If you wake up tired, your first thought before work is that you don’t want to go, or if you start your Monday morning longing for the weekend, you might be experiencing high levels of stress.
Let’s look closely at the term ‘stress’. A fundamental aspect of this is that the stress response, just like fear, is the appraisal of an event in order to decide if that event is a danger or not. In this respect, stress can save lives: you wouldn’t feel relaxed next to a panther, the stress would make you run. In other words, experiencing stress is normal and helpful.
That said, when stressful events last longer than expected and they become uncontrollable, we can talk about distress. The modern panther is work, long hours, a heavy workload, bills, social trends and news. Too many things that overwhelm us, too few that we can control. The result is simple: too much distress. This distress, or when we can’t adapt to stress, can easily culminate in burnout.
So what is burnout? The term ‘burnout’ was first coined by the American psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger in the 70s. He defines it as a “state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward”. It’s very interesting that disillusion plays a part in this. Let’s say that you’ve always wanted your current job and you devoted your life to it but, in the end, you don’t appreciated or perhaps you don’t earn enough to make a living. Then it’s logical that you would start feeling burned out because your job, your dream, has failed to give you what you’ve dreamed of.
Another common definition by researchers in the field of organisational psychology, Ayala Malakh-Pines and Elliot Aronson, is that burnout is “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” Of course, anyone can become exhausted. Burnout leads to emotional exhaustion, alienation from work and reduced performance that becomes a cycle.
Symptoms of burnout include fearing going to work, having troubles sleeping, being exhausted, being irritated with colleagues, having an overly critical attitude at work, feeling that your work is meaningless, and thinking of quitting. So instead of going with the flow, try to be engaged in what you do. How? By dealing with your burnout. Here’s how:
1. Work with purpose.
Do what you want to do: find your dream job, try freelancing and take risks. But be reasonable and look at the impact you’re already having on those around you. You are an important part of the universe! You might be working in a supermarket, but you still help people, right? If you want to add more value yo your work, then just greet people with a smile. What’s better than making someone happy before they go back to their families? Remember that even the small act of kindness can help YOU and from there it can help the whole world.
If you think that you’re in the wrong position, think about how to promote your knowledge and abilities, and don’t be scared to talk to your boss. You can soon become a supervisor, if you think that management thing is really for you. Sometimes you might face discrimination, too- unfortunately, in our ‘open-minded’ society, racism, sexism and ageism still exist, soinstead of taking more injustice from your colleagues, report this behaviour. No negative aura needs to be around you!
2. Manage workload.
Be organised, get to know how things work on a bigger scale and prioritise. Take control of what you actually do. If you work with kids, don’t blindly follow schedules, just improvise and adapt to the situation. If you work in a bar or a hotel, try to react adequately to people’s demands; in the end, your health is more important than a two-minute delay. If you are a freelancer, just organise your projects in advance. If something doesn’t give you what you want (in the form of a material or a spiritual reward) just let go: another thing will come up. Be productive, but don’t be a robot. What I mean is: adapt your work to your desires. Also, don’t be scared to ask for help and don’t get anxious over things that are beyond your control!
3. Use social support.
Social support has been proven to reduce the body’s physiological response to stressful events. Find the right people to share with. Family, colleagues and friends will all be able to see the situation from a different angle and provide feedback. Sometimes no advice is needed, but just a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be scared to complain or cry, let it all out! Feel free to gossip with your colleagues (without a negative agenda, of course), since small talk can be therapeutic. Get involved in different activities and causes. This will remind you that there’s more to life than work. Films, books, charities, volunteering, parties, plays, and sporting events, there’s no place for feeling down.
4. Be healthy.
Get enough sleep because sleep deprivation has many effects that impair our ability to deal with stressful events. Exercise frequently and do some yoga. Researchers suggest that there’s a positive correlation between exercise and the improvement of signs of depression. Only ten minutes before work and you’ll see a positive effect in less than two weeks. Exercise also promotes self-esteem. Everyone likes to look healthy and fresh, right? Eat cooked meals and don’t forget that chocolate is not your enemy! Last but not least, travel. Take vacations to recharge your batteries and to explore this world that’s full of new things to learn and new melodies to sing.
5. Train yourself
Use problem-focused coping strategies and talk about your problems. Stop relying on emotions and strategies that involve blaming others or yourself. Be flexible: if a strategy doesn’t work, try an alternative one and of course, create different short-term goals. The completion of a small task will give you a sense of success, reduce your anxiety and motivate you to pursue other goals.
Stress and burnout can lead to a dramatic drop in productivity and creativity, and career burnout can affect your social life and health too. It can make you feel stuck in agony, but instead of stressing out, stress how important you are to society!