In this installment of the mySupport Coping and Thriving series, Ayzha Corbett-Wilson, mySupport program manager and clinician, gives guidance on understanding burnout. Her primary source of information is Aetna Resources for Living.
Next month will mark a year since there was a pivot to accommodate working from home, helping children learn virtually, and wearing masks everywhere, and the list goes on. This was done to protect our families and ourselves from an unchecked virus. Many thought that this pivot would be temporary, but the situation has changed significantly. As a result, mental health concerns have increased. Particularly burnout. Burnout from working remotely. Burnout from Zoom meetings. Burnout from homeschooling. Burnout from the pandemic.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a stress condition brought on by being involved in an intense situation for a long period of time without adequate rest and recreation. Anyone can experience burnout, which often results when one feels overworked or underappreciated. The indicators can include exhaustion, hopelessness, low self-esteem, and frequent illness. Burnout often happens in "helping" careers such as nursing but can occur with every job.
Trying to do too many things at once can take a lot out of you. But sometimes it may seem like you have no choice. There's always so much work that needs to be done, especially with the pivot to remote work. Sometimes, however, you may take on too much. This is when burnout can happen. It's that feeling people get when they say, "I just can't take it anymore."
Signs of burnout
Burnout looks different for each individual. However, knowing the signs can help you to be proactive instead of reactive. Here are 12 signs:
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time
- Changes in appetite or sleep habits (e.g., increased fatigue)
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Loss of motivation
- Increasingly cynical and/or negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking your frustrations out on others
- Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
- Procrastination or taking longer to get things done
Practical steps to take for burnout
It's hard to make time to prevent something like burnout when you don't know it's happening. But remember: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Relax during work times: Take regular breaks. It may seem hard to stop the flow of work, but regular breaks will restore you. Try getting away for a minute so you can:
- Fix yourself a cup of tea
- Stretch, breathe deeply, or just rest your eyes for a minute
- Take a walk around the block for some fresh air
- Set a timer to remind yourself to listen to a favorite song, go for a walk, read, or do something else creative and fun
These little breaks will relax you and reduce stress. And they take much less time away from your work schedule than taking days off because you are too burned out.
Give yourself some limits: It's hard to admit that you cannot do everything. But you know what? You can't do everything.
At work, know when to say no. It's better to turn down weekend work than to do a less-than-your-best-job. Talk to your supervisor or manager when you are feeling stressed out. Expressing your limitations is a realistic way to proactively address burnout.
In your personal life, lean on your support system. Asking for help is a self-care technique that can be used to prevent burnout as well. Also, think about places where you can put systems into place. For example, consider meal prepping and setting a weekly menu on the weekend to alleviate cooking dinner every night. Or consider setting up children's workspaces and schoolwork the night before.
Take care of yourself: You can't take care of your job, your spouse, your kids, your home, and your life without taking care of yourself first.
Rest, relaxation, exercise, and a healthy diet are keys to both burnout prevention and recovery. A fit body can better withstand life's daily stresses. A well-rested body and mind are needed to handle the everyday challenges of work and life. Talk to people. Be honest. It's not admitting defeat to tell people you are burned out or to get help.
Need more help? Johns Hopkins mySupport is available to assist employees and their family members with a wide range of issues, including any concerns or questions you may have. You can contact mySupport at 443-997-7000.