Have you ever felt fed up?
Tired and exhausted and completely done with it all?
Particularly at work?
Yes, we all have had the feeling.
Days, even weeks, when the stresses and strains of our professional (and in many cases, personal) lives build to a point when we must get away.
Even if it's for just a few days to sip a pina colada on a remote beach, a nice little break is just the thing to help many of us recharge.
But what if there’s more to those stresses and strains than a simple want to decompress for a few days?
Something intense that not only pulls you down physically but mentally. Exhaustion so overwhelming that your performance suffers, and you're always in a negative frame of mind and often depressed.
Where a four day weekend or a one or two-week hiatus would do little to raise your spirits and get you back in the groove?
If this sounds familiar, you very well may be struggling with burnout.
Fanning the Flames
So what exactly is burnout and who suffers from it?
A wide-ranging condition that often appears in the workplace, burnout occurs when we feel overworked, overstressed, and have difficulty coping with that sense of being overwhelmed.
As for those that might face the distress of burnout, it can honestly be anyone.
A study from early this year by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Faas Foundation proved that burnout is not merely for the disenchanted or disgruntled.
Their findings revealed that one in five employees that were highly engaged in their jobs, meaning they were positively devoted to the work they were doing, were also highly burnt out.
This means that even if we’re at a place that provides fulfillment and positive feedback in our lives, we can suffer adverse consequences from its daily burdens.
High-stress, public-facing fields such as doctors and nurses, law enforcement, and teachers are obvious professions where burnout can take hold.
However, sales or office jobs, construction work or even stay at home parents deal with their own hardships and can succumb to the stress of day to day life.
Even though there is no clear-cut method to diagnose someone suffering from it medically, there are several telltale signs that can inform if you are near or at the point of burning out.
Arguably the most recognizable symptom, fatigue can manifest itself in many ways; from a lack of energy to a feeling of constant tiredness or always being drained both physically and mentally.
No matter how much rest you get (when you’re able to sleep) it's never enough, and its always a struggle to muster any effort even for the simplest tasks.
Though stress can be its own standalone concern, coupled with other factors, it's a key indicator that burnout is upon you. With pressure, you’ll often feel you have too many projects and not enough time to accomplish what you need.
On its own, that’s relatively common, but with burnout, everything seems insurmountable. Minor problems are major issues, and major issues carry with them the weight of the world.
When you couple a lack of rest or energy with overwhelming stress, performance is bound to suffer. You can’t meet deadlines, you’re unable to focus in meetings, or your production or creativity suddenly drops off.
This symptom of burnout isn’t just isolated to your work environment either.
Tasks that once seemed comfortable and enjoyable at home, such as yard work, cooking and even playing with your kids are laborious.
Sure we all get a little angry or upset from time to time, but for the most part, we move on from life’s little challenges.
However, if the anger festers and turns to cynicism or you feel yourself detaching from both your work and the people around you, it might be time to step back and understand why.
Technically, burnout does not classify as a form of depression, but they share similar traits.
Moodiness, poor self-esteem, or a general sense of hopelessness can all attach themselves to someone who has reached their breaking point.
Feeling the Burn
While one or two symptoms might indicate you simply need a break, more than that is cause for alarm.
How then can you recognize if what at first seems a need to decompress becomes a want to detach completely?
First, look for physical changes. As we noted, tiredness is one indication something may be amiss, but so too is a change in your general health.
Stomach ailments or nausea. Ongoing battles against the cold or flu. When we are unable to recharge or let go of what weighs us down, our immune system suffers.
Next, take stock of your relationships.
Are you detaching from co-workers with whom you're ordinarily close?
Do you feel you’re not receiving enough credit for your work or acknowledgment in general?
At the office, positive relationships are vital to a productive, enjoyable working environment. If you feel cast out or you hold colleagues at arm's length, it can add an unnecessary level of stress and isolation to your job.
This also proves true of your personal relationships, particularly if you bring the office home with you.
Distance from loved ones and lacking a want to engage in activities with them can throw your work-life balance off kilter, thereby feeding a recurring circle of stagnation and decline where you’re unable to find fulfillment at work or home.
Finally, gain a sense of where you are emotionally.
Understand that burnout impacts many different people in many different ways, depending on the line of work or outside influences (such as their home life) they must face.
Do you have a demanding boss or difficult clients that you are never able to satisfy?
Does your work require more of your time than you are reasonably able to give?
Is every day a burden where you often feel angry, sad, aloof, or hopeless?
As the saying goes, we’re only human, and part of that is dealing with the imperfections of everyday life. We face many hardships where a positive mindset is necessary to see us through.
If your mind continually drifts to negative spaces and you find little joy and satisfaction in things you once did, it might be time to uncover the source of all of that angst.
