How to Recognize and Prevent Job Burnout

The Prepped Team

June 29, 2020

8 minutes

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It’s Monday afternoon, but you’re already thinking about the weekend? It could be an early sign of burnout. You don’t have to be a busy executive or 20-years into your career to experience burnout. It can happen anytime. Here’s more about what burnout looks like and how you can prevent it.  

What is job burnout?

It’s easy to confuse stress with burnout. For many of us, stress is easier to identify. You think, ”It’s been a hectic day, no wonder I’m stressed!” But stress is relatively short-term. It may last a few days or longer, especially if you’re working on an important project or have multiple deadlines. Unlike stress, burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged stress. And our careers are one of the most common areas of our life where burnout shows up, including the process of job searching in the first place.

5 signs of job burnout

Burnout is more than working long hours or a demanding workload. It’s the product of chronic stress that results in us feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, cynical, or you can’t accomplish anything. Here are some of the tell tale signs of burnout to look for:

1. You feel anxious

Feelings of anxiety or constant worry can be an early sign of burnout. Anxiety is common and its role is to protect you against potentially threatening situations. But when feelings of anxiety are prolonged, it can result in psychological distress and affect your ability to function in your day-to-day life – including the workplace.

2. You’re short-tempered with colleagues

If workmates are wondering what happened to the easy-going person they know, you could be heading towards burnout. Burnout causes emotional exhaustion, which could lead to changes in mood, such as irritability or bursts of anger.

3. You have trouble sleeping

It may begin with having trouble falling asleep on some nights, even though you’re exhausted. Or sleep is disruptive, and you don’t wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, despite a solid eight hours of shut-eye. In later stages of burnout, disturbed sleep can turn into insomnia, leaving you feeling exhausted.

4. You dread going to work

Those Sunday night blues where you realize tomorrow is a workday is something many of us experience, but when you begin dread going to work, you could have burnout. This could show up as absenteeism, being chronically late, or feeling cynical about your job.

5. You’re often ill

Burnout can be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as headaches, backache, or a loss of appetite, according to CAMH. When our bodies are chronically stressed, it weakens our immune system, making us more vulnerable to colds and flu and other infections. The result: you’re calling into work sick more frequently than usual.

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5 tips for treating burnout

Career burnout is very real, and it’s important to take care of ourselves. Here’s some tips for how to deal with burnout:

1. Practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a word that has been tossed around a lot recently. And with good reason. The benefits of mindfulness include increased positive emotions and focus, as well as stress management. Mindfulness teaches you to pay attention to the present moment and come back to your breath. Sign up for a free Prepped account and get access to our mindfulness webinars.

2. Take breaks

If your idea of a lunch break is eating a sandwich hunched over your laptop or you regularly work on weekends, you need to take a break. Easier than it sounds, right? Try scheduling free time in your calendar and set yourself a reminder. Alternatively, if the thought of taking even 30 minutes for lunch fills you with dread, set a goal of doing it once or twice a week and build from there. Working until you can’t work anymore, isn’t good for your productivity or your mental health. Taking time for yourself will actually leave you feeling recharged. You even may surprise yourself in discovering time away from your desk means you accomplish more, not less than you normally would.

3. Exercise

Exercise is a great stress buster. Whether it’s taking a yoga class by Zoom or getting out for a walk or a run, working out triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain – like serotonin and dopamine. As well as feeling like you have more energy, regular exercise leads to a better night’s sleep. If you think you have no time to exercise, schedule it in your calendar like you would a meeting, or work out for shorter periods of time. Researchers at McMaster University found that even a 10-minute workout will reap benefits.

4. Engage in a hobby

One of the ways to combat burnout is to engage in a hobby you enjoy for at least a few hours a week. Ideally, you want something that isn’t tied to your job. So if you write for a living, writing in your spare time or taking a course might feel like more work. Think back to what you loved as a kid or explore something new. Hobbies like basketball or roller derby are also great physical releases, while creative pursuits such as ceramics or baking give your mind space to wander.

5. Go on vacation

Radical idea, huh? If you have accrued vacation, use it. Don’t believe us? The Harvard Business Review makes a case that taking more vacation results in greater success at work, lower stress, and increased happiness at work. Even if you book a couple of days off to make a weekend an extra long one, remember to put on an out-of-office message on your email and remind your colleagues and your boss that you’ll be unplugging for a few days. When you’re stressed, it’s a lot easier for you to burnout. That’s why it’s important to unplug in an effort to unwind an anxious mind. Activities such as practicing mindfulness to proactively tackle burnout and help you cultivate the power of positive emotions.

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