Working Hard or Burning Out?

Published on: 14 Mar 2018
Man at computer with head in hand

Today, my grandmother texted me (yes, she texts) asking if I had anything fun planned for the day. I told her I was heading to a coffee shop to work.

“Do you work seven days a week?” she responded. I realized, I sort of do. But that’s just how life is now, right? Does anyone actually know how to unplug from work and compartmentalize different aspects of their life? I asked myself these questions at the end of a yoga class during savasana, the final relaxation during which you’re supposed to quiet your mind and let everything go. Oops! But it’s true – burning out is now the norm in America. Is anyone not overworked?

Causes of Burning Out

The World Health Organization recently expanded their International Classification of Diseases to include burnout, defining it as an “occupational phenomenon.” As opposed to the consequences of stress in other facets of someone’s life, burnout occurs as a direct result of consistent stress from a person’s occupation.

One of the most likely causes of burning out is — obviously — working way too hard. This includes exerting yourself too much during a job that requires physical labor, trying to cram 100 tasks into the time period you would normally complete 1 task, or working way too long (hello to my friends who work 12 hours days). Aside from the clear burnout causes, other things that can contribute to burnout are a monotonous job, an unclear or highly variable schedule, or feeling isolated. The unfortunate thing about burnout is that you’re probably not enjoying your role or producing your highest quality work. You may also be making little mistakes (or big ones), which can be costly to yourself or your organization.

If you think you’re burnt out, what are you supposed to do about it? The first step is realizing and acknowledging that you’re burnt out. Cut yourself some slack, and don’t get upset with yourself — it happens to the best of us!

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

In an era where having a work life balance is nearly unheard of, experiencing the burnout is almost inevitable. Take a step back for a second and ask yourself where you stand at this moment. Have you been working hard, or working too hard?

Jill Daino, LCSW, clued me in on some of the tell-tale signs that you’re burnt out. “Emotionally, people often experience self-doubt, have a generally negative outlook, and may feel trapped and defeated,” she said, “A common physical symptom is feeling beyond tired or drained all the time. It can also be seen in behaviors such as skipping work, procrastination, or being more irritable with others.”

Not everyone experiences burnout the same way, though. Other signs may include the following:

  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Unexplained headaches or other body aches
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

If left unchecked, these changes can become serious and result in lasting consequences like:

It’s important to check in with yourself, know your baseline, and notice if your hard work is sustainable or actually causing the rest of your life to fall out of whack.

Solutions to Reduce Burnout

The key to finding your way back into healthy work territory is balance. “Given that many jobs are demanding and stressful it is important to find ways to maintain one’s overall balance,” Daino says. Here are some ways to combat the burnout.

1. Communicate with your manager

While it can be embarrassing and tough to bring burnout up to your boss, communication is key. There’s a good chance your manager has no idea what you’re feeling. Just because a previous employee did just fine in your position, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the same. Ask to have a meeting and go in with a specific list of points and action items. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

2. Take breaks

I’m not just talking about a lunch break — but you should definitely be taking one of those. Studies show that taking breaks is good for productivity and can help to prevent burning out. While modern American culture seems to value working extremely hard for as long as possible, you should take a couple breathers throughout the day. Even just standing up to take a lap around the office and getting a cup of coffee can help. Walking outside and taking a lap around the block is even better. If your boss isn’t cool with you taking breaks, check out your state’s employment laws and talk to HR about it.

3. Work remotely once in a while

A change of scenery can work wonders! Even just one day away from the office — which includes a break from the negative nancies — can be just what the doctor ordered. If your job consists only of computer work, it’s likely you can work anywhere there’s Wi-Fi. If your job doesn’t have work from home flexibility, discuss with your boss or HR team. Hey, you can even back it up with some statistics about the benefits of working remotely!

4. Take a vacation

American work culture makes us feel guilty for taking vacations when we are legally entitled to take them — and we deserve them. Thousands of vacation days go unused every year in America! One study showed that only 51% of millennial men took all their vacation days and only 44% of women used all their vacation days. Even if a full-on vacation isn’t in the cards, you can have a low key mental health vacation or staycation. It’ll do you wonders. Taking a vacation can put you in a great mood and have you feeling more productive when you return — it’s science.

5. Use your free time wisely

It may sound counterintuitive to schedule your free time, but it can help you make time for the things that make you happy. “We all know how hard it is to fit things in, and weeks can go by before we realize we didn’t make it to lunch with a dear friend,” Daino said, “being able to prioritize down time — be it time with friends and family, a beloved activity, or having some time to check out with a book, TV, or gaming — has to be scheduled in. While at times our schedules may not be fully in our control, it is important to map it out throughout the week so it doesn’t slip by.”

Your Mental Health is More Important!

Burnout happens, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Remember, in the end, your physical and mental health are more important than making every single person you work for (or with) happy. Accept the fact that you might miss a deadline or two at some point in your lifetime. You might make some mistakes. You might embarrass yourself. No one’s perfect — it’s impossible to be.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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