Have you been particularly stressed out and overwhelmed at work lately, and feel like you’re unable to meet or affect the demands placed on your time? Do you tend to leave work too drained to do anything after, and has it been harder to drag yourself into the office in the mornings? Does it seem like you’ve been exhausted for weeks, and increasingly like you can’t accomplish anything?
If so, you may be moving away from manageable levels of stress and towards burnout territory, which can take a severe toll on your health and quality of life if left untreated. Burnout occurs when you regularly feel overwhelmed at work and powerless to do much about it, causing chronic stress, extreme exhaustion, loss of motivation, reduced work satisfaction, along with the negative health impacts of persistent stress.
There’s a difference between burnout and your everyday, temporary stress. All jobs can be stressful from time to time, but when you are able to manage that stress and maintain a work-life balance, your body gets a chance to recover. However, if you regularly feel like you’re pushing beyond your limits and stress from one workday carries over to the next day, be attentive to signs that you are getting burned out.
Warning Signs of Burnout:
- You’re more irritable, critical, or cynical at work than usual.
- You have a harder time getting started, and may even notice a reluctance to physically. enter your workplace.
- You have a harder time concentrating.
- You lack the energy to be productive and get less satisfaction out of your achievements.
- You have unexplained headaches, stomach issues, or changing sleep habits.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is generally understood to be a combination of three indicators: exhaustion, disengagement at work, and reduced efficacy. The first sign of burnout you’ll likely notice is physical and mental exhaustion, which can cause body aches, difficulty concentrating, and increased irritability. When you’re mentally exhausted and feeling pressure to perform, you can’t think as clearly and become less productive. Eventually, this takes a toll on your feelings of competence and satisfaction with your work, adding to a sense of detachment and cynicism.
What Causes Burnout?
Underlying causes of burnout are as varied as the individuals who experience it, but the types of pressures that compound into burnout tend to have features in common.
Risk Factors For Burnout
- You are not able to meaningfully influence decisions at work that impact your role. including but not limited to your workload or the resources allocated to your role
- You are being micromanaged or working in a toxic office environment.
- There is a lack of clarity around expectations regarding your role, or how to accomplish assigned tasks, leaving you with a feeling of uncertainty regarding how to move forward in your work.
- You have not established work-life balance.
- Your job requires more continual focus than you are able to sustain.
The Health Effects of Burnout
Left unaddressed, burnout can take a big toll on your physical and mental health. Burnout can make you feel physically or emotionally exhausted, like you’re accomplishing less and less. You might even feel like you’re losing your sense of personal identity.
Burnout carries the physical effects of prolonged stress as well. Your body doesn’t understand stress in terms of a long to-do list, instead interpreting stress as a signal that you are in imminent danger and need to amp up your defenses to survive. Your heart beats faster, your muscles tense, and your breathing becomes more shallow, channeling oxygen to your muscles and away from your brain.
If you were facing a predator, this would all be very helpful. Yet modern-day stress is more likely to hit when you’re facing a computer screen and need to think. Unfortunately, your body has instead prepared itself for instinctual reaction, which makes it harder to get through your day productively. In the short term, stress causes symptoms of anxiety like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, blurred vision or eye twitching, sore muscles, sweating, and dry mouth.
Left untreated, burnout-related stress can cause more severe health problems in the long-run, such as:
- Hair loss
- Disrupted sleeping habits, fatigue, insomnia
- Mood changes, anger, irritability, sadness
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Weakened immune system and vulnerability to illnesses
Beat Burnout With Stress Reduction Strategies
If you think you may be experiencing burnout, it’s important to take action and make a plan to reduce stress and regain a sense of balance at work. If you are able to discuss your experience with a supervisor, mentor, or colleague at work, they may be able to help you reduce your workload. If you can’t confide in anyone at work, talk to a trusted friend or family member. Lean on your relationships, and try your best to intentionally create more work-life balance.
If you have some control over your work patterns, make changes to make your job more sustainable. Build breaks into your schedule to give your brain a break so it can recover. If you can, fit in some movement during breaks. Exercising, which could even mean just going for a 30-minute walk, boosts motivation while reducing stress, resulting in clearer thinking and better focus throughout the day.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation are also great options for stress reduction, along with techniques like deep breathing exercises that you can use in the moment when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
As always, consult with your doctor if you think you may be experiencing symptoms of accumulated stress or burnout for the best guidance for your particular circumstances.
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