5 Ways To Overcome Job Burnout

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If you’re feeling more than a little stressed out, demotivated, and emotionally depleted, and going to work has become a source of constant worry for you rather than joy (or, at least, your regular everyday moods), you could be experiencing job burnout. Burnout is so pervasive in our society that it is included in the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases, where it is defined as an “occupational phenomenon” that occurs when “chronic workplace stress has not been successfully managed.” 

Job burnout is typically defined through three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. It can be caused by a variety of emotional and interpersonal stressors that an individual experiences while on the job, when these pressures become chronic and cause a prolonged response. 

It can be experienced during particularly busy times ー whether that’s due to seasonal pressures from the industry in question, special events or project launches, or simply long periods of negative attitudes and behavior in the workplace, creating an overtly high-pressure and stressful environment. It can also occur when an individual feels a high level of anxiety, fear, or frustration in or around their work for an extended period of time, and it isn’t always necessarily caused by the environment in question ー burnout can also happen when the individual experiencing it has placed so much pressure upon themselves with their work-related goals, that they wind up with chronic stress

Job burnout can also be exacerbated during a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where the way many people work was redefined and resources were stretched thin. Simply put, it happens when the balance between work and life becomes increasingly blurred, and skewed towards all work and no play or rest. Burnout can have widespread consequences, ranging from decreased performance at work and absenteeism, to a decline in physical health and, in some cases, anxiety and depression

While some level of stress is bound to be an inherent part of work and life, you have the power to take charge and make some positive changes. Building healthy habits and learning coping strategies can help you prevent or recover from burnout, without having to quit your job.

1. Ask for Help

Reaching out for help is not a sign not of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of confidence. Don’t hesitate to share your concerns with your family and friends, or rely on them for support and an empathetic ear. Include some of your trusted work colleagues in the process too. Your willingness to share your thoughts about how you feel in the workplace can strengthen your relationships with co-workers by giving them an opportunity to contribute to your well-being. They will be able to offer a fresh perspective and solutions that you may not have considered in the past. You could also seek counsel from a mental health professional. Expressing your feelings to someone outside of your personal and professional life can help you recognize and make sense of them in a safe space. Mental health professionals can also guide you to better navigate the stresses of work without any judgement, and can empower you with some simple tools for responding to stress in a healthier way.  

2. Move Your Body

Have you ever gone for a walk, a workout, or some type of active pursuit, and felt in a lighter and better mood afterwards? That’s because when you exercise, you not only take your mind off work for a while, but your brain also releases a cocktail of endorphins ー hormones that trigger feelings of happiness and pleasure ー while decreasing stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. So whether you like to hit the gym, go for a cycle, head out to explore a hiking trail, or take a dance class, make sure to include regular exercise in your weekly routine to decrease stress and improve overall quality of life. In addition to specifically-intended exercise such as workouts, don’t forget to just move more! Take regular breaks throughout the day, stand up and move through a few stretches at your desk at regular intervals, take the stairs when you have the opportunity, or go for a walk at lunchtime. 

3. Explore Stress-Busting Activities

Did you know that reclining on your back immediately helps you take a load off? As soon as you lie down, you begin the process of relaxation. Breathing slows down, the heart rate decreases, and blood pressure lowers. These are just some of the benefits of practices like Yoga and Tai Chi. Exploring classes on these types of activities will help you find the one that is right for you, and teach you simple, efficient techniques to decrease stress, improve awareness, and promote downregulation. For example, manipulating your breathing to exhale longer than you inhale is one easy way to access a more relaxed state. Meditation is another practice that can relieve stress, increase self-awareness, reduce negative feelings, and improve general well-being. Its benefits have long been established, and only a few moments of breathing with awareness when you feel overwhelmed during the day is enough to make a positive impact. Establishing a mindfulness practice that can be done anywhere ー including the comfort of your own home, or even from your desk or a quiet corner at work itself ー can also help, with plenty of methods to cater to beginners and advanced practitioners alike. 

4. Reset Your Boundaries

If you are overtasked and this is creating feelings of negativity, resentment, and anger, it might be time to have a conversation with your boss to establish clearer boundaries. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself and ask what the requirements of your job are ー and make sure they reflect your job description. By the same token, if you are the first one to arrive at work and the last one to leave, consider reframing your work hours for a better work-life balance. For example, avoid scheduling meetings after 5pm, set an alarm to remind you that it is time to leave, or commit to a regular activity that forces you to leave work on time. Once you get home, leave work at work. This means waiting until after the weekend to respond to emails, and not answering work related phone calls or messages after-hours (or while you’re on vacation!). Switch your phone off if you think you will be tempted to check. 

5. Reward Yourself

We all have short- and long-term objectives at work that need to be achieved. But it isn’t always easy to find a reason to get up in the morning on a day-to-day basis, especially if sometimes, work is the last place you want to be. Instead of focusing on the daily grind of reaching those objectives, set a to-do list that includes layers of tasks you know you can tackle, and treat yourself to something that makes you happy once you’ve completed them. Rewards can include anything from buying yourself flowers or a book you’ve been eyeing, going to the cinema or the theatre, and taking a longer walk at lunchtime, to soaking in a hot, fragrant bath once you’re home. Rewards don’t have to be financially-straining or time-consuming ー they can simply serve as a regular reminder that there is more to life than work.

Finding the ever-elusive ideal of a work-life balance isn’t always easy, and with burnout being something that can compound easily, it can be challenging to keep work stress from taking over your life. It can be even more difficult to handle when you feel that the only option is to leave the job in question ー especially when that may not always be a viable solution, or at least not right away. However, there are ways to reclaim some of your sense of inner peace, heal your nervous system, and re-establish your control over your working life (or how you are responding to it). By trying some techniques to beat burnout, you may be able to rediscover the joy, motivation, and productivity in your occupation, while still enjoying a healthy balance between life and work.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Understanding The Burnout Experience: Recent Research And Its Implications For Psychiatry; Chronic Job Burnout And Daily Functioning: A Theoretical Analysis; Job Burnout; How To Prevent And Combat Employee Burnout And Create Healthier Workplaces During Crises And Beyond; Job Burnout: New Directions in Research and Intervention

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