Every day trying to reach for the surface to catch a breath. And yet, somehow, that always seems out of reach, slipping through your fingers. This never-ending fatigue and mental exhaustion can be signs of a state commonly known as burnout.
The mental and physical toll this health problem can have on someone can be highly troublesome and ending up affecting every single area of a person’s life. In this article, we want to give you the tools and insights into how to prevent burnout as an individual as well as tips for companies wanting to develop a healthy workplace.
What is burnout?
It wasn’t long ago that there wasn’t a consensus among the medical community towards a single definition of burnout. This term appeared for the first time in 1974 but it was only in May 2019 that it was officially recognized by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon.”
According to the International Classification of Diseases, burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”. This is an issue specifically linked to the occupational / work dimensions of a person’s life and should not be applied to other areas.
How to know if you are experiencing burnout
Author Steven Kotler famously said that “Burnout isn’t just extreme stress; it’s peak performance gone off the rails.”. So how can one spot the early signs of this issue?
According to scientific research, there is a range of symptoms that can be seen as a 12 steps process of a downward spiral resulting in the development of burnout syndrome.
Be aware of each one of these stages:
- A compulsion to prove yourself: you feel an increased commitment to your goals and there is an increase in your need to seek external validation.
- Working harder: in order to fulfill your goals, you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to work.
- Your neglect your own needs: your dedication to work steps into the self-neglecting territory, with your own needs starting to be left behind like sleep and exercise.
- Displacement of conflicts and needs: you deflect the notion that you may be pushing yourself too much. There is a shift in blame to others in your work, such as your boss or colleagues.
- There is no time for non-work-related activities: social activities outside work start to feel like a burden to you and there is little to no time for anything outside work.
- Increasing denial of the situation: the previous shift in blame takes another step with an increase of your impatience and intolerance towards others.
- Withdrawal and lack of direction: you have turned inwards with little regard for anything outside yourself. And yet, there is a distinct lack of direction in your life as you go with the motions without paying much attention to anything surrounding you.
- Behavioral changes: there is now a noticeable aggressiveness to your manner and your impatience has begun to be physically noticeable by those closest to you.
- Depersonalization: you begin to feel out of touch with yourself and what you want or need. A strong feeling of detachment takes over you.
- Feeling empty and/or with severe anxiety: as inner emptiness and/or severe anxiety washes over you, you may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to try to gain some sense of control over your life. These coping strategies can be in the form of eating disorders, gambling, substance addiction among other unhealthy behaviors.
- Increasing feeling of meaningless: the feeling of hopelessness starts to take a hold of your life. There is a distinct lack of interest that spreads to anything and everything.
- Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening: As your mental health sinks further and further away, your body is also deeply affected in a way that can be a threat to your own life. If you haven’t done it until this point, please seek medical assistance or psychological counseling. Your life is worth living.
Tips to Help You Prevent Burnout
Preventing burnout is an ongoing process that does not rely solely on a person’s shoulders. But following these steps can help anyone ensure a more balanced and healthy life, in and out of work.
These are our suggestions to keep burnout at bay to the best of your abilities:
Know your limits and make them respectfully known to others
Saying no can be a powerful yet daunting thing. But you have to know your limits and set your boundaries in order to not fall into a distressing overwork situation.
“Don’t work too much on a regular basis. Although sometimes we need to work harder to meet the deadline, this should not become the usual mode of work. Five years of work at a normal pace is better than a year of work to a limit.” – Elena, Deputy Head of Development Department
Food to boost your mood
A healthy diet displays an important role in keeping your body and mind in check. Add omega-3 rich food to your diet like cold-water fish, walnuts, chia seeds, or canola oil (among others) to positively influencer your mood. Decrease your intake of high carbohydrates such as pasta to avoid sudden energy or mood crashes.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep is crucial to your physical well-being and mental health. According to the American National Sleep Foundation, it is essential to establish a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid caffeine before going to bed and keep your electronic devices turned off for the night. Give your body and mind time to rest.
Let go of stress through exercise
We all know about the undeniable benefits of exercise to our physical health but working out is also one of the best natural ways to boost your mood. Just a few short workouts or walks regularly throughout the week can do wonders for your stress levels.
“It is important for me to feel toned, as it invigorates my spirit and clears the mind. Sport often just saves me from stress. Even a little workout or 30 mins run helps to shift the focus and get away from repetitive thoughts or difficult emotions. Making victories in sports, you motivate yourself for constant development, enhance patience and dedication. Sports achievements let you know and see your potential and strength. As a result, you get skills, you improve health and self-confidence, especially when you do something really complicated or new for you. As a super bonus, you also sleep well and have a great appetite! Speaking about burning out, it is also important to have a strict workout schedule. It disciplines you and forces you to take a pause, put things off and go to training.” – Marina, Employer Brand Development Lead
Nourish your hobbies and connect with something meaningful to you
Find time and space in your life to nurture your creativity be it through fun personal projects or relaxing activities unrelated to work. It also helps to develop a connection with a cause or a local community that can offer you a place to belong with other like-minded individuals. New relationships can be born when you step outside your comfort zone.
A perspective shift in your work
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”. This popular quote by Wayne Dyer states how much can be changed if we adjust our attitude. It takes an extra effort to accomplish this when one is feeling low, but it is truly worth it. Focus on the aspects of your job that you enjoy and in the ways your work makes a difference in someone’s life. Are your colleagues one of the best parts of your job? Celebrate that. Seek those little sparks of joy in what you do.
“One approach that helps me relax and potentially avoid burnout is: sometimes I split my day working from the office in the morning until afternoon and then I continue to work from home later in the afternoon. The change of scenery helps me gather my thoughts and structure my work better and also prevents the pressure of having to leave the office in a rush if it is becoming too late in the evenings or if I intend to avoid traffic jams.” – Alexander, Deputy VP Sales Administration
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help
If you take one thing from this article, take this piece of advice. It’s worth remembering that you don’t have to go through your life battles alone. During highly stressful times, it’s more important than ever to reach out to others for help. Open up with those closest to you. Despite what your inner negative voice may tell you, you are not a burden to your loved ones. Be it your partner, friends, or family, seek those who can listen to you and are willing to help you get through this. And, if needed, reach out for proper medical or psychological assistance. Being strong is being able to recognize your limits and know when to ask for help.
Making a healthy workplace a reality
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, burnout syndrome was already a serious issue affecting people from all around the globe. With millions affected every year by this health issue, there is a rising concern among organizations to tackle this as soon as possible. The mental and physical toll this health problem can have on someone can be highly troublesome and ending up affecting every single area of a person’s life.
Employees suffering from burnout are said to be 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer, according to a Gallup survey. This is just a small yet extremely significant part of the high overall cost that burnout can have across a company.
“If you know how to manage your peak performance, you can definitely avoid burnout. But you have to know for yourself. And in order to know your peak performance – and that’s the tricky part – is not only doing a good job at work. But also taking good care of your mental health. The more we pay attention to the mental health of our employees, the better of an employer we will be and the better we will all cope with burnouts.” – Sofia, HR Brand Specialist
From an organizational point of view, there are steps needed to be implemented by companies to foster a culture of wellbeing among its employees. The World Health Organization has shared a set of good practices on this topic, including:
- Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices.
- Being open about the support available to staff.
- Involving employees in decisions, so they can know their voice matters in the organization.
- Promoting a healthy work-life balance in no uncertain terms.
- Investing in staff: recognize and reward the contributions made by employees and develop programs for the career development of those wanting to grow within the company.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy to know our 5 Tips to a Better Work-Life Balance.