Burnout at work is a serious issue and can cause mild to severe symptoms such as depression and a compromised immune system. Some common signs of burnout include: feeling exhausted and fatigued, withdrawal from colleagues, constant negativity or frustration at work, feeling anxious or thinking about work at night or on the weekends, physical problems (such as frequent headaches or stomachaches) and lack of focus or motivation.
Burnout is different from having an occasional bad day or not wanting to go into work. Burnout involves experiencing chronic stress for an extended period of time resulting in significant loss in job satisfaction, productivity and overall energy. How do you know if you are experiencing burnout at work? The first step is to become aware and recognize the signs of burnout. Take this quiz to see if you might be experiencing burnout from work.
Mark TRUE if experienced consistently for more than 3 months
- I feel tired all the time as ifI have no energy physically or emotionally. T or F
- I don’t feel excited by or interested in most areas of my work. T or F
- I have to drag myself out of bed and into work. T or F
- I frequently complain at work and feel like what I do doesn’t matter or has no value. T or F
- I have trouble focusing or paying attention to details at work that previously were not a problem. T or F
- My productivity has decreased over time as compared to my work performance a year ago. T or F
- I am having difficultly in my relationships at home and/or at work. T or F
- I feel irritable most of the time and often take it out on my loved ones. T or F
- I feel withdrawn and not able to participate in social events like I used to. T or F
- I am not taking as good of care of myself as I have in the past (i.e. using unhealthy coping skills) T or F
- I think about work all the time, even at home or on the weekends. T or F
- I feel less happy and satisfied with my work and life. T or F
- I am experiencing frequent health problems such as headaches and/or colds. T or F
- Symptoms of anxiety and/or depression have significantly increased over time. T or F
If you answered true to 4 or less questions you might be in the beginning stages of burnout. Recognizing burnout in the early stages is extremely helpful, as you can identify key areas that are causing the stress and discuss with your supervisor to develop a plan before the symptoms worsen or invade more into your personal life.
If you answered true to 8 or less questions you are likely experiencing moderate burnout and need to develop a plan of action right away. At this stage, you are already experiencing symptoms of burnout at work and your personal life. Developing a care plan for both aspects of your life is recommended. Additionally, you might want to reach out to a colleague, supervisor or good friend for support.
If you answered true to 9 or more questions you have severe burnout. If this continues your risk for major health issues increase. At this stage the chances of losing your job or having troubles in your personal life such as financial, relational or social is very high. At this point seeking professional guidance from a trained mental health professional could be helpful.
Ok, I have burnout, what next?
The first step to dealing with burnout is to recognize the signs. Many people are not aware or brush off the early warning signs such as increased negative thoughts about work, complaining more with co-workers or feeling tired and drained during the day. Increasing your awareness and noticing subtle changes in mood, energy level and personality can prevent more severe symptoms of burnout from developing by taking action at the first sign. Check in with yourself and colleagues frequently or develop an awareness plan with your HR department to get staff talking about burnout.
The second step is to recover. Because burnout is caused by chronic stress, the body needs a break in the stress cycle. Taking a vacation or FMLA would be the best option. During that time you can focus on taking care of yourself. Key areas to focus on are getting adequate sleep, addressing physical health issues and relaxation. If you can’t take a vacation, maybe take a long weekend? And if that isn’t doable, try to take mini breaks during the day, and clear your schedule in your personal life for a few days in a row (ask for a sitter, say no to social obligations etc.).
The third step is to make a prevention plan, or as I call it when working with clients, a Mind-Body Wellness plan. Stress management is key in burnout prevention and is best viewed with a holistic lens, addressing the mind, body and spirit because they are connected.
Sample Mind-Body prevention plan:
- Mind – Take several small 5 minute breaks throughout the day and practice deep breathing and repetition of a positive word or phrase such as “I am doing good work” or “Peace”.
- Body – Refrain from eating processed foods, eat 2 more servings of fruit daily, take 10-30 minute walks two days a week (with a co-worker is even better) and get a relaxing massage once a month.
- Spirit – Spend time in nature/outdoors once per week for at least 60 minutes and add an inspirational photo or item to your workspace. Make a daily gratitude list every morning with at least 3 items that remind you of what is going well in your life.
Jennifer Owens, LCSW, CPT, LMT is co-founder, wellness director and therapist with Bridge Counseling and Wellness. Jennifer specializes in the holistic treatment of anxiety; OCD, PTSD, panic, phobias, relationship anxiety, worry and fear, general anxiety and stress management.