Did you know that overwork and burnout contributed to more than 745,000 deaths worldwide in just one year? Yes, according to Psychology Today, a recent study from the World Health Organization, found that “over 60 percent employees suffer from workplace stress.” In today’s environment, the risk of feeling or becoming “burnout” has never been greater or more real. So even though we survived 2020, most of us approached 2021, cautiously optimistic that the worst was behind us, and that better days were coming with the COVID-19 vaccine. We hoped for the return to some semblance of normalcy and some relief from all the work pressures and life stressors. But here we are in the last quarter of 2021, and many of us are still experiencing a prolonged period of high stress and are at risk of becoming burnout.
In fact, many of us are now grappling with heightened levels of anxiety, renewed fear and uncertainty due to the recent surges in infection and hospitalization rates caused by the Delta variants of the COVID-19 virus, possible shutdowns, a return to the office, as well as the reopening of in person school. Therefore, it is fair to say that 2021, has not delivered the well-deserved break from the stresses of life that many of us hoped or wished for.
The Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Although many people use burnout and stress interchangeably, the two concepts are very different. The World Health Organization describes “burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” On the other hand, stress is an everyday response to the demands and pressures of life. Stress affects both our personal and professional lives and can lead to a decline in productivity, motivation, and mental wellbeing, as well as an increase in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
In explaining the difference between burnout and stress, Forbes explained that “you can’t cure burnout by taking an extended vacation, slowing down, or working fewer hours. Stress is one thing; burnout is a totally different state of mind. Under stress, you still struggle to cope with pressures. But once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles. When you’re suffering from burnout, it’s more than just fatigue. You have a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest obligations.”
Are You Burnout?
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world came to an halt, none of us expected it to last this long. Many employees cancelled vacation plans, stop participating in some social and leisure activities that were crucial to maintaining work life balance and overall well-being because of social distancing and quarantine requirements. Without these much-needed breaks and interactions to help them balance and reset, many employees are now experiencing burnout, struggling to maintain productivity, find purpose and meet performance expectations amidst the constant change and uncertainty in the environment. Some of the common signs of burnout identified by Psychology Today are:
- Disillusionment/loss of meaning
- Mental and physical fatigue and exhaustion
- Moodiness, impatience, and being short-tempered
- Loss of motivation and a reduced interest in commitments
- Inability to meet obligations
- Lowered immunity to illness
- Emotional detachment from previous involvements
- Feeling efforts are unappreciated
- Withdrawal from coworkers and social situations
- Hopelessness, and a helpless and depressed outlook
- Job absenteeism and inefficiency
- Sleep deprivation
- Foggy thinking and trouble concentrating
So, are you burnout or at risk of becoming burnout?
How to Address Burnout?
In trying to better understand and address burnout, it is important to look at whether work stress leads to burnout or if burnout leads to stress. In this classic chicken and egg situation, it is easy to say that work stress causes burnout or to conclude that burnout causes stress. But although work stress and burnout feed off each other, research tells us that, “burnout has a much greater impact on stress than vice versa. Once burnout begins, it develops gradually, building up slowly over time. Ultimately it leads to work being increasingly perceived as stressful: The amount of work is too much, time is too short, and stress is too great. When people are tired, their ability to operate effectively and efficiently as well as cope with stress decreases. “This means that the more severe a person’s burnout becomes, the more stressed they will feel at work, such as being under time pressure.” Therefore, ““Employees suffering from burnout should be timely provided with adequate support to break the vicious circle between work stress and burnout.”
Having established that burnout can lead to detrimental physical and mental wellbeing, it is crucially important that we take proactive action to practice self-care (See previous post) and protect our overall well-being. While each of us have our own strategies to deal with workplace stress and guard against burnout, Psychology Today offers some additional strategies that you can apply to boost your coping and resiliency skills:
- Set time limits when you start and end your day and stick to those. Ideally, don’t work on weekends or at least limit your work to a couple of hours on one weekend day but not the other.
- Use assertive communication with supervisors to set boundaries with workload and expectations. Learn to say no.
- Create a life vision or career plan that includes work-life balance. Your career and financial success should be harmonious with your personal life, including your health, relationships, hobbies, and more. Plan your career in the context of your life, not the other way around.
- Be your own good parent and prioritize your self-care. Care enough about yourself to want the best for yourself not only in your career, but in your health and wellness. When you get adequate sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and allow time for hobbies, you will be more productive at work.
- Recover from the disease of being busy. Use mindfulness practices to reboot your mind, body, and spirit. By doing so, expect higher productivity, fewer errors, more creative thinking, improved problem-solving and collaboration, and higher emotional intelligence at work.
- Delegate and access support. Look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “Am I the best person to do this? Am I the only person who can do this? Do I enjoy doing this? Is this worth my time?” Outsource tasks you don’t enjoy, when possible. Identify where you need help and ask for it.
- Start your day right. Establish a morning routine that works for you and starts your day on the right foot. If you are a planner, plan your outfit, a nutritious breakfast, and set the coffee maker the night before. If not, leave yourself time in the morning for self-care. Practice a morning meditation or set intentions for the day.
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