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Last Updated on September 16, 2021

7 Common Signs of Work Burnout And How To Deal With Them

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7 Common Signs of Work Burnout And How To Deal With Them

Are you worried that you might be suffering from work burnout? When seeking out signs of work burnout, it’s natural to immediately consider your energy and mood during work hours or how you feel about your profession overall. Dissatisfaction, slipping job performance, and escalated frustration at work are common indicators that your job is stressing you out beyond your capacity to deal with them.

What Is Work Burnout?

A deeper look yields symptoms of work burnout in some surprising places. Studies have shown a direct correlation between professionals’ feelings of work burnout and their level of satisfaction with their work-life balance.[1]

Imagine yourself standing centered on a balancing scale, personal life on one side, and professional on the other. Pressure starts to build on the professional side, so you jump over there to resolve it.

Meanwhile, with nothing left to ground your personal side, those responsibilities and needs are neglected. You jump back and forth trying to get each side settled. It’s not only ineffective—it’s downright exhausting.

While this back-and-forth dynamic probably sounds familiar, it’s also an overly simplified description. In reality, the lines between work and home are not so clear-cut. The nuances encompassing these parts of our lives are multifaceted and complex.

This is true even in the best of times. With the current climate of socioeconomic stressors and the compounding factor of work-from-home chaos, it is more important than ever to address the elements of our lives that may be leading us toward—or definitively causing—work burnout. (This is especially relevant if it is not feasible to make changes to your work situation right now.)

So, what can you do to relieve work burnout without overhauling your entire life?

7 Common Signs of Work Burnout

First, we’ll take an honest look at common signs of work burnout that may signal a lopsided work-life balance. Then, we’ll cover some powerful steps toward ending this cycle. The good news is that with a deeper awareness and a few simple shifts, we can feel more centered and satisfied in work and life.

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1. Fatigue Not Resolved by Extra Rest

Physical exhaustion is usually the first symptom we notice. Feeling tired all the time can lead us into a downward spiral of added stress and trigger many of the other symptoms listed below.

However, our physical, mental, and emotional energies are all interrelated.[2] In the case of burnout, sometimes the reason extra sleep doesn’t bring relief is that the root causes of mental-emotional fatigue are not being addressed.

If you believe the issue is purely physical, seek medical guidance as this may be a sign of depression, sleep disorders, nutrient deficiencies, or other issues requiring professional treatment. Stress-induced insomnia may also be part of the problem.

It’s important to understand some sneaky obstacles here that could keep you stuck in a cycle of mental-emotional exhaustion.

The first is comparison. What might be stressful or overwhelming to one person can be a total non-issue for another, so try not to make yourself wrong for struggling where others seem not to.

The second is expectation. Major life events or catastrophes are not the sole conditions related to work burnout. Ongoing stressors—even those that seem insignificant at first glance or a combination of several types—can wear us down over time and eventually create a powerful wallop of stress-driven fatigue.

These obstacles can cause a snowball effect of exhaustion because we’re fighting our internal judgment instead of using that energy to deal with the core issue at hand.

2. Postponing Basic Self-Care Needs (Whether Intentional or Not)

One of the most easily recognizable signs of work burnout is busyness, and it doesn’t help that our culture is consistently preaching and rewarding the “hustle at any cost” lifestyle. Unfortunately, this often results in people wearing their busyness like a badge of honor.

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Sometimes, this looks like proudly announcing that you’ve been too busy working to take a lunch break. Other times, you might sacrifice hours of sleep by putting off bedtime to work on a project or try to catch up on unfinished tasks.

Whether intentional or not, the “busyness is best” mindset leads to self-neglect—a major contributor to work burnout and a core component of lopsided work-life balance.

3. Moodiness and Irritability

It’s common for a stressful work environment to trigger crabbiness. Unfortunately, it’s also highly likely that your snappy reactions aren’t being limited to professional situations.

One sure signal of emotional distress that may be leading to work burnout is when we find ourselves lashing out at people and circumstances that are not directly responsible for our mood. Unexplained grumpiness may be a secondary sign that you are also struggling with signs 1 and/or 2 above.

