We all experience stress. But sometimes, like a leaky pipe that eventually bursts from pressure, the stress turns into burnout.
Regular stress and burnout exhibit many of the same symptoms, such as exhaustion, anxiety, and trouble sleeping and eating. But where stress feels temporary, burnout feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You feel empty and used up. You can’t concentrate. You get no pleasure from activities you used to enjoy. You may feel disconnected from people you love.
Burnout has many causes, such as marriage problems or caring for an aging parent. Work burnout is especially common. According to Gallup, 23 percent of people say they feel burned out at work often and 63 percent feel burned out sometimes. The result is low morale, high turnover and poor performance.
What can you do if you’re feeling burned out at work? Here are nine things you can do to help yourself and others find relief:
1. Remember the basics
One of the first casualties of burnout is ignoring healthy habits—eating right, regular exercise, meditation.
Sleep is critical. In one study, people who got at least seven hours of sleep were better able to handle complex tasks despite distractions (and these days, distractions are inevitable). People who did not get enough sleep had trouble focusing and remembering even simple instructions.
It’s not easy (we hear you, new parents) but it’s vital. More and more workplaces have a nap room. A few minutes of shut-eye pays off in increased productivity.
2. Stay connected
Isolation is a big contributor to burnout. Relationships are the cure.
The best time to strengthen those relationships is before the burnout begins. Make time for the people around you. Ask about their family, how their day is going. Be on the lookout for anything you can do to help them. The people you are there for now are the same people who will Be There for you when you are feeling overwhelmed.
3. Do something kind
Most of us are happy to help when someone asks. But people who are burned out are often too tired to even think of ways we might Make Their Day.
Be proactive. Offer to help with a work project, help them with a chore or drop off a meal. Ask them to walk (and talk) with you at lunch.
If they’re working long hours, they may feel lonely and unappreciated. A thoughtful word or card, even flowers, will remind them they are not alone.
4. Speak up
Some people try to soldier through burnout because they fear that speaking up will damage their career. Or they think it’s worth going through to achieve a goal. If you feel burned out because of excessive work demands, you may need to ask yourself if the cost is worth it.
The attitude you choose to speak up can make a difference. Point out, in a calm manner, what is happening and its effect on you. Bring some specific ideas about what might work better.
Emphasize how your suggestions, such as adjusting your schedule, will help you to be healthier and more productive in the long run. You might find that your boss is experiencing the same issues as you are, so you can lean on each other for support.
Change what you can, then decide if you can live with what can’t be changed.
5. Have a belly laugh
Laughing is incredibly healthy. It lowers stress hormones and boosts your immune system. According to research, one of the most reliable indicators of well-being is how recently you had a belly laugh.
You can laugh any time, anywhere, but laughter seems to show up more often in a group—sharing a joke, cracking up at the goofy things that happen at work. Keep your relationships strong and you’ll find more ways to laugh.
6. Balance your passion
Passion for your work is satisfying, but can take a toll if it pushes everything else aside.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the main risks for burnout is: “You identify so strongly with work that you lack balance between your work life and your personal life.” People who work in “helping professions”, such as health care, education or law enforcement, may especially susceptible to burnout.
When you are with family and friends, be with them fully, just as you are at work. They deserve all of you.
7. Believe in yourself
If you don’t feel capable of handling a difficult task, it’s stressful. If you don’t think you will ever have the skills to handle it, it can lead you to stop trying. That’s a path to burnout.
It is easier to emotionally deal with setbacks and challenges if you believe you can learn and improve. Our brains retain an amazing capacity to build new neural pathways at any age.
Adopt a Play mindset. Expect to learn every day, whether on the job or in a class. When you are constantly learning, what looks like failure is just one step on the way to improvement.
8. Let it go
Experts say being “Type A”, especially an obsession with control and perfection, can increase the risk of burnout.
High standards are important, but not if it leads to unrealistic expectations. A study of “maximizers” finds the unrelenting desire for perfection can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and indecision.
There comes a point where you do your best, meet your deadline, then let it go. Learn from the experience and use it to improve next time. Enjoy your life. Don’t spend it obsessing about what you should have done better.
9. Lead by caring
If you’re a leader, it’s great to challenge your team. But challenges can damage morale and productivity if they are excessive and unrealistic.
Say you fire off emails to your team late at night. What message does that send? Half of U.S. employees feel they must check their email after 11 p.m. to keep up with work. That’s not a recipe for rested, alert employees.
You also need to take care of yourself. The team is watching you. If you are abusing your own health, they will feel forced to do the same.
Strive for smart engagement, the kind that boosts enthusiasm and motivation. Be There for people. Check in constantly to see how they are doing. Make Their Day with appreciation and recognition. Choose how you respond to the stresses of the day. Make time for fun and laughter.
You’re all in this together. Preventing burnout is easier when you take care of each other.