Dousing the Flames
The good news is you can live your life without that cloud of angst hanging over it. Burnout is not a mystery, nor is it an incurable disease.
We want to make clear that if you suspect your disengagement is due to a more complex, more profound set of concerns, we do recommend your seeking medical help.
However, burnout, from mild forms to more severe cases, can be treated. Often without medical attention.
Understand Your Environment
Knowing where your pressure points come from is paramount to maintaining an even keel.
Avoid negative people or situations. Keep yourself organized and account for delays or potential roadblocks in whatever project you may be tackling.
Take regular breaks at work to relieve the build-up of the pressures of the day. Step away from overly taxing projects often to regain perspective on your goals and ways to achieve them.
In addition, improving your lifestyle will put you in a better position, both physically and mentally, to take on challenges without them wearing you down.
Eat healthy meals and avoid junk foods that can sap your energy. Exercise to keep your energy levels up. Most importantly, sleep as much as possible so you can take on each day at full charge.
Awareness of where pitfalls may lie will help you prepare for them. Facing the known stressors with a game plan will ensure your anxiety levels remain low. It will also provide you with more bandwidth to deal with the unknown dilemmas when they do come your way.
If you find yourself isolated, actively engage with others.
Talk to your co-workers, and seek out those individuals who are both positive and outgoing.
Consider that a seven day week has 168 hours.
If you work between 40 and 50 hours a week and sleep an average of six hours per night, that means you spend 30% to 40% of your waking hours with your co-workers.
Having healthy, established relationships with them can de-stress even the most difficult of days. It allows you to converse with people who can relate to your burdens and in many cases help with sharing the load.
At home, it's important to reach out to friends and family as well. Share the events of your day with a loved one, trade stories with friends and occupy yourself with people not related to the job.
Many times our stress and displeasure with our work build because we refuse to talk about it. Doing so, especially with those you trust, will deflate that balloon of fatigue.
Take Time For You
When you’re on vacation, be on vacation.
When you’re having lunch with a friend, have lunch with a friend.
And when you’re at home with your family, make sure work isn’t in the house with you.
Many of us work anywhere from eight to ten hours a day. Some a few more with even weekends tossed in to add to the exhausting schedule. Recognize that maintaining such a pace runs counter to what humans require to live a healthy full life.
Establish your work boundaries early and make sure those you work with and for know them. For example, you won’t view emails received after 7 PM until the next morning. Or lunches are 100% your time, except in the case of real, actual emergencies.
Oh, and that pina colada we noted in the opening? It tastes far better without a smartphone in your opposite hand.
We’ve already discussed making time for friends and family as well as yourself, but to avoid or overcome burnout you need to find a healthy balance that works for you.
Many of us follow a schedule similar to this: Wake, work, home, sleep. Wake, work, home, sleep.
It’s highly monotonous. Even if you have friends at work and talk freely with loved ones, a schedule like that will drive you straight into a rut.
Finding yourself in a rut is many times the first stop on the way to burnout.
Give yourself purpose beyond generating income. Sure, money is a crucial component in providing life fulfillment, but it's not the only one. It's also not the most important.
Be active. Have hobbies. Take part in your community, whatever form that may be. The essential reasoning behind this is to see and take part in the world beyond the walls of your office or cubicle.
Know When To Say When
It may seem harsh or drastic, but sometimes to ensure our health and well-being we need to cut loose that which is negatively impacting our lives.
Perhaps you’re stuck in a job that is a dead end and is dragging you down with it.
Maybe work that you initially thought you were meant for or was an ideal situation when you started suddenly turns sour.
Even a job that you find fulfillment with may cost too high a price if it negatively affects your health and personal relationships.
We understand that switching jobs is difficult and many times impractical, but if the demands are crushing, then taking steps to change can breathe new life into you.
For one thing, it provides you an immediate purpose to focus on as you look for a new situation.
For another, sometimes a fresh start is necessary to indeed break from that which is dragging you down.
Every person has a limit.
Though we might sometimes see burnout approaching, for many, it's a gradual process that slowly consumes us until we are a husk of a human. Glassy-eyed and barely able to function.
It is avoidable. Even if you find yourself already at a place of burnout, you can turn things around.
At the office, maintain your perspective on what needs to be done and plan for potential problems or issues. Keep your head up and focused, reach out to your co-workers and realize that for the average person, our jobs are not life and death.
At home, fill your life with people and activities that satisfy you outside of the workplace. Take time out for you and the things you love.
Most importantly, when it's time to put the smartphone down, seriously, put it down.
Finally, if your situation has gone too far south and the only way to escape burnout is to start anew, do it.
You may have many jobs over the course of your career, but you only have one life. Be sure to live it.