Imagine this: You are sitting at your desk at work but all you can think about is slipping back into your warm and cozy bed; you are exhausted. You’ve started getting headaches and an upset stomach when you never used to. Your creativity is gone, work just isn’t getting done and you are always eyeing up the clock for 5 pm when you race right out the door. Your work performance has gone down and you are struggling to keep up with everything your boss asks you to do. And you have turned into the office, Negative Nancy. Sound familiar? If so you might be in the throes of burnout. Work at times is more stressful than ever. Everything is just harder. Burnout is usually a slow process one that creeps up on us so we may not even notice until it is too late. However, burnout is totally fixable.
So what exactly is burnout and how does one “get” it?
Burnout is a state one experiences when they are under chronic stress (sound familiar?) and it leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment from your personal (family, friends, neighbors) and work world.
What does burnout “look” like?
Burnout can manifest itself as physical cognitive or emotional signs and symptoms. Physical signs of burnout include chronic fatigue (lack of energy and always feeling tired) trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, upset stomach, dizziness and headaches. You might get sick more often.
Appetite changes and you may find yourself eating way more (often junk food) or much less. You may find yourself drinking more alcohol or turning to drugs.
Cognitive (thinking) signs of burnout include trouble paying attention and trouble remembering things. You may not be able to get your work done and find that work is piling up. It all just seems overwhelming. Burnout can also affect your mood. You might feel more tense, worried or edgy. You may find yourself feeling sad, hopeless or worthless or even tense and irritable. You might no longer enjoy your job. Pessimism may arise about your job life and co-workers. You might stop socializing with coworkers and friends. You may not be as productive at work leading to poor performance.
Where does burnout come from exactly?
Burnout can arise in many ways. You might not have much control at work such as over your schedule assignments or workload. Your boss might not have given you clear job expectations so you aren’t sure what kind of authority you have at work or even what your role really is.
Your workplace might be dysfunctional with an office bully, micromanaging boss colleagues that undermine you at every turn or a huge lack of communication by your manager/boss. You may not have adequate social support at work or even home. Work hours might be crazy so you don\’t have time to relax. Your job may be monotonous and repetitive or on the other side it may be crazy chaotic and busy with lots of overtime. Your boss may put unreasonable time pressure on you so you have to rush all the time. Lastly you might feel that you are being treated unfairly such as not being compensated adequately being mistreated by others or that there is office favoritism.
Once we are in the depths of burnout how can we finally break free?
Busting burnout in the workplace
At work you can start by discussing your concerns with your supervisor so the two of you can change expectations and come up with reasonable solutions. Collaboration is key. Seek support from co-workers or friends who can provide you with guidance and love and hopefully helpful suggestions. Start being more social with coworkers even if you don’t feel like it. But steer clear of negative coworkers who will drag you back down. Delegate what you can. Learn how and when to say no. Start your day by planning everything out leaving in buffers of time for interruptions bathroom breaks emails phone calls and the like. Build in cushions throughout the day of an extra 10-15 minutes because things come up. Minimize multitasking. Take breaks even if you don\’t want to. Don’t opt for extra overtime even if you feel like you should; even if other people are. Take vacation time owed to you; you worked VERY hard for it. Make healthy choices Watching TV overeating or drinking alcohol/doing drugs do not count. These harm more than help. Instead start with the basics such as getting exercise (walking, running, biking, taking the stairs dancing stretching you name it) , doing yoga, engaging in meditation or trying tai-chi.
Eat healthfully (not salty starchy sugary processed foods. Use moderation). Make sure you get enough sleep, ideally good quality sleep. Laugh and smile (even if you don\’t feel like it. It actually works.). Take time each day to disconnect from all devices. Even TV. Make relaxation a regular part of your day Relaxation is key. No matter what else you do to bust burnout make sure to engage in relaxation any time you possibly can.
We need to make sure to relax throughout each and every day. This can take many forms.
⦁ Start with slowed deep breathing (taking twice as long to breathe out as you breathe in. But don’t force it. Be gentle).
⦁ Do a body scan. Mentally scan your whole body and see where your tense or trouble spots are and then concentrate on that spot. Imagine your body replacing the tension with warmth, lightness and relaxation.
⦁ Bring back creativity. Start a fun new project or hobby, do some sort of craft or go into and discover nature!
⦁ Go on a mental vacation. Pick your favorite memory, favorite place or the most relaxing place you can think of and dive in with all of your senses.
⦁ Engage in mindfulness often. Mindfulness is a state of awareness of yourself and your surroundings without being judgmental of yourself, your thoughts or your feelings. This comes in endless forms.
⦁ Watch your thoughts and emotions.
⦁ Maintain awareness of your breath.
⦁ Be aware of your body as it exercises or of your body as it sits or lays.
⦁ Be mindful in conversations with friends and close coworkers.
⦁ Be mindful of your experience as you watch your favorite show/movie.
⦁ Be mindful of nature or the world passing by as you drive to work.
⦁ Be mindful of how your food looks, tastes and feels as you eat it.
In the end burnout feels horrible. It makes us feel like we are totally different people. But it is totally defeatable and you can do it! The important thing to keep in mind is that this is a process. Be gentle with yourself as you go through this process. You’ve been through a lot! As they say progress not perfection. Take it easy, be kind to yourself and try the tips above and you will beat burnout.
Jessica Temple PsyD ABPP-CN is a board-certified adult clinical neuropsychologist. She and her husband Lewis host a podcast called Thriving in The Midst of Chaos (fubarpod.libsyn.com).