Burnout is more than just being tired. It involves cynicism, detachment, exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Due to its intensity, there are serious costs: your health, relationships, effectiveness at work or school and more.

When people experience burnout, they may have to reduce their work hours or be leave their job altogether. This poses a cost for the employer as well as the employee.

But how can we tell when burnout is going to occur?

Signs of Burnout

  • Physical
    • Feeling tired most of the time
    • Frequent headaches, back pain or muscle aches
    • New appetite or sleep habits
  • Emotional
    • Self-doubt
    • Feeling helpless, hopeless or detached
    • Low motivation
    • Negative outlook
    • Decreased sense of accomplishment
  • Behavioral
    • Withdrawing from responsibilities
    • Isolation
    • Procrastination
    • Coping with junk food, drugs or alcohol
    • Taking out frustration on others
    • Skipping class or work, or coming in late/leaving early

Burnout and COVID-19

Due to the global pandemic, there has been an increase in burnout among people on the frontlines of the virus response.

But the medical field is not the only place symptoms of burnout are on the rise. Social distancing protocols have more people working from home. This can extend working hours and blur work-home boundaries. The inability to switch off mentally has been associated with anxiety, emotional exhaustion and fatigue.

Successful Prevention Programs

A dialectical behavior therapy tested at the University of Adelaide found training on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness led to lower levels of reported exhaustion and cynicism.

A 2020 study taught leaders meditation, effective leadership habits and self-awareness, which reduced burnout and increased personal accomplishments.

Another study had groups of twenty people doing Nordic walking (a total-body version of walking that uses walking sticks and does not require athleticism). The results have not been published, but many other studies have shown exercise to help reduce stress.

‍A Holistic Approach

Burnout is not limited to the workplace. It infiltrates every aspect of our lives. Preventing burnout is a form of self-care. It can include looking at:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Emotional intelligence
  4. Goal-setting
  5. Decision-making
  6. Social influence
  7. Holistic health
  8. Communication
  9. Conflict resolution
  10. Leadership and teamwork

Some employers provide burnout prevention programs for their employees that also address mood management, self-therapy and coaching exercises.

Doing it Yourself

You can pre-empt burnout in yourself through the following activities:

  • Know the signs of burnout
  • Practice self-reflection
    • Listen to and attend to your own needs
    • Evaluate a typical weekly schedule and reduce or eliminate unnecessary items
  • Revisit your goals, skills and passions regularly
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Schedule daily “timeouts” such as walks, a hobby or meditation and prayer
  • Build your professional and personal support system
    • Scheduled family time
    • Scheduled social time
    • Use your vacation time and take mini stay-cations like to a museum, park or concert
    • Meet monthly with a mentor

Work on Resilience (It Takes Practice)

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges, and can be developed through:

  1. self-awareness
  2. self-regulation
  3. optimism
  4. realism
  5. mental agility
  6. character strength
  7. connections

Knowing yourself and what will really give your life meaning can make a huge difference between feeling “good-tired” after a successful day and feeling burned-out.

If you take care of yourself, set boundaries with your employer and family, and set up a healthy work-life balance, you can head off burnout and be more productive when you are “on,” whether on the job or at home.

It is not selfish to mind your mental and physical health. You can’t be there for others long-term if your tank is empty

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