According to the Health & Safety Executive, around 12.5 million working days are lost due to work related stress in 2017, with 526,000 British workers suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
So how do you identify the early signs of burnout and how can you effectively avoid hitting rock bottom?
If your work and family life are consistently stressful, you’re almost certainly at risk of burnout. Most people only realise that they are truly burnt out when it’s too late and then they need to work towards eliminating the symptoms, often while still having to deal with the stresses that caused it in the first place.
But by keeping an eye out for warning signs can help you make changes proactively, making it easier to prevent burnout, while you still have the will and motivation to make the changes required.
Over-engagement is a symptom of high stress levels. Going to sleep and waking up thinking about a problem or a deadline is a perfect example of over-engagement. When you start to disengage from your work or your personal problems by ignoring or avoiding them, burnout warning bells should start ringing.
Stress usually manifests as a sense of urgency, often resulting in hyperactivity. Anyone facing perpetual deadlines knows the feeling. Burnout, however, is characterised by helplessness and hopelessness. The feeling that nothing you do is going to have any effect on your situation or drive any real change.
When under stress, you may find that your emotions are exaggerated and more difficult to control. You may become angry or upset far easier than usual. Blunted emotions are a symptom of burnout. You may feel that you do not have the energy to react emotionally to situations or that you are unable to feel excited or worried at all.
If you’ve started exhibiting any of these symptoms, you may be approaching burnout. By taking action and making changes as soon as possible, you can minimise the severity and effect of burnout. The following are the most critical steps in addressing the issues that are leading to your burnout:
When one problem causes overwhelming levels of stress, it’s easy to ignore or downplay other issues in your life that may be contributing to your burnout. Make a list of all things you worry about on a daily basis, including the things you feel that you have no power to change. By ordering these by level of importance, you’ll know which issues you need to address first.
While this may feel like an impossible task, once you start to work toward actively making changes, you’ll find that many problems only exist because you haven’t had the strength or motivation to correct them. This is particularly important in the workplace, as most employers and team leaders would rather take drastic steps to help you through your burnout rather than lose you. The following are the most important steps:
•Assert yourself and explain the reasons why you’re feeling like you do. Just speaking about the issue will start to eliminate some of your feelings of helplessness and give your employer a chance to try to rectify the situation.
•Talk to your boss about new duties you could assume or any training opportunities available. Getting out of the rut of doing the same thing every day is a great motivator and learning new skills, or augmenting those you have, may help to reignite your interest in what you do.
•Take some time off. Sometimes taking time off work is the only way to give yourself time to re-evaluate your priorities and get to the root of your stresses. Make a conscious decision to use this time to reflect on your situation and not simply evade it.
Feelings of being out of control, and the idea that everything is under severe time-pressure, are common symptoms of long-term stress. Take a few minutes each day to acknowledge your anxieties for what they are; irrational and exaggerated. Prioritise things like spending time with friends and family and outdoor activities. When listening to music or watching movies, make an effort to pay attention and don’t let your mind return to endless loops of stress.
Under stress, it’s easy to prioritise relatively meaningless aspects of your life, over those that contribute most to your happiness. If work stress is affecting your personal life, it’s time to move on, or to change your thought patterns in order to be able to leave work stress at work. It’s vitally important to learn to create a mental divide between work and your life outside it as it’s extremely unhealthy and unproductive to be thinking about work during “off time”.
It’s important to be honest with yourself during the onset of burnout and to acknowledge the stresses that you have surrendered to. Remember, these are simply tips to help you improve your situation in the short term. Burnout has genuine health implications and we strongly recommend that you seek professional help in overcoming it. A mental health professional will provide you with tools to make your recovery simpler and easier to maintain.
*Ciara Morrison is Head of HR and Talent at Instant Offices.