Renowned psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term burnout in 1974 while studying workers in a free New York Health Clinic who sacrificed their own needs for the needs of the patients they helped. Their extreme exhaustion was termed ‘burnout’ and today burnout is the reality for many working professionals. Chronic overwork, workplace deadlines and conflict, and poor organizational culture often lead to burnout, as does being under-challenged. Goal-oriented achievers and perfectionists are particularly vulnerable to burnout but almost everyone can get affected.

The World Health Organization recently updated its definition of burnout stating that it is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”  Psychologists mention the key burnout symptoms that can impact mental health to include:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased apathy or dislike of one’s jobs or feeling negative about one’s career
  • Declining professional productivity

The good news is that burnout can be easily managed by recognizing the symptoms early and taking action to keep it at bay.

 

  1. Take breaks

If you are overworked and exhausted, it is tempting to eat lunch at your desk or continue working through breaks. But being glued to the screen for the times when you can get away can aggravate your symptoms. A change of scenery can do wonders and make you more productive when you are back at your desk. Many professionals use the lunch hour to join a nearby gym or yoga class, a couple of times a week.

 

  1. Change your perspective

Pay close attention to your mindset and assumptions. What aspects of the job or situation are truly fixed and what can you change? Shifting your perspective can ease the impact of even the inflexible aspects. Find out which tasks can be delegated to free up meaningful time and energy for meaningful work. If you are feeling cynical for example, can you shield yourself from elements of the organization that cause frustration while engaging your specific job role? It is also important to build some positive relationships at work to counter the ones that drain you.

 

  1. Make self-care a habit

Inculcating good self-care habits such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, social connection and mindfulness can help replenish your physical and emotional energy. You can actively seek tasks that promote equanimity and well-being whether it is meditation, trekking, or journaling. Limit your exposure to tasks, people and processes that are stressors and not absolutely essential. Being intentional about your time off can help your body and mind to rejuvenate and lead to more creativity in your personal and professional life.

 

  1. Exercise

Let’s face it, there is no motivation to exercise or take up physical activities when you are already feeling so exhausted. But exercise is known to have significant mental health benefits including the release of chemicals(endorphins) that trigger a positive feeling. Regular exercise has been known to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. So turn back to your favourite activity or sport even if you can squeeze it for a little time. Start small if you have been sedentary for a while. It may be hard to pick it up but consistent exercise reaps great results.

 

  1. Connect

Social connection is a big part of our mental health. Research shows that people with a high degree of social support are more resilient in the face of stressful situations. When we are overworked we tend to forget how to unwind and connect with those who care. If you have missed a number of events on your social calendar because you were too busy, it’s time to take charge of your social health.

It is important to schedule time with friends or family, even when you are not feeling good. While this seems like a simple step, it is hard to do when you are feeling low. You could start by inviting friends over for a casual outing or share a hobby. Plan a movie or game night and invite people who share your tastes.

 

  1. Therapy

Getting a diagnosis of burnout can help you seek out treatment if necessary. Therapy also helps you identify the root cause of burnout beyond the present circumstances and work on the underlying causes so you can emerge successfully from the current and future situations. You can find out all about burnout and its treatment here. 

Stay focused on your purpose and values

Unfortunately, burnout happens to the best of people. While a week-long vacation is not always feasible, find simple ways to recharge and refresh. Take stock of what’s really important and whether your work aligns with your purpose and values. Often, the answer lies in seeking out satisfaction elsewhere. Prioritising your own life goals and reducing the stigma around moving your goal posts can often help take the pressure off.