If you’re often exhausted, feel cynical about your job and struggle to drag yourself to work each day, there’s a chance you could be suffering burnout.
And if so, you need to do something about it, says Adele Sinclair, founder of the work-health organisation Wellness at Work.
Having gone through serious burnout twice in her career, Adele now works as a wellness coach to prevent in others what she went through herself.
In a chat with Hope 103.2’s Laura Bennett (listen above), she said there’s a distinct difference between simply being overworked, and burning out.
“Overwork is when you’re starting to feel that the workload is greater than what you’re able to do, and when you haven’t got control over many aspects of your role,” she said. “But burnout is when you’re starting to reach the point of collapse.”
Adele explained that the main difference between “having a bad day” and burnout is the length of time.
“We all have bad days, and we all have times when we’re just too tired to get out of bed or we’re just over it and can get a bit cynical, but it’s when it starts happening over a period of one month to three months…and there’s a pattern…that’s when it’s important to start looking at the signs and asking if there’s something you need to pay attention to,” she said.
The Three Main Features of a Burnout
There are three main signs that you’re burnt out and need to take action, says Adele.
Exhaustion is the first and most obvious sign of burnout because it’s not just an internal symptom, but also physical.
“There’s exhaustion physically where you’re just not able to fire up physically in the same way as you can normally, and emotionally when you find you’re a bit over what you’re doing because you’ve been trying so hard,” Adele said. “And sometimes also mentally, where you’re just starting to not be able to think as quickly or as clearly or your memory starts to fail.”
A more internal symptom of burnout, cynicism is about how you think and feel towards your job, employer or workmates. It affects your attitudes and your effectiveness.
“This is where you start to lose motivation,” says Adele. “You get cynical about what you’re doing, your job or your organisation.”
When you’ve been struggling to do your work effectively long-term, self-doubt can start to set in. A person who’s burnt out will feel overwhelmed by their work responsibilities and begin to wonder whether they’re even cut out for the job. If that’s you, it’s time to seek help.
How to Treat and Prevent Burnout
For those who are experiencing a serious burnout or breakdown, it is definitely wise to see a GP, and look for a good psychologist or counsellor to help you address the internal issues and attitudes that have led you to becoming burnt out in the first place.
One mistake Adele said she made in treating her first burnout experience, was to only look at the physical factors.
“The strategies I did were making sure I was eating well, getting enough physical activity and getting enough rest and sleep,” she said. “They’re always the first fundamentals to look at. But what I realised the second time around, was that that’s actually often not enough.”
To prevent burnout, it’s important to look for ways you are adding to your own work-related stress, says Adele.
“So often we’ll put ourselves in situations where we’re taking on too much because we like the challenge or we like being the go-to person,” she said. “Or we might set ourselves really high standards, or be a perfectionist. And we actually add to the stress we’re already experiencing. It’s really important we don’t add extra levels of stress from our own internal dialogue.”
Making time to do things you enjoy is also crucial.
“Happy hormones work in a see-saw with stress hormones,” Adele said, “so the happier you are, the less you’re going to be stressed and vice-versa. The more we’re able to make time for things we enjoy, whether that’s a hobby or spending time in nature, or spending time with loved ones, those things are going to be protective and help us to be more resilient to stress when it does come.
To read more about preventing workplace burnout head to the Wellness At Work website.