Sneaky crying in the toilets or tripping over your co-workers. we’ve all had days when work gets a little too much.
But a complete meltdown shouldn’t be ignored, and could indicate you’re headed for burnout.
Research published last year found that workplace burnout had affected 88% of UK employees to some degree in the previous two years*.
A third claimed to often suffer from physical and mental exhaustion due to pressures at work,” says Dr Joanna Burrell, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Ultimate Resilience.
Factors contributing to burnout include overwork, understaffing, poor management, toxic work culture, and above all, lack of employee support.
For some, it’s exacerbated by the idea that the traditional nine-to-five workday is becoming increasingly old-fashioned, with checking email on mobile phones and working from home blurring the lines between work and personal life.
What does a burn look like?
Burnout is more persistent than the odd bad day at work.
The World Health Organization defines it as “the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
“Signs of burnout can manifest in low motivation, engagement in communication, unhealthy workplace behaviors and also a more difficult perception of work tasks,” explains chartered coaching and counseling psychologist Dr. Joe Perkins, who says it can reduce productivity.
“Burnout is cumulative, and early signs and symptoms are subtle, so we often attribute it to not being very organized, not coping well enough, or needing to work harder, which tends to exacerbate the problem.”
Experts warn that ignoring burnout can cause lasting damage to your health.
“It can cause people to become so mentally, physically and emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted that they are unable to perform basic daily functions.”
Dr. Perkins says: “It can also lead to or be associated with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
Commit to Change
“Burnout is often your body’s way of telling you to stop and take a break,” says Thijs Launspach, psychologist and author of Crazy Busy. Author of Staying Sane in a Stressful World.
“It may seem like you don’t have time to stop and focus on yourself, but if you don’t, the burnout will persist.”
“Avoid the misconception that trying to recover from a burnout and resume your normal routine will only lead to relapse,” says Melissa Day, therapist and holistic medicine specialist at Niroshini 360.
So where do you start?
“Determine the things in life that are important to you personally and professionally,” says Dr. Linda Folan, workplace psychologist and CEO of Inspired Development.
“Block out time to devote to it and stop just not working.”
One of the simplest ways to stick to personal goals, for example, is to have strict rules around digital use.
Maybe make your family’s lounge a phone-free zone.
The Forest app (Forestapp.cc) lets you set a timer to stay off your phone, and during this time the plants in your own digital “forest” grow or, if you’re using your phone, wither.
Habit trackers like Fabulous (Thefabulous.co) can help you stick to your goals throughout the day.
Start healthy habits
When your life is hectic, it’s easy to forget basic needs.
“Do your self-care routines need improvement?” asks Thijs.
“This includes sleep, diet, exercise, relaxation, recovery and play space.”
One of the easiest things you can do is to make sure you are exposed to sunlight every day.
“Vitamin D is an exceptional mood stabilizer and probably the most important nutrient for producing effective hormones,” says Melissa.
Can you spare just a few minutes?
Apps like Calm, WorkLife Central and Headspace provide quick stress relief.
A therapist can help you identify the causes of anxiety, stress, and depression and how to quickly address them.
The British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy allows you to find accredited therapists in your area (Bacp.co.uk). Or see if you can get free help through your GP or workplace.
Discover your identity
Certain personality traits can make you more vulnerable to burnout.
“These include perfectionism, trying to be ‘the best’ and difficulty prioritizing,” says Dr. Perkins.
“If our self-esteem is tied to our work identity, it can create an insatiable need for validation through our performance at work, which makes us push ourselves harder.”
A therapist can help you regain your work-life balance.
But you can also join The Anti-Burnout Club, a wellness platform that provides a wealth of both free and paid resources (Theantiburnoutclub.com).
Prioritize solo tasks
It used to be about multitasking, but now it’s all about monotasking.
“You can’t put 100% into one task if you’re constantly doing too many plates,” says Adam Butler, CEO of Officeology.
“Making a list of your most important core tasks and numbering them in order of urgency can help create a clear roadmap for your daily workload,” says Adam.
“If you know a task will take an hour to complete, set a timer and move on to the next task when the hour is up.”
This can improve concentration and, as a result, help manage workload. Want to drown out distractions?
The Noisli app (Noisli.com) offers free ambient sounds like rain that can help you focus, and it has a built-in timer.
Avoiding burnout is a two-way street. your employer must meet you halfway.
“Conditions that can contribute to burnout include lack of control over your workload, lack of breaks or vacations, poor management, workplace conflict, lack of recognition, doing work that doesn’t align with your values, and lack of adequate support,” says Dr. Perkins:
She suggests telling your line manager how you feel, including any personal problems or mental health issues.
Be clear about what is contributing to your burnout and have suggestions for ways to fix it.
“If your line manager doesn’t take you seriously, confide in someone in HR,” says Dr. Perkins.
“But if you don’t expect the working conditions to change, it’s better to look for another job.”
“Boundaries are limits you set on how you allow other people to interact with you to ensure your relationship stays healthy and your mental health, energy, mood, and time are protected,” says Melissa Urban, Book the author of “Borders”.
For example, you can specify how you prefer to receive feedback or set time windows when interruptions should be minimized.
“By keeping your boundaries clear and kind in a work situation, it teaches people how to treat you,” says Melissa.
“But there are power dynamics that can make conversations into delicate work.”
She recommends using clear language and letting people digest what you’re saying.
At this point, they may feel defensive or guilty.
When it comes to boundaries, Melissa says: “The more you practice, the easier it gets.”
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