Think back to the day you reported to work for your very first job. Whether that job was your dream role or a stepping stone towards a greater path, I’m sure you approached it with vigor and excitement, savoring the rush of getting things done, putting new ideas to the table, and proving yourself to your peers and bosses.
Unfortunately, this rush does not last. As time passes and more work and responsibilities come in, we start to feel stress. And it’s not just with work — anything that we used to invigorate us that we have to do on a repetitive basis such as relationships, house chores, or taking care of a pet can suddenly feel like another box we have to tick. It can even get to the point where we can’t seem to drag ourselves off bed simply because we’re spent. We don’t feel plugged into the role or the things we need to do anymore.
Is this burnout? Or are we just tired?
“Burnout is not considered a mental illness. It is, however, still a mental health issue because if left unresolved, it can lead to reduced productivity and sap our energy, leaving us feeling depressed, cynical, and resentful.”World Health Organization
Burnt out or tired?
Tiredness is defined as the state in which one desires to sleep or rest. Once we have done either of the two, the tired feeling goes away and we can carry on with our other activities normally. It’s normal for everyone to feel tired.
Burnout, however, is being over-tired – it is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The term was first coined by German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 after observing the volunteers of a clinic for addicts and homeless people in New York City. The clinic’s volunteers were struggling with their intense work and according to Dr. Freudenberger, the stress of the job was causing them to feel demotivated and emotionally drained. Though they had once found their jobs rewarding, they had become cynical and depressed; they weren’t giving their patients the attention they deserved.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is not considered a mental illness. It is, however, still a mental health issue because if left unresolved, it can lead to reduced productivity and sap our energy, leaving us feeling depressed, cynical, and resentful. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to our body that makes us vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.
Symptoms of burnout
How can we tell if we are burnt out? According to the WHO, there are three symptoms to watch out for:
- Physical. Apart from feeling tired and drained most of the time, people who are burnt out also find it difficult to sleep. They also experience lowered immunity, frequent illnesses, frequent headaches, or muscle pain but laboratory tests reveal nothing is wrong.
- Emotional. These include feelings of doubt, helplessness, a sense of failure, of being trapped, loss of motivation, an increased negative outlook, and feeling detached or dissatisfied with no sense of accomplishments.
- Behavioral. Examples of this include lowered productivity, withdrawal from responsibilities, isolation, using food/drugs/alcohol to cope, procrastination, having a short fuse, skipping work or coming in late, and wanting to always leave early.
If these apply to you or your team’s situation, it’s time to take action. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.
What to do?
Here are some steps you can take when you spot the signs of burnout, as well as how to avoid it from happening:
Step 1: Recognize the state you are in
While many of us already have an inkling that we are in a state of burnout or approaching one, we tend to brush this feeling under the rug because we don’t want others (especially our bosses) to mistake our lowered productivity and detached feelings as laziness or an inability to cope with the demands of work. But we are not robots; It’s normal to experience burnout. This is why we need to conduct regular self check-ins to make sure we know what state we are in and take the appropriate countermeasures.
We can start by asking ourselves these questions:
- Am I feeling cynical or negative about work, and are these feelings escalating?
- Is my motivation decreasing?
- Is it becoming difficult to perform work-related problem solving?
- Do I feel myself getting more agitated or angry at work?
- Are interpersonal difficulties at work spilling over into my home life?
- Do I feel depressed as a result of work-related stress?
- Is work-related stress causing my anxiety?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you are either burnt out or close to being so.
If you are unsure, you can take MindNation’s WellBeing Quiz. This is a FREE, 2-minute TRUE or FALSE test to check if you are Thriving, Healthy, Decent, Fading, or Burnt Out.
Step 2: Know your WHY
Once you have gotten the lay of the land and honored your state, dig deeper and ask yourself, WHY. Apart from income, why are you doing your job? This is because when we talked earlier about losing vigor to do the things that used to excite us, it can be largely driven by our loss of clarity or sight of our “why.” We simply don’t know why we do things anymore, and it can be easy to get lost in the many things happening around us today with the pandemic and personal stress. When we’re aligned with our why, it’s a different kind of fuel or charisma that makes things happen and gives us focus.
Step 3: Go back to the basics.
This means keeping hydrated, eating healthy, and recharging to the fullest. Always remember that recovery from burnout is a slow journey and requires daily rest. It is not something that can be fixed in a day or even in just a week; research has shown that vacations don’t cure burnout. While burnout levels do decrease during vacation, they often return to pre-vacation levels within a week or two after returning to work. This is why the next step is important.
Step 4: Build habits that cultivate resilience
Taking care of our mental health is all about our mental strength. It involves developing daily habits that build mental muscle, which may also involve giving up bad habits or toxic stressors that do hold us back. When we hone our mental muscle, it’s like going to the gym consistently; we become stronger versions and it is something we have to discipline ourselves to do.
Some ways to do this include:
- Setting boundaries. This can avoid you from spreading yourself too thin, especially when you’re on the brink of burnout. So set limits on the time you give to others to help you manage stress while recovering from burnout. It doesn’t mean avoiding a person all together, but avoiding a specific habit, behavior, or ask that may be pushing you to your limit. Be firm about your needs. Talk to others involved and let them know what’s happening. Explain that you need some support in order to take care of your health and manage your workload productively.
- Prioritizing work-life balance. Once you leave work, focus on relaxing and recharging for the next day.
- Seeking professional help. Increasing your well-being is not always easy, especially when you’re at your lowest. So seek help from those around you, and from trusted professionals as soon as possible. MindNation’s licensed psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions if you need help managing stress or building better habits. Book a session now through bit.ly/mindnationchat or email [email protected]. Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.
Anxiety is caused by our fear for the future and things that may not have happened yet. Don’t zoom forward to this. As Mahatma Gandhi said: there is more to life than simply increasing speed. Our awareness with what’s happening now and acceptance will help us create that leeway we need to plan for what’s to come.
MindNation partners with like-minded organizations to provide holistic well-being programs, psychologist consultations via teletherapy, and Company Culture Drive talks to build happier, healthier, and more productive teams. Visit us at www.themindnation.com or email [email protected] to know more.