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Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Everyone wants to excel in their chosen fields of jobs. However, due to some factors such as stress and miscommunication, the aim of becoming productive is hindered.

Some employees experience burnout, which affects the quality of the performance to their jobs. That is why it is essential to recognize the warning signs of office burnout and learn how to deal with it.

What Is Burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a ‘state of vital exhaustion’ or a ‘syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that is not yet successfully managed’.

The WHO also points out that burnout is specifically work-related. Burnout is characterized by the following:

  • Decreased effectiveness and performance at work
  • Negativity at work
  • Exhaustion, or sense of depletion

According to some other experts, burnout occurs when the demands required on you exceed the resources available.

Common Signs of Workplace Burnout

Various experts and studies come up with multiple symptoms of office burnout. The following are the most common signs of burnout every member of the organization must be aware of:

#1 Exhaustion. One of the main signs is exhaustion. When an employee feels tired all the time in the workplace, it’s a clear sign of burnout. Fatigue can be seen through mental, physical, and emotional aspects. Often, employees experiencing burnout feel the sense of having a lack of energy and always lethargic.

#2 Dropping Job Performance. Another sign is the dropping job performance from the previous ones. When an employee experiences burnout, the energy to do a task is lowered. It affects the overall performance in the office.

#3 Lack of Motivation. When an employee lacks the motivation to perform well, the quality of the work will be put at risk. When an employee often complains rather than find solutions to a problem, then something can be missing. Every member of the workplace must always have the boost of motivation to keep going with their jobs.

#4 Frustration and Negative Emotions. There may be times when employees feel that the work they are doing does not matter anymore. They become more pessimistic rather than thinking positively. Burnout can be present when employees often get frustrated towards their work results.

#5 Chronic Stress. Stress is another manifestation of burnout in the workplace. Lack of concentration, confusion, and low comprehension ma be noticeable, too. Our brain and body are designed to be able to handle some problems. However, when stress becomes chronic, there can be difficulty in paying attention and giving a proper solution to the issues.

#6 Being Preoccupied even when not in work. When employees continue to spend mental energy over a job even after office hours, the level of stress may increase. There should be proper time management to be able to fulfill all office tasks and then have time for relaxation.

#7 Conflicting Problems at Work and Home. When employees are starting to have unhealthy arguments with their co-workers, there can be signs of burnout in the office. People may feel irritable and impatient due to conflicting issues at home and in the workplace.

#8 Health Issues. Burnout can be noticeable as well to people who are experiencing chronic stress. This leads to health issues such as weight problems, heart diseases, depression, stroke, and digestive problems.

#9 Unhealthy Lifestyle. When people are experiencing burnout, they tend to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle. They can do activities such as smoking, drinking too much, unhealthy eating, being too sedentary, and failure to get enough sleep.

#10 Decreased Satisfaction in Life. Burnout can be noticed in people who are less happy in life and career. When they feel that they’re no longer a value to the society, they often question their abilities and achievements. When satisfaction is not achieved, there comes anxiety and doubts.

How To Deal With Office Burnout?

Once the signs of office burnout are recognized, then the following are some tips that may help to handle it.

#1 Learn to relax. Relaxation can be one of the most effective ways to handle burnout. You can do meditation, read a book, talk to friends, listen to music, and take a walk. Take time to relax and give yourself time for good and productive break time.

#2 Get Enough Sleep. Studies revealed that getting enough sleep is an effective way to eliminate burnout. Lack of sleep can lead to poor concentration, fatigue, and burnout. It can also decrease job performance. When that happens, you may become susceptible to creating more and have risks of adverse health effects.

#3 Cultivate Things You’re Passionate At. Find an activity that is outside your work and will bring out fun and joy. You can do hobbies and sports which are engaging, challenging or something that can unleash more of your potentials. Too much work can cause burnout, so to unwind and to give time for yourself will be significant decisions.

#4 Be more organized. People who are burnt out, often worry and forget some tasks to get completed. That’s why it’s crucial to get more organized to be able to do tasks accurately and efficiently. Create a to-do list, avoid procrastination, set reminders, and do prioritizing.

#5 Travel. Try to unplug from social networking sites and other technology applications. They can add to your stress. Instead, go for a vacation, travel with your family members, and engage with social activities.

#6 Live a balanced lifestyle. It’s crucial to create a balanced lifestyle to avoid too much stress. Stress can be the cause of health conditions such as headaches, stiff neck, stomach upset, and other burnout effects. In case they are struggling with some severe health conditions due to stress, professional help must be sought.

