In the UK, 440,000 people are currently experiencing work-related stress at a level they deem to be making them ill. But it’s not just the Brits – ‘burnout’, an as yet unofficial medical condition, is one of the greatest threats to our global health system, the annual cost of which is estimated to be AU$427 billion. And according to the World Health Organisation, it’s expected to be a global pandemic within a decade.
While burnout is caused by prolonged stress, it’s different from feeling stressed. When we’re suffering from stress alone, we can at least imagine how much better we’re going to feel once the source of our angst has been removed.
In contrast, most people suffering from a burnout aren’t even aware they are. Characterised as feeling overworked yet undervalued, pessimistic, lethargic and distant, the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. However, no matter where you are at with your stress-coping skills, it’s important to remember that there are positive steps you can take on your path back to health, and possibly even beat your burnout before it’s begun.
THE SYMPTOM: You’re exhausted
Not just tired, but bone-achingly shattered – yet whenever you close your eyes, sleep eludes you.
THE SOLUTION: Get moving
Mental and physical exhaustion brought on by stress and poor sleep is a strong indication that a burnout may be imminent. Exercise will likely be the last thing you feel like doing, but just 30 minutes a day will help lower your stress levels and promote positive sleep hygiene. If 30 minutes seems too much, start with just a 10-minute brisk walk and build on it as you begin to feel better.
THE SYMPTOM: You’re procrastinating
You’ve got so much to do yet you seem to flit aimlessly from one task to another, all the while your workload mounts and you feel more and more overwhelmed.
THE SOLUTION: Make the ultimate to-do list
Stop. Breathe. Poor concentration goes hand in hand with exhaustion, so it’s little wonder you’re having difficulty staying focused. Before you leave work, make a to-do list for the following day in order of priority (perhaps start with the task you’re dreading the most). Start at the top and don’t move on until each item is crossed off. Don’t worry if you don’t get to everything on your list, just start again tomorrow – even achieving just one goal a day will give you a much-needed motivation boost.
THE SYMPTOM: You keep calling in sick
The idea of dragging yourself to work often feels impossible. When you do show up, you’re often late, unproductive and removed from your colleagues.
THE SOLUTION: Talk to your boss
If you don’t mentally feel able to attend work, you are perfectly entitled not to. But instead of chucking a sickie, speak to your boss about how you’re feeling. Calling in sick will only succeed in making you feel guilty (do you really need anything else to feel bad about right now?), as well as avoiding the root of the problem. Your employer has a duty of care to ensure your health and wellbeing, so do yourself a favour and let them.
THE SYMPTOM: You keep getting ill
It’s not just because you can’t face work that you’re calling in sick; you’re also coming down with every single bug going around.
THE SOLUTION: Getting creative
As our stress levels soar, our immunity levels plunge so we become susceptible to illness. Again, your priority right now should be reducing your anxiety. Whether it’s exercise, socialising, reading or having a creative outlet; tap into what brings your blood pressure down and run with it.
THE SYMPTOM: You have no life outside of work
You have neither the time nor inclination to maintain a healthy work-life balance and are slowly isolating yourself from those around you.
THE SOLUTION: Prioritise
Studies show that those more susceptible to burning out sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs without really realising it. Revaluate your priorities and make some time for yourself, keeping in mind that social interaction is one of the most effective antidotes to stress.
THE SYMPTOM: You’re taking it out on those around you
You’re tired, you feel like crap and your every waking moment is either spent working, thinking about work or feeling guilty because you should be at work. Is it really any wonder that you’re not the life and soul of the party?
THE SOLUTION: Speak up
Your friends and family won’t know how you’re feeling unless you talk to them. Instead of isolating yourself or snapping at those closest to you, confide in someone you know cares. Unburdening yourself will not only help you feel instantly better, you’re also giving someone who loves you the opportunity to take some of the pressure off.
Try these mindfulness techniques that take less than a minute to help combat burnout.