‘Burnout’ has been recognised as a medical phenomenon by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2019. And it’s easy to see why.
Brought into the public eye once again recently by Jacinda Ardern, around 1-in-5 UK employees have experienced burnout, according to Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2022 survey. It’s clearly on the rise.
So, what are the signs of burnout? And why is it so crucial that it gets spotted early?
Why do we get burnt out, and why now?
Specified by WHO as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, burnout is technically defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, brought on by stress from our jobs.
This has also been exacerbated by lockdowns due to Covid-19, during which lines between home and work became increasingly blurred.
Working patterns changed for a lot of us [during the pandemic] and with that can come presenteeism.
Presenteeism is working when you are unwell. For example, pre-pandemic, you would probably take the day off sick. Now, with many people working at least in part from home, it’s easy to log on from home even if you’re not feeling well enough to work and should really take the day off.
Rich Graham, Vitality’s Business Devlopment Manager, explains: “Another contributing factor is that people are not looking after their own wellbeing to a level which supports resilience in dealing with uncertainty and change.
“We have seen from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data for 2022 that there has been a significant increase in the number of productive days lost due to employees not being able to work effectively due to their health.”
Essentially, burnout is brought on by relentless stress, which can be divided into three categories: physical, emotional and behavioural.
Spotting the signs of stress
Physical signs of stress come in the form of aches and pains, such as headaches or joint pain. For instance, a person might experience trouble sleeping, muscle tension, jaw clenching or teeth grinding at night.
Others might experience digestive problems and bloating.
Tell-tale signs of emotional stress include feeling more irritable or getting angry and frustrated in situations that you would not usually or being overwhelmed.
Finally, behavioural indicators are a lack of sleep or drinking more alcohol. And, if chronic stress goes unaddressed, they can lead to much more serious problems.
“When someone experiences chronic stress for a prolonged period, they have the high risk of getting burned out. It’s so very important to be able to recognise the signs of burnout,” explains Kessonga Giscombe, a mindfulness meditation teacher at Vitality partner Headspace.
“If not addressed in time, more serious ailments can occur. These include high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, to name a few.”
While some level of stress is probably unavoidable, he advises to consistently check-in with yourself throughout the day “especially during those very busy times.”
“It’s during these moments when burnout can occur and take us by surprise. So, periodic self check-ins are essential,” he adds.
The Headspace app has a dedicated section for those that are feeling burnt out, offering a selection of educational videos about burnout and meditations that can help manage the effects of burnout.
“Learning this knowledge can be beneficial in managing or preventing burnout in the future,” adds Kessonga.
4 tips to avoid burnout
It’s easy to get wrapped up in a go, go, go lifestyle. For many of us we experience a culture that constantly has us saying ‘yes’, which can sometimes mean we take on more than we can handle.
“We often want to excel and get ahead, especially at our workplace, so we end up saying yes to many things. Before you know it, we are in a space of overwhelm,” says Kessonga.
Taking time to think strategically about how we look after ourselves at work can hugely benefit out health and wellbeing. So, here are four tips to make sure you are not getting burnt by burnout.
1. Adopt healthy habits
Try your best to keep up with positive behaviours. Having your full lunch hour away from your desk and going for a walk, or doing something for yourself can help ensure that you do not become overwhelmed throughout the day. This also includes taking annual leave. However, instead of a day here or there, aim to take off a full week or two to fully recharge.
2. Switch off at the end of the day
Don’t be afraid to set yourself boundaries. Turning your phone off and shutting that laptop at the end of the working day will help you mentally and physically separate yourself from work.
3. Take guilt-free breaks
Taking breaks is one of the most powerful things that you can do to calm your nervous system and top up your energy levels throughout the day.
4. Consider getting support
Reach out for support if you need to. It could be to your line manager, colleague or HR team. If stress is impacting your day-to-day life, consider discussing this with your GP or a mental health professional.
Finally, keep up with healthy habits before you reach the stages of burnout, and one way to achieve this is through looking after our wellbeing holistically.
Physical and mental health are intrinsically linked. Moving your body, eating nourishing foods, getting a good night’s sleep. All of these will help you to feel less anxious or stressed.
Britain’s Healthiest Workplace gives deep insight into the health and wellbeing of employees across the UK. Learn more and find out here how to take part.
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