4. Lack of Focus or Concentration

These signs of mental fatigue can be caused by physical or emotional overwhelm as well as self-neglect. This means if you’re struggling with fatigue or stagnant self-care, as mentioned above, you’re likely to find yourself suffering from this symptom as well.

Being short on focus means you require more energy to complete even the most basic of tasks. Feeling like you don’t have enough time or energy to do what needs to be done is a catalyst for overwhelm and burnout.

5. Minor Unexplained Physical Ailments

When it comes to burnout, tension is high on the list of underlying culprits. It’s common for stress to manifest as physical discomforts that can’t be attributed to any medical condition. This can be frustrating, especially when we are absolutely suffering the symptoms but unclear on the links between them and tension-induced burnout.

Some of the main physical symptoms of tension include headaches, neck and shoulder pain and tightness, and digestive issues (heartburn, stomach-ache, bowel irregularity). Frequent random aches and pains, stiff jaw, and inexplicable weight variations can also be symptoms.[3]

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People in this situation often go from doctor to doctor seeking an explanation without resolve. Unfortunately, this is at least in part because burnout is not a diagnosable medical condition. It was, however, finally added to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) with a rigid definition as an occupational phenomenon in 2019, after decades of debate.[4]

If you experience these signs of work burnout and stress, try addressing the root causes described here. If you give an honest effort and continue to suffer, take this information to your doctor and keep advocating for your healthcare.

6. Self-Medicating, Numbing, or Escapism

When life feels stressful, one human tendency is to escape. Instead of dealing with our issues head-on, we look for an easy diversion to avoid the discomfort.

Food, alcohol, and drugs (prescription or not) release feel-good chemicals in the brain. This effect reinforces the behavior for us so that whenever we feel stressed or unhappy in a situation, our subconscious automatically signals us to reach for that quick fix to help us feel better.

Other examples of numbing and escapism include excessive busyness, video game addiction, and other mindless activities such as bingeing TV shows or endless scrolling of social media. To a certain degree, these behaviors are typically considered normal in our society. However, if you find you’re engaging in them to avoid certain tasks, situations, or emotions, this can be a sign that something is misaligned in your life.

7. Lack of Satisfaction in Activities or Tasks You Used to Enjoy

This symptom is also commonly associated with depression. There are several components of depression and burnout that overlap, but that doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive. You can have both simultaneously, or you can have one without the other.[5]

In the case of burnout, you tend to feel too exhausted, stressed out, or preoccupied with worries to be present in the activities. It’s hard to enjoy something when your mind and heart are too distracted to be fully involved.

Another aspect of this is not really knowing what activities you do enjoy. When your main focus has been work and/or taking care of others for the majority of our lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple things that bring you pleasure.

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What Is at the Core of Your Work Burnout?

Sometimes, these symptoms of work burnout are a sign of misalignment in our work, meaning we might be best served to pivot in a new direction. However, one of the most dangerous things we can do is to try to resolve work-related causes without digging deeper into the underlying problems.

Symptoms are exactly that—external evidence of an internal issue.

Mismanaged time and energy, trying to be everything to everyone, and lack of social-emotional support are some examples of the root causes of work burnout. When we bypass these by focusing on surface-level fixes, we risk repeating these patterns of burnout no matter what our work situation.

A simpler, more effective solution is to recalibrate our work-life balance—an approach that can serve us well in any work climate. Having a solid baseline of harmony and resilience helps us avoid and/or recover from burnout.

3 Steps to Recalibrate Work-Life Balance

  1. Create spaces in your schedule that are dedicated to both personal and professional endeavors to ensure you are incorporating a good mix of both. Include a variety of activities and tasks you enjoy.
  2. Take intentional relaxation breaks periodically throughout the day. When you make it a priority, it’s easy to manage just a few minutes to stand up and stretch, rest your eyes and focus on your breath, or take a quick walk around the block. These simple activities alleviate tension, refresh energy and focus, and boost your mood.
  3. Focus on “musts” first. These are your foundational, bare-necessity tasks and responsibilities both at home and work. Anchor these into your schedule, followed by your lower priority tasks and projects. Unexpected extras (such as taking over the school fundraiser or fulfilling favor requests from colleagues) need only be allowed to fill in the spaces surrounding these, not take up the majority of your precious time and energy.

