If you are feeling tired or drained most of the time, even helpless, trapped or defeated at work, London-based Psychologist Richard Reid says you’re probably experiencing burnout.
Chronic work stress is real and the World Health Organisation warns that burnout is a psychological syndrome brought about by not being able to be “successfully managed.”
The age of the average burnout worker is now 32 and home working is making it a whole lot worse for all of us. But before you succumb to the abyss of the burnout era, there are proven ways you can try to put your burnout into reverse. Vogue Singapore speaks to global mental health experts to help you with your burnout recovery plan.
What is burnout?
“Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time,” Reid explains.
What contributes to burnout and what can we do about it?
According to a recent McKinsey survey across 15 countries, toxic workplace behaviour had the biggest impact on predicting burnout symptoms and intent to leave work, across all dimensions assessed.
Dr Craig Beach, US-based psychiatrist, workplace mental health expert and founder and CEO of Open Mind Health says: “Toxic workplace behaviour is interpersonal behaviour that leads employees to feel devalued, belittled, or unsafe, such as unfair or degrading treatment, non-inclusive behaviour, sabotaging, cutthroat competition, abusive management, and unethical behaviour from leaders or co-workers.”
In fact, a recent study says a toxic workplace culture emerged as the single largest predictor of the Great Resignation, ten times more powerful than compensation alone.
The Great Resignation continues; a whopping 44 per cent of workers look for new job opportunities, and with a record of 4.5 million job quits in March 2022 alone, it continues in full swing. Globally, the trend has trickled over to Singapore, Australia, the UK… and online. On TikTok, the hashtag #quittingmyjob has 145.1M views.
Other common causes of burnout include: “lack of adequate social support; taking on more than one can handle at work, or interpersonally with family and friends; and poor self-care,” Reid adds.
What are the common signs and symptoms of burnout people should be aware of?
- Feeling tired or drained
- Easily irritated or angered
- Changes to your diet or sleep patterns
- Reduced professional efficacy
- Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
- Feeling detached/alone in the world
- Having self-doubt
- Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Having a negative outlook on your job
- Feeling dissatisfied with your job
“Burnout is characterised by extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing. Burnout is correlated with increased rates of anxiety, depression, and broader mental health challenges. It is also associated with decreased job satisfaction, work engagement, and organisational advocacy,” says Dr Beach.
Experts say that the symptoms of burnout can often resemble the symptoms of more serious medical conditions such as depression. However, depression is a diagnosable mental health condition, whereas burnout is not.
14 expert-approved ways to put one’s burnout into reverse
Mental health expert Reid shares ways you can try to put your burnout into reverse.
1. Track your stress levels
If you are into gadgets, stress trackers are a great way to monitor your anxiety. Trackers also help you to understand more about your personal stress patterns and behaviours.
2. Identify your stressors
Knowing what your stress triggers are will allow you to avoid or reduce interactions with them. Try paying attention to incidents, people, or situations that consistently trigger stress. Aim to avoid them as much as possible.
3. Create a habit of journaling
Journaling has proven to be an excellent emotional decompressor. Creating the habit might take some time, but the results will naturally teach you how to recover from mental exhaustion.
4. Seek professional help from a therapist or coach
Seeking help from a therapist or coach dramatically reduces the levels of stress and anxiety and can facilitate healing from a mental fitness and emotional wellbeing perspective.
5. Build a support network
Being able to discuss your struggles with burnout in a safe environment will help to alleviate stress. It will also help reinforce solidarity with those around you. Do not be afraid to lean on others for support, whether those relationships are personal or professional.
6. Get enough exercise
Try implementing a regular exercise routine. Moving your body will release the tension while producing feel-good hormones like endorphins.
7. Speak up for yourself
Being honest about your situation with a boss or partner may result in a reduced workload and prevent you from working long hours. Do not be afraid to speak up for yourself to create change that could better suit your mental and emotional needs.
8. Learn stress management techniques
Everyone processes stress differently. Stress management techniques such as mindfulness, intuitive breathing, or cardio can only help if you give them a try.
9. Create a work-life balance
One of the many causes of burnout is an imbalanced relationship with work. Cultivating a work-life balance will help you lead a much more functional and stress-free life. Start with small daily actions to balance time spent at work and time spent on non-work activities. For example, use time-blocking apps to reduce your screen time and take up a new health and wellness trend.
If you are a working parent, take enough vacation days to spend quality time with your friends and family.
As well as prevent burnout, having a good work-life balance will improve your relationships with the loved ones, which is a key aspect of your health and wellbeing.
10. Do things that you enjoy
Committing to things that make you happy will calibrate stress levels and help you reconnect with yourself on an emotional level.
11. Create a healthy sleep schedule
Not getting enough sleep due to stress poses threats to physical strength, mental focus, and emotional stamina. Try to get at least seven to nine hours a night. You can achieve this with the right sleep hygiene or even with a sleep tracker.
12. Follow a healthy diet
Eating fresh, wholesome food can boost your immunity and make you less vulnerable to stress and fatigue. Try to embrace a nutritious diet for more energy.
13. Practice mindfulness and meditation
Life skills like mindfulness and meditation focus on the bigger picture. This encourages people to cultivate a more peace-oriented lifestyle.
14. Set boundaries
Many people struggle to say ‘no’ when being asked to take on extra work. Learning how to set boundaries at work and in relationships can help reduce the chances of burnout.
How the workplace can play a role in reversing one’s burnout
“Employers should view high rates of burnout as a powerful warning sign that the organisation—not the individuals in the workforce—needs to undergo meaningful systematic change,” says Dr Beach.
He adds: “Employees should critically assess the following workplace questions to optimise fit, critical supports, and reduce burnout:
- Does the organisation treat employees’ mental health and well-being as a priority?
- Does the company effectively address toxic workplace behaviours?
- Is the organisation an inclusive work environment?
- Does the organisation promote and enable individual growth?
- Does the company promote sustainable work?
- Are leaders held accountable?
- Does the organisation effectively tackle stigma?
- Do the company’s resources serve employee needs?”
Work is a two-way street. People who reported being happy at work tend to enjoy life more and have better health, stronger relationships, and a greater sense of purpose in general. Employees who are happy at work are five times more likely to stay at the company.