Burnout is mental and physical exhaustion that can cause anxiety, depression, and isolation. The term ‘burnout’ has been referenced in historical literature for centuries but the prevalence of it in 21st-century life led the World Health Organization (WHO) to officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis, describing it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Burnout can be broken down into four key symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion, exhaustion, and fatigue
- Increased mental distance from your job
- Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job
- Reduced professional efficacy and productivity
It’s not just the WHO discussing the burnout epidemic in modern life, the American Psychological Association released several alarming statistics following a 2021 study. The organization’s ‘Work and Well-being Survey’ spoke to over 1,500 U.S. adult workers; 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. Nearly 3 in every 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy and lack of effort at work Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and 44% reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase since 2019.
Many experts attribute burnout to a lack of support in the workplace and a culture that doesn’t allow employees to rest and relax. The U.S. has been described as the ‘No Vacation Nation’ and despite more and more companies offering substantial time off, it’s still seen as a taboo to truly unplug for an extended period of time.
The research is clear: burnout is a substantial problem for the modern professional. But how can it be prevented?
Many of us feel stressed out by the complexities of the modern world. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or disengaged from your life, it’s vital to address burnout before it drastically impacts your life.
Get Enough Sleep
Almost two-thirds of adults in developed nations do not achieve the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and previous editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, is on a mission to transform peoples’ attitudes to sleep. After she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, she launched Thrive Global to educate individuals on the devastating impact of burnout on the modern adult population. “Our culture continues to believe that to succeed, you have to burn out. And really, this goes back to the first industrial revolution when we started treating human beings like machines,” she explains. “When I get eight hours of sleep, I feel ready to handle anything during the day without stress and without paying a heavy price in terms of my health and my mental well-being.”
Lack of sleep doesn’t just impact your mental ability but also your physical health. The stress hormone cortisone increases when you’re sleep deprived, which can affect weight, hormone levels, and cholesterol. Try to develop a healthy sleep pattern and average eight hours of rest each night. You’ll most likely feel the improvements immediately.
Focus on Nutrition
In recent years, researchers have found that there is a powerful connection between nutrition and mental health. Dietitian Allison Tallman of Nourished Routes explains, “What we eat impacts our minds and mood. There is a strong connection between the gut and the brain, also known as the ‘gut-brain axis.’ This connection, or communication, links what is happening in the gut up to the brain and vice versa. Our gut microbiome, or the microorganisms that are found in our digestive tract, affects the way that we think, act, or feel.”
Research also shows that inflammation in the gut can increase our risk of mental health diseases such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Understandably, if you’re feeling stressed out at work, cooking a healthy dinner when you get home may not be at the top of your priority list. Consider meal prepping or investing in at-home meal kits to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.
Speak with a Trusted Friend or Loved One
As the adage goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Take the time to share your feelings or frustrations with someone in your life. A sympathetic ear may not only offer advice but will also create a space for you to share your thoughts and feelings.
Move Your Body
Moving your body is not just a tool for keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight, but research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional well-being, and lower rates of mental illness. Schedule 10-minute breaks to stand up and stretch or call a friend for a catch up during a walk. Getting away from your desk can transform your state of mind and prevent burnout.
If you’re suffering from burnout and aren’t sure of how to move ahead, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the help you need.
Prioritize Your Mental Well-being
For those suffering from burnout, the concept of ‘self-care’ may seem like a distant memory. Self-care is different for everyone but it’s important to reconnect with activities that positively fuel your life. Prioritizing your mental well-being can take many forms: reading a book, speaking with a friend, trying out a puzzle. Self-care also doesn’t have to be expensive. Browse this article for some inspiration.
Take Actionable Steps at Work
Burnout is very often related to workplace stress and there are some professions that are much more vulnerable to it. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, and front-line workers are likely to experience burnout in their careers. It’s important to take action in your workplace and try to make changes that will prevent you from burning out again. Speak to your employer or liaise with other team members to encourage change in your organization. Someone may be suffering alongside you.
Speak to a Professional
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health remains in our society. A Vida Health survey found that 47% of workers believe taking advantage of mental health opportunities (such as online therapy) is a sign of weakness, while a Visier study reported that just seven percent of burnt-out employees seek professional support as they fear they will be stigmatized or looked down upon by their employers. If you’re struggling with burnout, a licensed therapist or counselor could be incredibly beneficial to help you work through this period in your life. Low-cost, online resources such as BetterHelp.com are an excellent place to start.
Burnout is a common problem in modern life but it can be prevented by investing in yourself, your health and your support systems.