Final Thoughts

I know it feels counterintuitive or cliché, but we need to take care of ourselves first. When we do this, we start building momentum toward feeling good. We have more energy and feel more vibrant and alive in our work—more connected in both our professional and personal relationships.

We can’t maintain good work if our work is all we do. When you begin to notice signs of burnout, remember that when we feel better, we can do better—and then balance accordingly.

Part of the reason behind the WHO’s limited definition is the fact that some of these symptoms also fit the diagnoses of anxiety and depression. If you continue to experience any of these symptoms despite lifestyle changes and tips mentioned here, please seek the support and guidance of a qualified medical professional.

Featured photo credit: Samuel Bourke via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Last Updated on October 20, 2021

7 Daily Stress-Management Rituals that Improve Your Productivity

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7 Daily Stress-Management Rituals that Improve Your Productivity

If you’re trying to be as productive as possible, stress will always be your biggest obstacle—and it’s not an easy one to overcome. To do it, you’ll need to develop a plan to make stress management a core component of your daily routine, but doing that takes commitment. The good news is that if you succeed in learning how to manage stress, you’ll unlock your potential and be well on your way to peak performance. But first, you need to learn how to make it happen.

The best way to do that is to learn about and integrate some stress management rituals into your daily routine. To help you get started, here are seven tips on how to manage stress and improve your productivity.

1. Give Yourself an Extra Hour in the Morning

If you were to do some research on some of the world’s most successful—and productive—people, you’d notice that many of them have one thing in common: they tend to be early risers. Apple’s Tim Cook gets out of bed before 4 AM each day.[1] Michelle Obama is already getting in her daily workout at 4:30 AM.[2] Richard Branson gets up at 5:45 AM each day, even when he’s vacationing on his private island.

There’s a good reason why they all do it—once you reach the point in your day that your work schedule kicks in, you no longer have control of your time. That means you have a limited opportunity every morning to reduce your stress by taking care of the things you need to do without anyone making other demands on your time.

What’s important about this isn’t the time you get up. The important part is getting up early enough to start your day without feeling rushed. For most people, getting up an hour earlier than you normally would is sufficient. This should give you ample time to complete your morning tasks without having to hurry or fall behind.

But when you implement this ritual, be careful. Don’t do it at the cost of getting the right amount of sleep each night. If you do, you might increase your stress instead of relieving it. Sticking to a proper sleep schedule and getting enough sleep is, in itself, a critical part of stress management.[3]

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2. Determine and Review Your Most Important Tasks Each Day

If there’s one productivity tip that almost all experts agree on, it’s that you should spend some time before bed each night to write down your three most important tasks for the following day. But if you want to maximize that practice and turn it into a stress-buster, you should turn that notion on its head.

Instead, you should do this as a part of your morning routine. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s that our always-on, always-connected business world means your priorities can change overnight, literally. You may list your top priorities, go to sleep, and wake up to find them woefully out of date. That means the best time to set your priorities for the day is in the morning. This will keep those priorities up to date and let you think about them before the distractions of the day begin. But don’t stop there. You should take some time before bed each night to review that day’s priorities.

Ideally, you’ll be able to check them off as accomplished. If not, though, think about what prevented you from getting to them. This is your chance to figure out some of the common daily interruptions that get in your way. Chances are, these also cause some of your stress. So, spend the time before bed game-planning how to remove those interruptions and stressors from your day. If you make this a habit, you’ll be more productive and far less stressed out in no time.

3. Save Your Emails for Later in the Morning

Another tip on how to manage stress is to save your emails for later. One of the key causes of stress comes from our inability to cope with the unexpected. If you stop to think about it, what is your most prominent source of near-constant unexpected information every day? You guessed it—it’s your email.

Now, you can’t simply ignore your email. The only thing you can do about your email is to learn how to manage it most effectively. But no matter what you do, it’s going to remain a source of daily stress and distraction. That’s why you should make a habit out of giving yourself an email-free hour or two at the beginning of each day’s schedule.

In that time, try to tackle one of your daily priorities and get it taken care of. Your email will still be there when you’re done. And when you do get to it, you’ll do so in a much better frame of mind knowing that you’ve already gotten some real work done before having to deal with anything unexpected. That alone will improve your mood and reduce the amount of stress you’ll feel—no matter what’s waiting for you in your inbox.