#7 Create open communication in the workplace. Consider open communication with employers in case there are issues related to burnout. Be more positive in the workplace to motivate other employees as well. When there is miscommunication, other problems may arise. Employers must implement rules and regulations to promote better communication in the office. On the other hand, employees and other members of the organization must be open to being aware of and understand those rules and regulations.

There are warning signs of burnout in the workplace. It will be helpful if both employers and employees must be able to understand and apply the tips on how to handle it. Once burnout is dealt with and solved, productivity and success in the workplace will be promoted.

Lucinda Pullinger, Global Head of HR at Instant Offices, gives her top tips for recognising and combatting symptoms of burnout

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Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Burnout is becoming an increasing problem in the workplace, costing 15.4 million working days a year, and it has even been recognised as a medical condition.

Research by HSE said that 23% of full-time employees felt burned out at work all the time – while collectively, this group of burned out staff are 63% more likely to be off sick.

Accounting is a particularly stressful industry and it’s important to identify the early signs of burnout to avoid hitting rock bottom. “Stress and exhaustion at work impacts employees of all ages around the world, and at every level of the career ladder,” said Lucinda Pullinger, Global Head of HR at Instant Offices.

“While January is one of the toughest times of the year for career blues in the UK, it is especially important to look out for signs of burnout later in the year as well. Similar to imposter syndrome, high achievers and perfectionists are particularly susceptible to burning themselves out,” she added.

Factors which lead to burnout

Pullinger said that there were six key factors which led to burnout at work:

  1. High Workload: In the UK, 44% of stress or depression at work is caused by a high workload.
  2. Unclear Job Expectations: In America, only 60% of employees say they know what is expected.
  3. Conflict: One of the main work-related factors causing burnout.
  4. Lack of Managerial Support: Those with a strong support system are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
  5. No Work/Life Balance: The inability to manage work and personal life can have a snowball effect.
  6. Stressful Working Environment: There is a correlation between stressful jobs and burnout.

Career burnout symptoms

Pullinger added that it was important to look out for burnout symptoms to prevent them spiralling out of control. The most important symptoms were disengagement, when you start to ignore or avoid work or personal problems, a feeling of helplessness, and having blunted emotions, where you lose the energy to react emotionally to situations.

“If your work and family life are consistently stressful, you’re almost certainly at risk of burnout. Most people only realise that they are truly burnt out when it’s too late and then they need to work towards eliminating the symptoms, often while still having to deal with the stresses that caused it in the first place,” she said.

How to deal with burnout

While it can be worrying if you start to exhibit any of these symptoms, it is important to act now to prevent them from getting worse. Pullinger gave a list of techniques which can help deal with the feeling of burnout.

  1. Acknowledge your problems: It’s easy to ignore or downplay other issues in your life that may be contributing to your burnout. Make a list of all things you worry about daily, including the things you feel that you have no power to change. By ordering these by a level of importance, you’ll know which issues you need to address first.
  1. Seek support: Whether it’s from a co-worker or manager, talking about the problem and seeking advice is a critical step into addressing the causes of your burnout.
  1. Book time off: In some cases, merely having some time away from work helps re-evaluate your priorities and enables you to get to the root of your stresses.
  1. Slow it down: It’s vitally important to learn to create a mental divide between work and your life outside it, as it’s extremely unhealthy and unproductive to be thinking about work during ‘off time’.
  2. Ask for more flexibility: With a huge shift towards businesses becoming more agile, the growth of remote working, and an increasing amount of co-working and flexible workspace options around the world, more companies are starting to introduce flexible working hours to reduce commuting time and increase happiness.

Overall, Pullinger said it was important to “take a few minutes each day to acknowledge your anxieties for what they are; irrational and exaggerated, and prioritise things like spending time with friends and family and outdoor activities.”

“It’s important to be honest with yourself during the onset of burnout. Remember, these are simply tips to help you improve your situation in the short term. Burnout has genuine health implications, and we strongly recommend that you seek professional help in overcoming it,” she added.

Learn the specific signs and symptoms of overwhelm.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Burnout?
  • Find a therapist near me

As officials are learning more about what happened to the Germanwings flight that crashed on Tuesday, reports are now surfacing that the pilot allegedly failed to disclose a mental illness. Specifically, Time reports that he may have had burnout and/or depression for a period of time leading up to the crash.

