Trying to get through a relentless pile of work, while staying on top of emails and meetings, can feel exhausting. Without time to switch off, things can easily get on top of us.
Working long hours, taking on too much work, and putting enormous pressure on yourself can lead to burnout, according to a recent Gallup poll, which found that two out of three employees experience this state of chronic stress. Burnout is a serious problem that can impact both physical and mental health, as well as lead to detachment from work.
Three-quarters of adults in the UK have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress over the last year, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation. Of those surveyed, 32% said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress and 16% said they had self-harmed.
Last year, a study of more than 1,000 US workers found that many “highly engaged” employees were exhausted and ready to quit.
So what can we do to tackle burnout before it fully takes hold?
Burnout is a complete system breakdown. The stress doesn’t just appear overnight, but builds up over a period of time.
Each person experiences stress differently, but signs can include emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion; racing thoughts and constant worrying; feeling irritable or overwhelmed; and finding it difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Physical side effects of stress can include headaches, muscle tension or pain, sleep problems, and feeling exhausted.
Some people may also experience behavioural changes, such as irritability, or they may start drinking or smoking more. While you can’t always prevent stress, anti-stress self-help techniques — such as mindfulness — can help. For professional help, you should visit your GP or refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service via the NHS.
Take your holidays
Two in five UK employees took a maximum of just half their annual leave entitlement during the past holiday year, according to a survey by Glassdoor. Taking proper breaks from work is essential to physical and mental wellbeing.
John Lamphiere, Glassdoor’s managing director for the EMEA region, said in a statement that employees need to have candid conversations with their employers to avoid burnout.
“The fact that 40% of us take a maximum of just half our holiday allowance and a significant amount feel they need to work while being away is not a good long-term solution and will only result in employees who may want to jump ship for greener pastures,” Lamphiere said.
Looking after yourself is important, yet it’s something we often overlook when we’re busy.
Self-care is about keeping healthy, fit, and happy, which might mean making more time for physical activity. Stepping away from your computer screen from time to time to do something you enjoy is another good way to practice self-care.
Manage your time
Learning to better manage your time and your workload is important when avoiding burnout. Working out how long a task will actually take, as opposed to how long you think it will take, will help you avoid feeling overworked.
Learning to say no when you’ve got too much going on — and successfully (and politely) putting forward the reasons why you can’t take on extra work — is key. Be open with your employer about how much work you can and can’t do. Being busy isn’t always avoidable, but feeling stressed about it can be.
Most of us strive to do our best at work, but research has shown that seeking perfection can be detrimental to our health. A 2015 study by the University of Bath found a link between perfectionism and extreme stress and burnout.
“As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high-achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait,” according to Dr Thomas Curran, one of the authors of the study.
“We suggest its effects can be managed and organisations must be clear that perfection is not a criteria of success. Instead, diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities.”