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4. Take a Walk After Email Time

Since you’ll have to deal with your email sooner or later, there’s no way to completely avoid the stress that will come with it. Although you’ll be in a better frame of mind after putting off your email to get some real work done, you’ll still feel some stress when you get to it. That’s why you should make a post-email walk a part of your daily routine.

Taking a walk is one of the best ways you can relieve stress. It’s a form of meditation that will put you back into the right condition to be productive, and there’s no better time to do it each day than after taking care of your emails.

Ideally, you’ll want to take a walk outdoors, and preferably in the most natural setting possible. If you’re in an urban environment, a nearby park will suffice. Studies have demonstrated that walking in such environments for as little as 20 minutes per day leads to an overall reduction in the body’s cortisol level.[4]

Cortisol, if you’re not aware, is your body’s main stress hormone. It helps regulate your blood pressure, energy levels, and even your sleep cycle. Every time your stress goes up, cortisol production also increases, throwing your body into chaos. So, taking a walk right after dealing with your email will help you to relax, reset, and get ready to be productive for the rest of the day.

5. Reserve Time to Research and Plan a Vacation

By now, everybody knows that taking vacations every now and then can improve your productivity and lower your stress level. But did you know that even thinking about a vacation can help you to reduce your stress? It may sound strange, but it’s true.

A Cornell University study in 2012 found that the anticipation of a positive experience—like a vacation—can reduce stress and make you measurably happier. It logically follows, then, that adding to that anticipation each day can maximize the stress-relieving effects of a vacation.[5]

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To do it, set aside at least a half-hour each day to research or plan an upcoming vacation. You can read about destinations. You can research airfares. You can even look at places to stay in locations you’re interested in visiting. And if you’ve already got a vacation booked, use the time to take a deep dive into what your destination has to offer.

This is an especially important daily ritual to observe right now, while the COVID-19 pandemic may be limiting your vacation options. If it’s been a while since you’ve been able to take a trip, the act of planning your next vacation will have a therapeutic effect. With vacation rental bookings still hovering below 50% in most major markets, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of people are in desperate need of their next stress-relieving vacation.[6]

6. Create a Shutdown Ritual to End Your Day

Another simple yet effective way to manage stress is to create a shutdown ritual. Just as it’s important to get your day off to a stress-free, unhurried start, you’ll want to do the same when the day is through. It’s because after spending each day in a reactive mode—dealing with the unexpected—you need to get back into a proactive mode to relax.

Studies have shown that having the perception of control over what you’re going through acts as a buffer against negative stress.[7] In other words, feeling like you can manage even a small chunk of your own time counteracts the stress from the parts of your day when you can’t.

This also means that your shutdown ritual can be whatever you want it to be. You might write in a journal, get in a quick light workout, or prepare your outfit for the following day. As long as you’re the one in complete control over what you’re doing, anything goes. Just make sure that you include the aforementioned review of your daily priorities somewhere in your routine!

7. Set a No-Screens Rule to End Your Day

Even though your shutdown routine is important, there’s one more ritual to include before bedtime that will help you manage stress. Spend the last 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to go to sleep observing a strict no-screens rule. Not only will this give you time to disconnect from the stresses of your day, but it will also allow your body to make a transition into a proper sleep mode.

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The screens we use—smartphones, tablets, laptops—all emit a wavelength of blue light that disrupts our sleep patterns. It’s the same type of light that our bodies recognize as daytime, so seeing it is like telling your brain that it’s the wrong time to be asleep.[8]

By eliminating all sources of this type of light before bedtime, you’ll increase your odds of getting restful, deep sleep. And since getting proper sleep is one of the best ways to manage your stress, this is the perfect way for you to end each day.

Final Thoughts

Although a totally stress-free lifestyle would lend itself to achieving maximum productivity, not many people will ever manage to live that way. So, the next best thing is to work some or all of these daily stress-busting rituals into your day to minimize the inevitable stress instead. Doing so will put you in the best possible position to succeed. And there’s no better antidote for stress than to make the most out of every day no matter what it has to throw at you.

More Tips on How to Manage Stress

Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

Reference

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