If you’re struggling with ongoing stress and exhaustion, you might take comfort in knowing that “burn-out” is now officially recognized as an occupational phenomenon. Making headway in the ongoing campaign to recognize and prevent the often-debilitating effects of burn-out, The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that burn-out is an occupational syndrome worthy of heightened attention.
What does this mean for you or loved ones suffering from burn-out? For starters, those who suffer from burn-out may now feel validated. No longer is burn-out just an idea or catch-phrase; it’s a recognized syndrome that practitioners can now assess and treat based on certain criteria. Although there is ongoing debate about whether or not burn-out is an actual medical condition, it’s comforting to know that the WHO has officially defined burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” There’s much more to be done to acknowledge and treat burn-out, but progress is being made.
The Negative Effects of Burn-Out
Aside from the official wording above, it’s important to remember that burn-out can result from situations other than “workplace stress.” Indeed, many life challenges can leave a person feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically stressed and exhausted. Indeed, long-term stress has been shown to have a significant negative impact on an individual’s overall mental and physical health.
Burn-out creeps in over time, so it can be difficult to notice the cumulative effects of ongoing stress. Your entire being is affected, so it’s important to look for physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. It’s not uncommon for burn-out to hit you like a brick wall as you wake up one day thinking, “What hit me? I’m so exhausted I can’t even move.”
My book, Joy from Fear, addresses many significant issues, including the growing problem of chronic stress, and it offers solutions like the following to lead you into a healthier way of being.
9 Tips for Noticing and Decreasing Burn-Out
Tips 1-4 will help you recognize the signs and symptoms of burn-out before it takes an earthquake-sized toll on you. Then, Tips 5-9 are designed to help you avoid—or get out of—the burn-out syndrome.
Tip 1: Notice Your Body
You might experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, heart palpitations, insomnia, chest pain, reduced appetite, shortness of breath, and a weakened immune system. Listen to your body—if it’s telling you that you’re stressed and burnt-out, it’s very likely that you are.
Tip 2: Pay Attention to Your Mental State
You might notice thoughts that are self-critical and pessimistic. You may feel unworthy. You may also notice that you are unable to concentrate well. Slow down to notice if your thoughts are increasingly negative, as this can be an indication of burn-out!
Tip 3: Focus on Your Emotional State
You may notice that you feel anxious or that your mood is low. You may also notice that you tend to become angry. If you’re feeling sluggish, snippy, or filled with anger, these are all signs of exhaustion and burn-out. Chronic stress takes a toll on your emotional state, making you more reactive and feeling blue.
Tip 4: Size Up Your Behaviors
You may feel out of control and may find that you tend to engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors. You may tend to self-isolate or detach from others. If you find that your behaviors are changing—that you are not “being yourself”—it’s important to note that behavioral changes can be a sign of burn-out. Chronic stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviors that impair relationships at home, work, and in the social realm.
Tip 5: Get Plenty of Rest
Research shows that approximately half of adults don’t get enough sleep each night. As sleep is essential for a healthy physical and mental state, prioritize your sleep so that you get at least 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye each night. You’ll be more alert, less stressed, and far more filled with joy when you make sleep a priority.
Tip 6: Learn to Say, “NO!”
We often get overwhelmed by making commitments that take us beyond what is healthy. Of course, it’s important to help others, connect socially, and tend to family, yet it’s also vital to find a healthy balance between what feels genuinely doable and others’ expectations. If you’re over-committing, you’ll ultimately feel stressed, exhausted, and even resentful. Learn to have healthy boundaries that say, “Yes” when it feels truly appropriate and “No” when it’s not right for you.
Tip 7: Engage in Healthy Self-Care
Good self-care is sometimes confused with being selfish, but they are very different things. Good self-care simply involves scheduling time to rest and recharge in ways that feel joyful, healthy, and right for you—such as a yoga class, a warm bath, or a half hour reading a favorite book. Good self-care allows you to rest and recharge so that you can feel—and do—your best.
Tip 8: Leave Work at Work
No matter your job, it’s essential to learn to leave work where it belongs—in the office. Whether you work outside the home or telecommute, it’s essential to focus on work during your work hours—and then shut the office door behind you. If you spend non-work time checking work emails and tending to work issues, your body and mind register this as “I am working 24/7. Don’t I ever get a break?”
Tip 9: Practice Gratitude and Self-Compassion
When you focus with gratitude on what you have—rather than what you’re hoping to get or achieve—your stress level will diminish. Self-compassion is another critical element in avoiding stress and resulting burn-out because the voice of self-compassion is not critical or harsh—it’s kind and accepting. So, when you are compassionate with yourself, you’ll be far less likely to be self-critical or push yourself to the point of exhaustion.
As you take steps to create more balance and joy in your life, you’ll find yourself feeling far healthier as you leave your stress-filled ways of living behind. If this sounds wonderful, I invite you to pick up a copy of my new book, Joy from Fear.