We’ve all been there. A bad day at work leads to a bad week. You’re stressed. You dread walking into the office. You feel like nothing is going your way, or your work is going unappreciated. When these feelings linger and begin manifesting into physical symptoms and unbearable stress, you might be suffering from job burnout.
Gallup surveyed approximately 7,500 full-time workers and found that 23 percent felt burned out at work very often or always, and 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes. In fact, burnout is such a widespread phenomenon, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently officially classified it as a syndrome (though not a medical condition).
Left unaddressed, burnout can lead to meltdown. According to a recent Monster poll of 3,000 workers, half the respondents said they have cried at work. A boss and/or colleague (45 percent) and workload (16 percent) were the top two work-related causes.
“The good thing about burnout is that it can be fixed,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Russell Thackeray, who is also the founder of QED, an organizational development consultancy. Before the burn becomes a full-on blaze, take a deep dive into what job burnout is all about. If you think it describes your current situation, try some of the stress management strategies below.
What is burnout?
The WHO defines work burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
In other words, it’s more than just getting into a tussle with your boss. It’s an ongoing, overwhelming feeling that you’re mentally and physically drained. When you’re bringing that feeling home with you to the point of not sleeping, not eating or not enjoying life, you’re in peak burnout mode.
How common is burnout?
“While there are no firm numbers of how prevalent burnout is, some professional bodies report a rise in the reporting of the condition,” says Thackeray. “It may be that the rise is simply the result of the condition itself being recognized.”
Although job burnout is hardly a new thing, the nature of work has changed dramatically in recent years, which could also be why we’re hearing more about job burnout now, says Vinay Saranga M.D., a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. “It’s more common than you would think, especially nowadays when many employees are constantly connected 24/7 through email, text and other apps.”
What causes burnout?
Causes are often attributed to exhaustion from workload, says Thackeray, whether it’s doing something you hate or something you love. Working alongside micromanagers and bullies can also take its toll on your emotional state. In a job that isn’t a good fit, it’s obvious how the negative feelings weighing on you could wreak havoc. But even if you’re passionate about your job, working too many hours can take its toll.
When you over-commit to the point of exhaustion, that can stimulate stress and then cause anxiety, explains Thackeray. From there, you may lose sleep (from the excess amount of the stress hormone cortisol), and that can then lead to a sense of being physically and cognitively exhausted.
“Some people also have burnout following a high point in life when the ‘come down’ after the event arrives,” says Thackeray. Examples of this can be sports figures after a huge triumph or even early achieving business people. “The ‘next mountain’ can be a challenge when you’re burned out,” he says.
What are some signs of burnout?
No matter the cause, the signs of burnout may look similar. “For some, they will sit down to work and literally just sit there staring into space,” says Saranga. “They will usually delay getting started with work and have excuses, such as they need to check their personal email, watch one more video on YouTube, or they will start after having a chat with one of their co-workers.” This stems from feeling unmotivated, lacking the creativity and energy they once had about the job, and feeling extra tired than normal, she adds.
For others, just doing a small task related to their job can feel painful. And you might even have physical symptoms from being overworked, including headaches, stomach issues, and more. “The days feel long, and the weekends are more welcome than ever before,” says Saranga.
How can you recover from burnout?
Burnout isn’t necessarily a sign that you no longer enjoy your career or the work that you do, but rather it’s an indication that you might need to take a break. “If you haven’t taken a week off for vacation in a long time, this would be a good place to start,” says Saranga. It doesn’t matter if you actually travel somewhere or stay local; the idea is to take a break from work. This time away should be spent relaxing, resting, and doing things that you consider fun.
Of course, a short getaway isn’t a long-lasting cure if you’re returning to the same working conditions once it’s over. More frequent mental breaks from work can do wonders for your well-being and help you go back to work refreshed. “It’s also important to take short breaks throughout the workday,” says Saranga.
Your mindset toward work can also play a role. “Reconnecting with a new goal or becoming more skilled at prioritizing will help focus workloads so they can offer you more meaning or greater levels of self-control and resilience,” he adds. And it’s critical that you allow yourself to say no when your plate is full.
Thackeray suggests incorporating meditation, gentle exercise, and reconnecting with a sense of fun and laughter into your daily routine. “This combination of renewal approaches works well to manage anxiety and stress management,” he says.
Finally, if you have perfectionist tendencies, you have to work on being good enough to get out from under the clutches of job burnout.