In the recent years, more and more individuals are missing work due to something called “burnout syndrome.” This can be particularly tasking for social workers as they are often loaded down with multiple cases at once. Then add on the pressure of maintaining this level of stress every day, and a person is bound to become overwhelmed sooner or later.
So how can you recognize this sort of creeping burnout and intervene before it ruins your productivity, alters your personality and compromises your physical and emotional health? To get you started, we’ve put together this list most common burnout symptoms.
- Exhaustion: This is probably the most obvious of the symptoms. People affected feel drained and exhausted, overloaded, tired and low, and do not have enough energy. Physical exhaustion symptoms, however, can even include pain or problems with the stomach or bowel. Additionally, when you suffer from chronic stress, your body’s immune system is actually weakened and you’ll become more vulnerable to infections, colds, flus, and other immune system disorders. This often leads to individuals calling in sick because they don’t feel well. Workers suffering from burnout are often late for work, frequently call in sick and procrastinate on the job.
- Inability to concentrate: Ongoing physical and mental exhaustion can lead to various cognitive problems, such as an inability to concentrate, hold attention, and remember things. You’ll find that it’s harder to get things done and you simply can’t keep up the way you used to.
- Frequent mood changes: Burnout may cause emotional exhaustion and a loss of a sense of personal accomplishment, and therefore lead to depersonalization, alienation and depression. With this, you might notice that you feel more generally pessimistic than you used to. While everybody experiences some negative emotions from time to time, it’s important to know when these are becoming unusual for you.
- Lack of motivation: When you don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore or you no longer have that internal motivation for your work, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing burnout; it can be harder to get going in the morning and more difficult to drag yourself into work every day. You may also feel like you have too much on your plate and cannot get it all done.
- Social isolation: The depression and mood changes often associated with burnout can lead individuals to isolate themselves from others which leads to yet more depression; this can create a vicious cycle. When individuals feel they are not accomplishing all that they should, they start feeling ashamed and guilty about the poor job they’re doing. This leads to not wanting to let others down and individuals often decrease the number of social interactions they’re involved in. Moreover, this often causes people to entirely detach themselves from the world around them and makes them become totally isolated, further worsening the problem.
- Unhealthy coping habits: When suffering from burnout, some people engage in unhealthy coping strategies like drinking too much, smoking, being too sedentary, eating too much junk food, not eating enough or not getting enough sleep. Self-medication is another issue and could include relying on sleeping pills to sleep, drinking more alcohol at the end of the day to de-stress or even drinking more coffee to summon up the energy to drag yourself into work in the morning.
Well now you’re probably saying, “Okay. That’s great. But how do I fix this problem?” Well we’ve got that taken care of too! Here are some great tips for you to follow:
- Relax: Many find relaxation through meditation, yoga, or exercise to be the perfect anecdote to a stressful day. When your workday is done, you need to leave the stresses of it and the rest of your life behind, even if only for fifteen minutes. Relaxation and meditation can rejuvenate the body and the spirit. Right now you can begin by just closing your eyes and telling each of your body parts to relax as you sink further into your seat. Then focus on your breathing. If you only did this for five minutes each day, you would see a big difference in your own stress levels.
- Exercise: Human bodies have not evolved thousands of years to spend ten hours a day hunched over a keyboard staring at a screen or pouring over class books. To stave off burnout, do something physical that makes you sweat, and do it at least three times a week. Regular physical activity, like walking or biking, can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help get your mind off work and focus on something else.
- Eat healthy foods: Eat more. We don’t mean donuts and pizza, though. We mean low-calorie green food that you eat throughout the entire day. Adding food with lots of antioxidants, water, fiber, and other nutrients can calm you and help your body relax.
- Learn when to say “no”: You’re busy – really busy, and everyone wants a little bit of your time. If you don’t learn how to say no to people you are only going to do more damage. Saying “no” is something you need to be able to do to accomplish what you want to in life.
- Adjust your attitude: If you’ve become cynical at school or work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of what you do. Recognize the valuable contributions your peers make or congratulate them on a job well done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from stressful work to do the things you enjoy.
- Seek support: Whether you reach out to co-workers, classmates, friends, loved ones or others, support and collaboration may help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to a health center at your school or near your work, take advantage of the available services. Here are some of our favorite resources to help:
- MindTools has created a neat, 15-question burnout self-test to score and evaluate exactly how worn out you are
- MayoClinic – Job burnout: How to spot it and take action
- Forbes Article – 12 Ways To Eliminate Stress At Work
- National Institute of Health‘s Stress page
- Stress Management Society – stress tips and how to manage stress in the workplace
- American Institute of Stress – information on stress reduction, stress in the workplace, effects of stress and various other stress related topics
(NOTE: If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional. Do not self-diagnose.)