How to tell if you are burned out and what to do about it

Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed? Feeling detached from your work? Know you aren't performing like you could?

There is a difference between feeling tired and being burned out. Burnout was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019 as an occupational phenomenon.

Burnout stems from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

The three main signs of burnout are: 

1. Feeling exhausted or lack of energy

More than feeling physically tired, you may feel completely drained of energy. Despite feeling exhausted, you may experience trouble sleeping which of course perpetuates the tiredness. Your immune system can weaken leading to illness and further low energy. Forgetfulness is also linked to lack of sleep and high stress levels. 

2. Feeling distant, detached or cynical

In addition to the physical exhaustion, you may feel mentally or emotionally exhausted. A clear sign is when you can't drag up any enthusiasm for activities or people you usually enjoy or feel empty. Of course, some people are naturally glass half full kind of people but this is different. You may feel an increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism that you haven't felt previously. This is more than feeling unhappy at work. 

3. Feeling ineffective or unproductive

Described by the WHO as "reduced professional efficacy", this feeling can sometimes be a vicious cycle where you don't feel like you are doing a good job and then you don't do a good job. You may feel irritable and be easily distracted. You may struggle to do even simple or mundane tasks. You know you aren't as productive as you once were. For some people, particularly high achievers, this can feel like the loss of personal identity. 

Why high achievers and perfectionists are at greater risk of burnout

Research shows that complex environments and stressors, combined with high expectations, create conditions for burnout. High achievers and perfectionists are at greater risk of burnout as the internal critic that drives their pursuit of performance / perfection works hard to avoid failure. Redefining success is critical for sustainable performance and avoiding burn out.

Burnout is both avoidable and reversible

Be kind to yourself

We need to manage the stress and the stressors separately. You may need to leave an environment if the stressors of the culture, your boss or the demands of your role will not allow you to make the changes you need to manage the stress you feel. If you are able to speak up, do so because you probably won't be the only person feeling this way!

One of my personal mantras "If you're not changing it, you're choosing it".

It's important to develop strategies to help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies like eating healthily, moving regularly and positive sleep routines can all help with managing your stress. We know what to do, we just need to apply what we know and invest in ourselves.

Take a break!

A holiday is more than temporary relief from the stressors - it allows your body and mind to refresh and renew. Time with family and friends can help you reconnect with who you are and what matters. This connection is vital to combat the emotional and mental exhaustion of burnout. Plan your holidays so that you have something to look forward to as well as scheduling breaks through the year, or at the end of key projects.

Schedule mini-breaks each day too! A burnout warning sign for me is when my days are too busy for bio breaks. Drink water, stand each hour, look away from the screen every 15 minutes... these are all tips for a more sustainable workday.

Affected by burnout? I'd love to hear your story and what tips you have for managing stress and combating burnout.


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