradually. Some may not realize that the excessive stress they’re experiencing is already profoundly affecting them until they begin to experience some symptoms, while others underestimate the impact of high stress levels on their lives and assume that they can handle it without any consequences.
It's essential to recognize the symptoms of burnout and take steps to address chronic stress before it reaches a critical stage. By understanding the signs, you might be able to create some form of stress management strategies. Here are some signs to watch for:
Feeling constantly tired physically and emotionally may be one significant marker that you’re on the verge of burnout. However, Dr Christina Maslach, a leading researcher on burnout, cautions that exhaustion is just one part of a burnout response and is often accompanied by cynicism and a lack of professional job efficacy.
Exhaustion can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including difficulty concentrating, low energy levels, and increased irritability. Consider taking a break if you constantly feel tired, struggling to stay focused, and always snapping at your co-workers or family members.
According to Licensed Professional Counselor Julianne Schroeder, some people may experience prolonged exposure to stress or anxiety before they start to feel burned out, which is the result of a stressed and overwhelmed system. If you feel anxious and worried all the time, to the point where it's affecting your ability to perform simple tasks or function normally, it may be time to take a break.
3. Decreased Productivity
Do you feel like you’re struggling to feel motivated, productive and stay on top of your work? This could be a sign that you're experiencing burnout. The McKinsey Health Institute has linked decreased productivity to burnout, describing the former as one of the "hidden costs to employers." How to take action? Don’t hesitate to take a step back and recharge if you're constantly missing your deadlines, making mistakes, and finding it difficult to concentrate on your work.
4. Loss of Motivation
A loss of motivation is another common sign of burnout. Lower employee engagement is another costly organizational issue brought about by burnout, according to the Mckinsey Health Institute. Take a break if you begin to feel that you dread going to work or that you're just going through the motions.
5. Increased Cynicism
As burnout takes hold, it can lead to feelings of cynicism as explained by the Mayo Clinic. It is ok to step back and re-evaluate your situation if you find yourself constantly criticizing your co-workers or employer, or if you feel like everything you do is pointless.
How to Restore Balance
Taking a break can improve productivity and motivation in the long run. When you allow yourself to rest and recharge, you are more likely to return to work with a fresh perspective and renewed mind and energy. By taking a break, you’re giving your mind and body the space to rest, relax, and recharge for mental clarity and renewed motivation.
Taking a short break is powerful in itself. This is the advice of Dr Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center in Ontario: have a few minutes of being still and quiet every day– even just for 3 minutes– to decrease your risk of burnout.
Here are 3 strategies you can apply to prevent burnout and jump-start a healthy work-life balance:
- Establishing Healthy Habits: This includes things like getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and engaging in hobbies and leisure activities.
- Managing Stress: This may include practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, setting boundaries at work, or seeking support from a therapist or support group.
- Setting Boundaries: This may include setting limits on work hours, prioritizing self-care activities, and learning to say no to additional responsibilities when you already have too much on your plate.
Burnout is a serious matter and can be harmful to our mental and physical health. Taking breaks and caring for ourselves are effective methods of prevention and treatment. It's important to pay attention to the signs of burnout, be aware of its causes, and utilise strategies for prevention in order to strike a balance between work and home life for improved overall well-being.
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