Burnout and depression often get confused with each other because their symptoms can be similar. While many studies have found that burnout and depression are distinct and separate illnesses, studies also show that they are related in some way, but researchers aren’t yet sure how much they overlap (Aydemir & Icelli, 2013). Burnout tends to be a function of chronic work stress and disengagement, while depression can be linked to work or non-work.

Professionals who are burned out report problems with being attentive , and your level of burnout is significantly related to the number of cognitive failures (e.g., saying things you might regret; forgetting names; or missing important cues in your environment, like a stop sign while driving) you may have in a day.

More troubling is the research showing that men tend to under-report or fail to report their burnout. On average, women are 1.6 times more likely to report burnout than men, and men were less willing to admit they were fatigued than women (Aydemir & Icelli). I see this same trend in my own burnout prevention coaching practice, and when I teach my burnout prevention workshops, I always ask the guys why this is. The answers range from pride to “saying something is a sign of weakness” to “I have so much responsibility to support my family and I can’t let them down.” This has to change.

The ripple effects of burnout can be profound, so it’s important for you to recognize the warning signs in yourself and others. Here are nine warning signs of burnout:

Every curveball is a major crisis. When I practiced law, my job was to help my clients solve their problems. I knew something was wrong when even small issues produced a strong emotional reaction for me. I was depleted from my own burnout and didn’t have the mental or physical resources to distinguish between a small problem and a big crisis.

Chronic low energy and exhaustion. Exhaustion is one of the three big dimensions of burnout (Leiter & Maslach, 2005). The exhaustion associated with burnout is on a different level than just feeling tired here and there. It’s a chronic state of feeling overwhelmed and maxed out.

Getting sick more frequently. The stress and adrenaline may keep you going for a while, but once that high wears off, your body crashes. The result is that your immune system breaks down and that makes you more susceptible to getting sick. “Sick” could be anything from colds and flu to severe headaches, stomachaches, and heart palpitations.

Not recharging or relaxing. Recovery is an important component of the burnout prevention process, yet taking a break has been stigmatized in our work culture. Studies place importance on two types of recovery: (1) how you recharge each day while you’re at work; and (2) what you do to recharge after work each night, on the weekends, and on vacation.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Burnout?
  • Find a therapist near me

Having a sense of inefficacy. Inefficacy is feeling like you can’t produce results in your life. When you lose efficacy, your confidence plummets, you feel less effective at work and your self-worth may even be impacted.

Feeling disengaged and being consistently checked out. Burnout is a process of unplugging from those things that give you energy and enthusiasm at work. The opposite state is work engagement, which is a potent blend of energy and commitment.

Cynicism is the norm. Your enthusiasm for your work has faded and now everything and everyone rubs you the wrong way. If you used to put in extra time and effort on projects, now you do just the bare minimum.

Can’t let go of perfection. Research shows that perfectionistic tendencies are associated with a higher risk of burnout because perfectionist behavior patterns drain your energy (Aydemir & Icelli). While some professionals don’t have a lot of room for error (think surgeons, air traffic controllers, and lawyers), the key is to ask yourself whether perfection is necessary for this specific project. More often than not, the answer is no.

Burnout Essential Reads

7 Ways to Recover from Burnout

3 Critical Signs of Burnout

Too many Job Demands and not enough Job Resources. “Job Demands” are any aspect of your job that requires sustained effort or energy. Job Demands in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, but because they deplete your energy, you have to mitigate their impact with Job Resources. “Job Resources” are those aspects of your job that are motivating and help you achieve your goals (Bakker, Demerouti, & Sanz-Vergel, 2014).

Burnout has been described as the biggest occupational hazard of the twenty-first century. Educating busy professionals and workplaces about its warning signs is a big first step in reducing its impact.

Aydemir, O., & Icelli, I. (2013). Burnout: risk factors. In Burnout for Experts, 119-143 (Sabine Bahrer-Kohler, Ed.) London, England: Springer.

Out of love, out of obligation, maybe out of a sense of just doing what’s right, you might be one of more than 40 million adults in North America taking care of an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one, according to Pew Research Center.

In fact, 70 percent of family caretakers take care of one person over 65, while 22 percent help two people and 7 percent care for three or more people. Thirty-two percent (32 percent) of caregivers describe the experience as stressful.

You’re on the road to caregiver burnout. It’s not taken lightly by psychologists—who define it as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress”—and should not be taken lightly by you. By the time most caregivers suspect burnout, they’re already suffering myriad symptoms.

