This week in Talk in the Bay, we take a look at why burnout happens, what the symptoms are and how to avoid yourself and your employees becoming overburdened.
What is burnout?
‘Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’
– The World Health Organisation (WHO)
Burnout happens when you reach your limits mentally, physically, and emotionally and it’s characterised by three components:
- Emotional exhaustion: the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.
- Decreased sense of accomplishment: feeling nothing you do makes any difference.
- Depersonalisation: a reduction in empathy, caring and compassion.
Although research has largely focussed on professionals, more recently burnout has been seen in other areas of life too, such as parenting and caregiving. In essence, burnout can affect anyone, from stressed-out executives and high profile celebrities to over-worked employees, parents, and homemakers.
Is burnout the same as feeling stressed?
The straightforward answer is “No.” When we’re stressed, we generally believe if we can just get everything under control we’ll feel better. So, stress tends to be a temporary feeling or tied to a particular event, and it’s a normal part of life we all experience every now and then.
Burnout, on the other hand, is a response to constant, ongoing, and excessive stress:
You reach a point where you’ve got “nothing left in the tank”. You become detached and cynical, feel emotionally numb and believe things are hopeless. You feel there’s no opportunity to regain balance in your workload.
Left unresolved, burnout can trigger mental health conditions such as clinical depression and can also lead to significant physiological symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?
Burnout symptoms you might experience include:
- Feelings of sadness, depression, failure, helplessness, or apathy
- Isolating or disconnecting from others, even virtually
- Using negative coping strategies e.g. excessive caffeine, sugar, alcohol or drugs
Alienation from work-related activities
- Feeling disassociated and indifferent
- Blaming others or feeling generally irritable and becoming easily frustrated
- Headaches, stomach aches and intestinal issues
- Feeling tired and exhausted – lacking the energy to get work done
- Experiencing sleep disruption – either sleeping too much or too little
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lacking in creativity and feeling negative about tasks
If you see signs of burnout in yourself, an employee or someone you know, it’s time to take action. Finding strategies to help manage the stress and ways to build a healthier lifestyle are important in preventing the situation from becoming worse.
What causes burnout?
At Talk in the Bay, we help numerous companies with workplace wellness, and we specialise in improving employee wellbeing. We know that burnout happens when people are exposed to prolonged and excessive stress.
Research by Gallup¹ shows burnout levels have remained high throughout Covid-19. And it also highlights a major shift: before the pandemic, working from home was associated with lower stress levels, but now fully remote workers are experiencing more burnout than on-site workers. Having to balance home life with work in the same setting, with lines blurring between the two, has resulted in additional pressure for everyone staying at home.
Stress can trigger a series of physiological symptoms. Amelia and Emily Nagoski², experts in burnout, explain that stress is a biological process with a beginning, middle and end. In order to deal with stress effectively, you need to complete this cycle.
Suppressing stress, and holding onto your anger and worry, prevents you from moving forwards – you become emotionally exhausted and burnout strikes.
How to prevent and manage burnout
“Emotions are tunnels – if you go all the way through them you get to the light at the end. Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.”
Emily Nagoski, Co-author of ‘Burnout’
Completing your stress cycle is one of the most effective ways of avoiding emotional exhaustion and burnout. There are several ways to do this, which are separate from whether you actually solve the problems that have caused the stress.
These methods include:
- Doing some physical activity – Exercising, particularly outside, can make a big difference in combatting burnout. Outdoor physical activity can increase your energy levels as well as decrease your stress levels and feelings of anger, frustration and tension.
- Having positive social interactions – Whether it’s passing the time of day with the person working behind the till or chatting to a friend, positive social interactions lift your spirits and help signal to your brain that the world is a safe place.
- Enjoying creative expression – A mindful creative activity can provide a much-needed escape and help you to feel, process and work through emotions. These activities can also improve your problem-solving skills and help you to feel more confident. Research³ shows that people who work on creative projects outside of work perform 15-30% better than those who don’t.
- Finding opportunities to laugh – The act of laughter is a great stress reliever. It doesn’t just lighten the load mentally; it also has positive physical effects. Laughing helps to cool down your stress response and release feel-good endorphins. Finding ways to see the humour in things, from watching a comedy to reminiscing with someone about a funny story, can really help to ease your tension.
- Reaching out for support – Although with burnout there’s a tendency to withdraw socially, it’s important to remember there are people who can help. Whether it’s talking to someone you know, or speaking to a mental health professional, discussing your situation can help you feel less alone. Drawing on other people’s experiences and expertise means you don’t have to find all the solutions yourself.
Burnout is not inevitable.
In a world where we are having to adapt and do so many things differently as a result of Covid19, burnout is becoming a pandemic of its own. Finding ways to give you and your employees back some control – such as developing time management skills, improving communication and providing a space to rest mentally and emotionally – enables people to become less stressed and to thrive in the workplace, wherever that workplace might be.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help with burnout or to discuss our workplace therapy services, please get in touch or call us on 0292 010 3173.
¹Gallup is a global analytics and consultancy firm
² Amelia and Emily Nagoski, co-authors of ‘Burnout – the secret to completing the stress-cycle’
³Research in 2014 by Dr. Kevin Eschleman, an assistant Psychology Professor at San Francisco State University, demonstrated a positive impact between hobbies and job performance, with the less relevant the hobby to the profession, the greater impact on workplace performance.