Burnout: a metaphor or a dangerous reality?

We’ve all experienced work stress, difficulty getting up every morning, occasional conflicts with colleagues. However, when it becomes a daily reality, work stress can turn your life into hell.

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Burnout is real

Burnout is not just a metaphor for feeling exhausted: it is actually included on the World Health Organization disease list. More and more people request professional help to treat burnout and sometimes even end up in hospital when burnout takes a physical form, such as sharp pain. Nature has given us stress hormones for a good reason: we are able to focus on a negative stress factor as a threat and deal with it. However, this evolutionary mechanism doesn’t work well for chronic stress: constantly elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline are bad for your brain and memory. We constantly focus on the thing the causes burnout (usually work), ignoring everything else and losing the ability to enjoy life. As a result, our relationships suffer.

Warning signs of burnout

If any (but not necessarily all) of the following describes you, beware – you may be burning out.

  1. Exhaustion – you get up tired in the morning, have trouble making yourself go to work, feel fatigued all day. It’s like you completely lack energy.
  2. Low motivation – you get no joy at all from work, no working tasks elicits your enthusiasm. You are disillusioned in your position and the company’s values. Work loses meaning, and you just don’t care anymore.
  3. Negative emotions – you feel resentment and anger both at work and just thinking about it. You have conflicts with your colleagues and become irritable at home.
  4. Unhealthy lifestyle – you drink too much coffee to drag yourself through the day, excess alcohol to reduce stress, eat a lot of junk and comfort food, quit exercising, and don’t get enough sleep.
  5. Relationship issues – your marriage or romantic relationship and social life take the toll: you spend less time with your partner, kids, and friends.
  6. Health problems: you get frequent headaches, pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, shortness of breath, pain in the area of lungs and heart, and indigestion.

Overcoming burnout

If left untreated, burnout will not go away – it will simply get worse until your body and mind stop functioning normally. Burnout is your body’s way to protect you but “turning off” many functions, including emotions. Don’t wait for this to happen – take action now!

  • Identify the cause: you can even try keeping a stress diary to find out which part of your work causes most suffering (tasks, boss, colleagues, overtime, etc.)
  • Talk to your boss. Be honest about how you feel, and you may be surprised by how understanding your manager is. Perhaps you will be able to change the character of your work.
  • Disconnect. Don’t do any work once you are home, don’t read emails at the table, and find time for hobbies (such as handicrafts or sport) and for quality time with your partner.
  • Get more sleep. Studies show that sleeping for less than 7 hours a night can cause permanent damage to your memory and increase the risk of dementia and stroke.
  • Exercise. Work out for an hour at least 4-5 times a week and make it your priority. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can be very beneficial.
  • Eat healthy. Drop junk food, bring home-cooked meals to work, be careful with coffee and alcohol. Make sure to eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Ask for help. If you feel deeply tired and disillusioned, get professional help. Psychologists deal with burnout on a daily basis.

If you are only starting a new job, set realistic goals for yourself: don’t try to be the first to come and the last to leave. It may make an impression on your boss, but it can destroy your health and make you feel disgust for your work. Burnout is real – and very serious.

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