In addition to coping with a loved one’s illness, they might also deal with financial pressures, changes in family dynamics and a general disruption in family life. It’s a recipe for caregiver burnout that would negatively affect anyone’s ability to provide good care and potentially place the caregiver’s health at risk.

If you know what caregiver burnout is, you can protect yourself from burning the candle at both ends.

14 Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  • Lack of energy
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
  • Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
  • Feeling like caregiving is controlling your life
  • Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Difficulty coping with everyday things
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
  • Lowered resistance to illness

Caregiver Burnout Prevention

Now that you know what to look for, here are some tips to help you pre-empt caregiver burnout.

  • Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It simply means you can’t do it alone (no one can do it alone).
  • Give yourself permission to take breaks. Get out of the house. Visit with friends. Pamper yourself with a massage. Take a long bath.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t skip your own doctor’s appointments because you’re too busy. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier and use the time just for you. Sit with your coffee or tea and enjoy it. Journal about your struggles and feelings. Meditate, pray, stretch. . . . Do whatever you want to do.
  • Make a list of your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of them. Perhaps your spouse can make dinner twice or a week. Maybe a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help—take them up on it!
  • Check into family-leave benefits from your place of work. Take a huge weight off your shoulders by giving you more hours in your day.
  • If your loved one is receiving hospice care, ask your hospice provider about local support groups. Communicating with others who are in your situation helps immensely, as does opening up and sharing your frustrations—and your joys!
  • If an opportunity comes along for a brief getaway for you, consider hospice respite care for your loved one. Your hospice program should offer short-term inpatient admission for your loved one (meaning more than 24 hours and up to five days and nights maximum) to relieve family members or other persons who are caregivers.

There is support, there are shortcuts, and there are strategies for reorganizing your priorities to make you a happier person and a better caregiver.

Everyone experiences stress. But when does it cross over into burnout territory?

Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Exhaustion and a sense of detachment are some of the signs of burnout. Getty

If you’re feeling the weight of work stress harder than usual — you’re exhausted, detached and unproductive — the culprit may be burnout.

Technically, burnout isn’t a recognized medical condition, but since the term was first coined in 1970s, it’s gained traction within the medical community. The International Classification of Diseases recently recognized it as an “occupational phenomenon” linked to chronic stress, but psychologists have also suggested people can experience burnout as caregivers and parents or even in romantic relationships.

The history

“Burnout” was coined by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, a pscyhologist observing volunteers at a clinic for addicts and homeless people in New York City in 1974. Though many of the volunteers had seemed to find their jobs rewarding at first, the heavy burden of their work seemed to transalte into the volunteers increasingly appearing cynical, emotionally drained, depressed and less productive.

A guide from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care in Germany traces the evolution of the term: Freudenberger originally used it to describe the fallout from high levels of stress in “helping professions” such as doctors and nurses and “the dark side of self-sacrifice.” However, “it can affect anyone, from stressed-out career-driven people and celebrities to overworked employees and homemakers.”

The key components

Stress is a part of life. But when does it cross over into burnout territory? Experts don’t always agree on the exact parameters, but generally, there are three main dimensions of burnout:

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Exhaustion. Siobhán Murray, a psychotherapist in Ireland and author of a book about burnout, told the BBC it’s not just about feeling tired. “So that even if you do sleep well, by 10 in the morning you’re already counting down the hours to bed. Or not having the energy to exercise or go for a walk.”

The IQWiG says exhaustion can manifest in physical symptoms such as pain and stomach and bowel problems. A manual for the Masclach Burnout Inventory, a questionnaire often used to measure burnout, also points to an increase in drinking and insomnia. There’s also an emotional exhaustion component to exhaustion, according to pscyhologist Rajvinder Samra, where you feel “drained, frustrated and fatigued.”

Detachment or depersonalization. The ICD defines this as “increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.” The alienation may mean feeling like work is “increasingly stressful and frustrating.” The Masclach Burnout Inventory manual suggests one sign may be frequently complaining about clients. Outside of work, it may translate to avoiding family celebrations or socializing.

Reduced performance. This is a drop in productivity. According to the IQWiG, it “mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.” Samra sees it as a loss of satisfcation in your work, while the ICD characterizes it as “reduced professional efficacy.”

