By Nancie A Vito, MPH, CHES
Throughout the years, I have helped many people who feel unhappy or stressed due to their work situation. Since most of us spend a great deal of our lives focused on our career, experiencing burnout or chronic work-related stress can have a great effect on our health, relationships and overall quality of life.
Since occupational stress has become increasingly common (particularly in Western societies), researchers have been doing increasingly more work in this area. For example, in one 2013 study, authors aimed to discover whether structural changes occur in our brain when we are burned out or experience chronic work-related stress. With the use of MRI, the researchers found significant reductions in gray matter in three regions of the brain in the stressed participants compared to those who weren’t feeling as stressed or burned out. This is one of many research studies which show that burnout indeed comes with some physiological changes.
Those of us who have experienced burnout know that it is no joke. Some symptoms of burnout include concentration problems, fatigue, disengaging from work, and anxiety. Interestingly, some healthcare professionals often misdiagnose persons who present with symptoms of burnout, often treating them for depression, which can have overlapping symptoms.
I look at this through a prevention lens. Whether we prevent the burnout itself or prevent it from getting worse to the point of exhaustion, here are five reminders that can nudge you in a direction of feeling less stressed and burned out. (Ahhhh…..)
1. Carve out time for yourself — and honor it. Unplug, schedule in a massage, take a bubble bath or read a good book. It doesn’t need to cost money. Burnout is a call to stop putting your own needs on the back burner. Your mind, body and soul with thank you. Furthermore, your loved ones and your colleagues (in addition to the quality of your work), will also ultimately benefit from you feeling recharged and refreshed. Remember, this isn’t only about you! :)
2. Create healthy boundaries. If we already have a lot on our plates, we don’t have to say yes to every request that comes our way. Practice assertiveness. You don’t have to respond to work email at 10pm if your work doesn’t require it. Most requests can wait until the morning. When you honor and respect your own time, others will do the same.
3. Turn off distractions. When we are doing many things at once, we’re not actually multi-tasking; we’re attention-switching. When we start a task and then respond to every ding through email, facebook or text, it takes longer to get our work done, ultimately causing more stress and overwhelm. You’ll get a lot more done without the notifications, plus you’ll give your brain a break when you allow yourself to focus on the task at hand.
4. Make sleep a priority. Sleep experts suggest aiming for seven hours per night. When we are sleep deprived, it can affect our memory, thinking and concentration. When we’re not thinking clearly, it can have an entire ripple effect in itself.
5. Nourish your body. When we’re feeling burned out, our bodies need fuel and nourishment. Eating foods filled with sugar, salt, preservatives and chemicals will have the opposite effect, causing our blood sugar to fluctuate and effect our concentration. Making a conscious decision to choose a healthy snack over the bag of chips, or herbal tea in the afternoon instead of sugar and caffeine-filled drinks, will help prevent sugar crashes and disturbed sleep. When making your choices, ask yourself how you want to feel later on.
While I mostly refer to work-related stress and burnout here, these tips can apply to almost any situation.
Think you are burned out or want to learn more? Be sure to take my burnout quiz and to receive tips on boosting happiness, getting unstuck and reducing burnout.
What do you do to prevent burnout and overwhelm? Let me know in the comments what has worked well for you!