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Signs you could be suffering work burnout

Struggling to sleep or having difficulty getting up? Feeling like your work is pointless, a low mood, or lack of interest in what you do? It’s probably burnout.

There’s plenty of work-related stress in our lives, but this is a normal reaction to factors such as occasional stressful deadlines or an unusually heavy workload.  Burnout is a more serious type of chronic stress that leaves you physically and mentally exhausted, says Alex Kingsmill, Life and Career Coach at Upstairs Coaching. It can cause you to question the work you’re doing, and your ability to perform.  In difficult times where we’re dealing with a lot of changes or extra demands on us, there could be greater risk of work burnout – so it’s especially important to look out for.

Here’s how to recognise it, and what you can do to work through it.

Kingsmill says people experiencing burnout typically go through:

  1. Depletion: struggling to get to work, feeling drained, lacking energy and focus, not sleeping well and becoming sick.
  2. Detachment: not enjoying your work anymore, being critical and cranky with the people around you, feeling pessimistic and isolating yourself.
  3. Ineffectiveness: feeling apathetic, being less productive, becoming snowed under and missing a sense of satisfaction.

Career burnout usually creeps in quite insidiously; slowly but surely over time. Kingsmill says the very nature of career burnout can make it physically and mentally difficult to draw up the energy you need to address it.

“Over time, you may become increasingly tired and sick, depressed and anxious, and overwhelmed and unable to effect positive change,” she says.

Causes of burnout

Everybody’s experience is different, but there are common causes of burnout at work. Kingsmill says these may include:

  • Unreasonable or unpleasant management or co-workers.
  • Feeling under-resourced
  • Feeling inadequately qualified or skilled
  • Juggling work and home demands
  • Fear you’re not able to contribute appropriately

Getting past burnout

A few small steps can encourage positive changes and won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed, Kingsmill says. Here’s what she recommends when dealing with burnout:

  1. Identify the source of your burnout
    Work out where your stress is actually coming from, creating a list. Then identify one thing you can do this week to address the pressure against one or more of the things you’ve listed. “Speak to management about taking on additional staff, research available training options, explore the possibility of working from home one day a week, or collaborate with your manager to identify clear goals and actions for yourself,” she suggests.
  2. Seek help
    Keeping your experiences stuffed inside can make you feel worse and limit your opportunities for recovery. “Identify a trusted supervisor and speak to them about what you’re experiencing, make use of Employee Assistance Programs, choose a sympathetic friend and have a chat,” Kingsmill says. Sometimes simply talking about your feelings can offer some relief.
  3. Set boundaries 
    Burnout can be really overwhelming, so as you’re getting back on track, consciously set boundaries and commit to saying ‘no’ to any additional demands made of you. These tips on how to set boundaries and say no at work could be a good place to start.
  4. Find joy outside of work 
    It might be a good coffee in the sun, a podcast on a walk, fresh flowers on your windowsill, or even a regular catch up with a friend. “Consciously choosing positive emotion will enhance wellbeing and reinstate a critical sense of autonomy,” Kingsmill says.
  5. Switch off 
    Screens can drain huge amounts of time and energy. While you’re actively recovering from career burnout, limit your screen time and email responses after hours as much as possible.
  6. Take care of your health
    Sleeping, eating and exercising well is important for mental and physical wellbeing. Frustratingly, it can be harder to keep these healthy habits up in times of stress – but not tending to your health can compound the original stress and hold you back from recovering.

It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by burnout – especially in these Covid-19 times where we are all working from home more.  It can really take over. But tackling burnout can be a matter of breaking things down into manageable steps: first sorting out where it’s coming from, then working through small changes to get you back to a better place.

Remember, you don’t have to handle it alone – there’s support available. BeyondBlue has advice and resources on stress, burnout and mental health in general. Head to Health also offers a collection of resources and services.

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