Risk factors

The Mayo Clinic points to a series of possible causes for job burnout, including workplace dysfunction, extremes in activity (either a super chaotic or very monotonous job that requires intense focus), unclear expectations, and work-life imbalance. Working in healthcare, or another “helping” job, also makes you more likely to experience burnout.

Other researchers have outlined six main risk factors such as an “overwhelming workload, limited control, unrewarding work, unfair work, work that conflicts with values and a lack of community in the workplace.”

Getting help

The Mayo Clinic offers some tips including trying to get more sleep and exercise, and seeking support from those around you. Samra writes that the relaxation is helpful but the core to recovering is psychological detachment: try to do things that are not related to your work, such as a hobby, or socializing with friends — just don’t spend the entire time talking about work when you’re with them.

Jacky Francis Walker, a psychotherapist, told the BBC that she also often tells her clients to focus on finding something meaningful outside of their jobs. However, sometimes her clients decide to change jobs or even switch their work fields entirely.

Recovering from burnout is easier said than done given the current precarious state of work. In a piece on Millennial burnout, Samra points to large systemic trends, with work “becoming rapidly and overwhelmingly more difficult and complex.

“The solution is to simplify complex, contradictory and hostile work and personal environments, rather than giving us all another job of training ourselves to be more resilient to these environments.”

Monika Warzecha is the homepage editor of Healthing.ca

Don’t miss the latest on COVID-19, reopening and life. Subscribe to Healthing’s daily newsletter COVID Life.

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

People who are struggling to cope with workplace stress may place themselves at high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave people feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with the demands of life.

Burnout may be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms as well. If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for an individual to function well in their daily life.

Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

What Is Burnout?

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.

More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.  

The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stress from your overall lifestyle can add to this stress. Personality traits and thought patterns, such as perfectionism and pessimism, can contribute as well.  

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. And if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don’t gain any satisfaction out of what you’re doing, it can take a serious toll on your life.  

Signs and Symptoms

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:  

  • Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
  • Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

It shares some similar symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression. Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work. Depression symptoms may also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms as well as thoughts of suicide.  

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Individuals experiencing burnout also may be at a higher risk of developing depression.  

Risk Factors

A high-stress job doesn’t always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not be any ill-effects.

But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.

The 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44 percent of physicians experience burnout.

Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.

Of course, it’s not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry at every level are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:  

  1. Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
  2. Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
  3. Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  4. Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
  5. Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.

Prevention and Treatment

Although the term “burnout” suggests it may be a permanent condition, it’s reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.  

Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.

In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.

It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.

A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won’t be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout and you’re having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.

Talking to a mental health professional may help you discover the strategies you need to feel your best.

Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Contributed by: Rachana Arya

The abrupt transition from working in an office to working from home has contributed to the pandemic’s emotional toll. Burnout has greatly increased as a result of the stress of balancing work obligations with family life. More and more employees are experiencing burnout symptoms as a result of working from home, and this is affecting both company success and employee wellbeing.

The good news is that there are several options available to deal with it.

Here are 5 common warning signs of burnout and preventative measures to stop burnout in its tracks.

Red Flag #1: Avoiding Work

Despite your anxiety to reach the deadline, you may find yourself in a pattern of procrastination, having trouble beginning a job. As a consequence, you risk missing deadlines for project deliverables. This is one of the most common symptoms of work from home burnout.

Burnout Buster:

  • The simplest way to address it is to begin focusing on simpler tasks. This will give you the courage to take on more challenging tasks.

Red Flag #2: Feeling Exhausted All The Time

One of the most common burnout symptoms is physical, mental, and emotional fatigue. There’s no denying that work can be exhausting, so if you’re constantly tired, it’s possible that you’re suffering from WFH burnout. It’s also possible that you’ll have recurring feelings of exhaustion or low energy levels.

Burnout Buster:

  • Taking brief breaks during the workday is one way to combat this form of fatigue.
  • Schedule more difficult tasks for earlier in the day, when your energy levels are higher, and simpler tasks for later in the day, when your energy levels are lower.

Red Flag #3: Never Clocking Out

When you work from home, the line between personal and professional spaces blurs. This translates to means more hours logged at work. This change in setting and rise in work hours is causing some serious social and personal issues.

Burnout Buster:

  • Dressing up for work each morning is an easy way to strengthen the boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
  • You should also set specific work hours and refrain from checking work emails during your free time.
  • Activate an out-of-office response outside of certain time blocks.

