Why We Are So Stressed and What to Do About It
Burnout is something many of us experience at one time or another. Simply defined, burnout occurs when the emotional and physical demands of your job consistently outweigh your available energy. More scientifically, a team of psychologists published in the Annual Review of Psychology states, “Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.”
According to ABC News, Americans work more days, longer hours, and take less vacation than any other country in the industrialized world. No wonder burnout is considered a modern epidemic.
If your job leaves you feeling like this day after day, you might be on the road to burnout.
The Experience of Burnout
There are a lot of reasons why we may experience burnout. Maybe it’s a lack of work/life balance, negativity in the workplace, or a need for fulfillment in career choice. Whatever the reason, here is how burnout manifests itself in the aforementioned three dimensions.
We’re talking about emotional exhaustion, and it can affect your mood and interpersonal relationships. Concentration and sleep may become difficult, and you may find yourself getting sick more frequently.
Burnout via cynicism manifests itself in disengagement. You no longer feel a personal connection or sense of fulfillment from the work that you do. You’ve simply stopped caring.
You are no longer effective at your job. Your output and your self-confidence decrease. When you’ve reached a stress related tipping point, no matter how many extra hours you work, your performance will suffer.
Kicking Burnout to the Curb
The bad news is that burnout is something that cannot be ignored. It will continue to get worse if left untreated, and can start to impact you physically leading to a host of health complications, including hypertension, GI issues, substance abuse.
The good news is, there are things you can do to combat its effects. if you think you are on your way to professional burnout, consider the following advice to recalibrate your work/life balance.
Pursue Your Interests
One way to fight burnout is to ensure that your personal life is fulfilling. Long days at the office can often lead to long nights sitting on the couch, vegging and binge watching television (Stranger Things, anyone?). We all need to Netflix/Hulu/Prime and chill every now and then. But, while binge watching might keep you entertained, it doesn’t leave you fulfilled. Focusing on an approach goal, such as learning to pickle or taking swimming lessons, rather than an avoidance goal, like not checking email, will bring you more enjoyment. According to social psychologist, Heidi Grant Halverson, “What you do in your downtime matters.”
A little positive thinking can go a long way. What positive emotions do you feel at your job? Remember to focus on the parts of your work that bring you enjoyment and give you a sense of purpose. You can even say them aloud to yourself in the mirror or on the drive to work. This will go a long way to combat the vibes of any Negative Normans or Debbie Downers in the office.
Take a Vacation
If you’re fortunate enough to have vacation time, use it. Somewhere along the line, working excessively long hours and not taking vacation became the mark of a dedicated employee. Rather than recognizing employees for balancing their work with their personal life, we came to recognize the employees who seemed to live at the office.
Vacations are important (read this post if you think your boss will need more convincing), and taking time to take care of yourself makes you a better, more effective player in the workplace. If you are working for a company where cashing in on vacation time comes with a hefty side of guilt, that might be your cue to start looking elsewhere.
Don’t check emails after work. If that’s not possible, try selecting a time in the evening—like 7pm— when you stop checking work communications. You will learn to use that time to relax, and your friends and family will appreciate you being more present. Most messages sent overnight will be fine if you wait until the next morning to open them.
We all want to look like this at the end of the work day. With some attention to ourselves and our needs, it’s totally possible.
Finally, assess your happiness. Do you finding meaning and reward in your career? Does your work align with your personal values? Do you feel effective, and more importantly, valued at your job? If your burnout is being caused by your career choice itself, it may be time switch gears in order to cultivate that work/life balance you’ve always dreamed of.