Akshay starts each day with positive affirmations and yet by afternoon, he feels he cannot go on anymore. Sanchita wakes up every morning feeling restless about the incomplete tasks on her to-do list. Rina is passionate about her job as a teacher but now needs to muster up the strength to show up for every class. When each of them spoke to their friends and family about this, they reached an important conclusion -- they were experiencing symptoms of burnout.
What is burnout?
It refers to a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is usually the result of continued or prolonged stress. Work-specific burnout often results in reduced accomplishments, a feeling of alienation from the workplace, as well as a sense of losing one’s personal identity.
Why does burnout occur?
Poor work-life balance
This happens when you’re unable to identify the right amount of time and energy to be spent in your work and personal life. With boundaries blurring between work and home, this has only become more prevalent. What’s more, the pandemic has only increased our personal commitments, such as additional chores at home and responsibilities towards children and the elderly who are confined in the home. This has eventually led to us getting over-engaged with work. Here are just some of the things that have made it harder for us to take a break from our professional lives:
- Digitized workspaces
- Poor professional boundaries
- Working with people from different countries
- Being ambitious about one’s growth
You may be out picking up groceries, on a walk with your pet, or helping your child with school work -- and even then, a part of your brain could be wrapped up in thoughts about work. Other signs of over-engagement at work:
- Mentally creating checklists
- Reiterating deadlines
- Texting a colleague out of work hours
- Feeling compelled to respond to emails after work hours
Perceived lack of control
The inability to make decisions regarding workload, nature of work and work timings can result in experiencing a loss of control. The threat of unemployment has loomed large over the last year, which means many of us have agreed to take up larger amounts of work and have been unable to switch off from work. This uncertainty may also lead to overthinking about every situation or remark passed at work. Many of us have also had to face pay cuts and a loss of benefits as well. Again, not knowing when things will return to normal, or when one can take a moment to switch off becomes another factor that pushes us closer to burnout.
What are the signs of burnout?
Burnout tends to present itself in similar and typical ways for most of us. Here are some signs to look out for in yourself or those around you:
How to cope with/manage burnout?
Burnt out actively interferes with emotional, behavioral and physiological functioning. Coping with the same requires you to focus on all aspects of your well-being. Here are some tips that will help those struggling from burnout manage and deal with the same.
Acknowledge and accept
Culturally, we are known to downplay our struggles, especially when they pertain to mental health challenges or problems arising through sustained stress. Often, the first step to healing and recovering from a difficult patch is to acknowledge and accept what is happening. Identifying the problem accurately is associated with higher chances of resolving it.
Identify specific stressors
While there could be several factors that contribute to burnout, some factors have a more significant impact than others. Identifying the stressors (work timings, work load, overload of personal responsibilities, lack of upskilling etc) will help pinpoint the specific problem and allow for relevant problem-solving.
Seek help from others
If you find yourself struggling with seeking help, it's always advisable to seek professional help. Speak to a therapist who can through the process and enable long-term positive changes.
Reframing thoughts and perspectives
A lot of our disturbances stem not only from stressful events around us, but also from our perception and interpretation of those stressful events. Working on reframing these perceptions and thoughts can help in alleviating stress significantly. Let us look at a few examples below:
Active self care
When we fall ill, we need to be treated. In the absence of any active illness, we still work on maintaining basic health and immunity levels. Analogous to this is the need for active self care in the absence of ongoing emotional struggles. Basic acts of self care such as the ones listed below can go a long way in building your resilience for difficult times.
- Engaging in hobbies or activities of interest
- Exercising regularly
- Inculcating meditation practices
- Learning to take breaks in between a long day
- Rewarding yourself for having put up with difficult days
Burnout is a complex emotional experience that may need a combination of strategies and perhaps even intervention from a trained professional to overcome. However, a basic sense of empathy, compassion, and kindness towards yourself is a great place to start!