Red Flag #4: Headaches And Gastrointestinal Problems

The high stress levels associated with burnout have an effect on your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health. Occupational stress often raises the risk and incidence of gastrointestinal issues. Also, the fight-or-flight response is triggered by stress. This tenses the muscles in preparation for action because if you’re stressed all the time, these muscles will stay contracted. Tension headache occurs when the muscles in your neck and scalp stay contracted for an extended period of time.

Burnout Buster:

  • Take brief breaks in between activities to perform mindful breathing exercises, which can help to reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Maintain a healthy level of physical activity because exercise activates endorphins, or “good hormones,” which alleviate stress and improve mood.

Red Flag #5: Decline in Performance

You can’t focus on work deadlines and that gets you anxious and you feel like you’re working around the clock. You are unable to sleep at night because you are unable to turn off the overactive brain. It’s a vicious cycle: the less you sleep, the more your attention is scattered, and the more you worry. Burnout fatigue will significantly reduce your work performance and productivity, as our brains are constantly in a state of stress, which switches them into “survival mode,” causing us to slip in our responsibility.

Burnout Buster:

  • Make sleep a priority and give your body and mind the time needed to relax and heal from the pressures of the day.
  • Schedule screen-free downtime to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones on a regular basis.

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Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Whether working from home or not, many people are feeling burned out during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new survey found that nearly 90% of respondents in more than 40 countries felt that their work lives were getting worse during the pandemic. And more than 60% felt that they were experiencing burnout often or very often.

Workplace burnout was a growing problem in many professions even before the pandemic. For example, burnout has been common among physicians and health care workers for years.

In 2019, the World Health Organization brought some attention to the issue by defining burnout as a syndrome associated with chronic stress at work that goes unmanaged.

It’s important to address burnout because it has serious consequences for individuals’ mental health — it’s a risk factor for depression, substance abuse and even suicide. Burnout can also be contagious and often affects entire workplaces.

We asked some of the top experts on the topic for tips to recognize and address burnout in oneself and in the workplace. Here’s what they told us.

Burnout is more than you think. Psychologist Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley has been studying job-related burnout since the 1970s. She says burnout is more than the exhaustion that people think defines the experience. In fact, burnout has three components. One is the exhaustion — physical and emotional — you feel when you’ve been too stressed at work for too long. But burnout also comes with a feeling of cynicism about work. “You know, it’s . ‘take this job and shove it’ sort of thing,” says Maslach. “And you begin to switch from trying to do your very best all the time to do the bare minimum.”

The third component, she says, is when you start to blame yourself for it. “Thinking, ‘What has gone wrong with me?’ ‘Why am I not good at this?’ ‘Why can’t I handle it?’ “

Spot the signs of burnout and regain some control. One way to catch the early signs is to make a daily practice of asking yourself multiple times during your workday how you are feeling, says Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at the Washington University in St. Louis.

“It can even be helpful to sort of note your mood throughout the day,” says Gold. “Like, ‘Every time I have a meeting with so-and-so, I feel horrible, and then every time I’m with this person or doing this thing, that’s where I find most meaning.’ “

Lack of control is one factor in causing burnout, so knowing those things can help you find ways to reduce the more stressful parts of your job or find ways to buffer the stressful bits with things you enjoy.

For people working from home during the pandemic, Gold suggests creating a workday routine like you had when you worked from an office. “Get up at the same time, get dressed,” she says. “Sometimes even pretend-commute. So get up, go for a walk, like you would go for a commute.”

This helps put boundaries between work and life and helps you have some control over your day.

Know when you’re working too much. A heavy workload is another big risk factor for burnout, says Maslach. “You have way too much to do. You don’t have enough resources to actually do the job well. You don’t have enough time.” As a result, your brain and body are perpetually stressed and after a while are unable to perform as well.

So it’s important to take breaks, says Dr. Gaurava Agarwal, a psychiatrist and well-being coach with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the director of physician well-being.

We need to make sure “we are resting and calming our brain down because brains aren’t designed to work this hard, this long, chronically,” he says. “And so taking that five minutes in an hour or one day a week to your ability to recuperate is going to be a big part of dealing with that exhaustion.”

Employers and managers need to address burnout. Workplace culture has a huge impact on burnout, says Maslach. The absence of reward or recognition in the workplace, lack of social support or a sense of community, and the presence of unfairness, bullying and discrimination increase risk of burnout. That’s why Maslach and other researchers say that burnout is a systemic issue and that organizations need to take a systemwide approach to addressing it.

