Burnout. You’ve heard the term plenty of times and perhaps you’ve even experienced burnout on some level before but is it a real thing?
Researchers say yes. Defined as “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. Increased mental distance, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy” it wasn’t until 2019 that the World Health Organization finally recognized burnout as a legitimate syndrome. While it’s most commonly associated with overworking on the job, that’s not to say that you can’t experience the same effects of occupational burnout in other areas of your life too.
Afterall, you can overdo just about anything—whether it’s spending time with someone, over-exercising, juggling a too-packed social calendar—or, perhaps you’re going full throttle in more than one area of life, unsustainably burning the candle at both ends.
So, how many Americans are doing too much for too long and compromising their mental health? According to a Slack Future Forum survey, 43% of Americans feel burned out in the workplace, which is higher than anywhere else on the globe.
And what happens when you continue to fire on all cylinders ignoring the signs of burnout while you chase the elusive American dream? According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout can start to manifest in a number of health-threatening ways from chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression and irritability and substance abuse to high blood pressure, increased risk for heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes as well as an increased risk for other diseases.
Don’t wait until you’re literally making yourself sick from taking too much on. Here are 4 ways to prevent burnout for mental health.
1. Schedule an Appointment with Your Doctor
Before you do anything else, if you suspect that you might be on your way to burning out, make an appointment to see your doctor. Explain how you’re feeling and your concerns. He or she may order some tests—or, you can ask for a complete physical—to check in on some key markers, such as your Vitamin D and B levels, hormone levels, cholesterol, inflammation, blood pressure and more.
2. Prioritize Self-Care
Proper rest, exercise, eating a nutritious and balanced diet and carving out time for relaxing activities such as yoga, tai-chi, breathwork, journaling, meditation and spending time in nature are all proven self-care practices that can help prevent and treat burnout.
When it comes to self-care, don’t just try to fit it in where you can. Schedule it into your calendar just like you would with any other meeting or appointment and treat it as such.
Society has an unhealthy tendency to put everything and everyone ahead of your own mental and physical health and somewhere along the way, we were misguided into believing that putting self-care practices on par with other tasks is selfish. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Reserving and keeping self-care appointments with yourself is just as important as anything else on your to-do list—after all, without your health, you’ll be unable to accomplish anything at all.
3. Take Time Away
We occasionally hear stories of employees who worked for an organization for decades without ever taking a vacation as though it’s something to celebrate or something that people will remember you for after you’re gone.
The tendency to glorify workaholics in the US has gotten so bad that the Center for Economic and Policy Research has referred to the US as the “No Vacation Nation”.
But not taking much-needed breaks has been linked to heart disease, stroke, burnout and an increased risk for other diseases. Inversely, those that do prioritize vacations have the opposite effect. In a 9-year study done on men with higher risk of heart disease, those that took the most vacation had a significantly lower risk of dying from not just heart disease but any cause.
4. Address the Root Problem
You might feel refreshed and re-inspired immediately after some time away, but if you don’t make changes to your day-to-day structure, you’ll wind up back where you started before long.
Talk to your employer about the demands of your role and explore ways to delegate more or re-prioritize tasks so that you have a better handle on the hierarchy of importance, instead of viewing everything as an equal priority and putting unrealistic pressure on yourself to tackle everything with the same urgency.
Set some clear boundaries about what you are and are not willing to do. Instead of working late several times of week, state when and how often you are able to put in extra time and when it is simply not possible. Decide on a sign-off time and stick to it. Stop replying to work-related texts and emails after a certain time at night in order to firmly set the expectation of when colleagues can reach you.
Finally, talk to someone outside of your organization that is skilled in advising folks on navigating tricky workplace situations, such as a career coach or a mentor.
10 Signs You’re Burning OutHere are the top 10 signs of burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ask yourself if you identify with any of the following sentiments. If you answer yes to any of these, you could be experiencing burnout and should talk to a doctor or a mental health provider.
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
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