For example, a 2019 National Academy of Medicine report on burnout in the health care industry recommended that organizations address the root causes of burnout, say by making workloads more manageable, by providing incentives for more collaboration and teamwork, and by creating an organization-wide culture where employees feel safe.

Agarwal also encourages leaders in workplaces to talk openly and compassionately about burnout, especially now, during the pandemic. “By being transparent, by being compassionate, by showing grief, leadership, what you’re doing is you’re building the sense that we are in this together and we are going to get through this together,” he says. “And we have frankly gotten through difficult times before. So what happens is people start leveraging those experiences. And in some ways, that’s the heart of resilience.”

The podcast portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle.

Recognizing and Preventing Caregiver Overload

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Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

If you’re the primary caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, you may have experienced the honor and privilege of providing care for your loved one. It’s also possible, however, that the challenges of that role are overwhelming at times.

Because Alzheimer’s progress involves mental, emotional, and physical changes, being a caregiver can be difficult. In fact, the very nature of caring for someone on a full-time basis can lead to frustration. Although a caregiver may love the individual dearly, sometimes it’s just too much for one person to handle. Frustration and even abuse by Alzheimer’s caregivers can and does occur, often when someone is trying so hard to do it all and doesn’t know what else to do.

Warning signs of burnout and how to deal with it

Self-Evaluation

Take the time to stop, even for a few minutes, and evaluate how you’re doing. Are you coping pretty well and balancing the different needs in your life? Or are you running on empty, ready to bottom out?

Does This Sound Familiar?

Have you ever felt that if he argues with you or repeats the same question one more time, you’re going to lose it? Or that you’ve had it up to here dealing with her, and you’re at the breaking point? And how do you admit these seemingly awful feelings to anyone, when the person you’re ready to lose it over is your spouse, parent, or dear friend?

How Many of These Signs of Burnout Do You Have?

  1. You feel increased irritation, frustration, or anger over small things.
  2. Your gentle, unhurried approach to providing care is disappearing or gone.
  3. You raise your voice at your loved one more often lately. Later, you feel upset and guilty.
  4. You often skip aspects of your loved one’s care that are important to his or her well-being because they’re just too difficult.
  5. Your own mental health is declining; perhaps you’re struggling with increased anxiety, depression, or insomnia.
  6. Your own physical health is declining. For example, you’ve had to increase your high blood pressure medication or you’ve injured yourself when trying to transfer your loved one into a wheelchair.
  7. Your own family is experiencing dysfunction, and your care for your loved one is harming your family.

Self-Evaluation Results

If you rarely experience these signs, you’re probably doing a good job of balancing your own needs and those of your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Be on the lookout for overload signs as you continue to provide excellent care.

If these signs are more often the rule instead of the exception, it’s time to take action. Fundamentally, your own well-being has to be a priority in order to succeed at taking care of someone else. This doesn’t mean that your needs always take precedence over those of your loved one; however, it does mean that you need to do some things differently or you will not be able to continue long in the role of primary caregiver.

What to Do If You’re Empty

  • Ask for help. Perhaps there is another family member you can ask to be more involved, or maybe you can get a few volunteers from a church or another social group to take short shifts with your loved one.
  • Consider hiring in-home help, such as companions or home health care who will provide assistance in the home.
  • Reserve time for you. You may even need to schedule it in your calendar.
  • Prioritize. Give yourself permission to acknowledge the challenges of being a caregiver and decide what you’re going to let go in your “To Do” list.
  • Consider joining a dementia caregivers’ support group. Check with your local Alzheimer’s Association or even a local facility for times and locations near you. Sometimes it just helps to hear that you’re not alone.
  • Ensure that you’re still able to meet your loved one’s needs well at home. For example, if he has wandered away from home more than once or if he has pressure sores on his skin because it’s too difficult to physically move him or clean him well, these are clear signs that you need more support.
  • Still feeling empty or burned out as a caregiver? You may need to think about a brief period of respite care or even placing your loved one in an assisted living or nursing home. Although this may not be your first choice (perhaps it’s the option you want to avoid at all costs), others have found places that provide loving care.

A Word From Verywell

One way to think of your emotional and physical energy is to picture a gas tank. Your goal as a caregiver is to keep your eye on that gas tank gauge so you don’t end up empty. There is such a thing as giving too much. Refuel your emotional and physical energy tank regularly, so you’ll have something left to give. This will benefit both you and the person for whom you’re providing care.