Recognizing and Avoiding Burnout

Do you often feel emotionally and physically drained at work? Do you suffer from headaches, fatigue, nausea, or recurring colds? Has your motivation taken such a nose-dive that you feel like you are “phoning it in”? Are you frustrated, irritable and suspicious of your colleagues and managers? If this sounds like your life, you may be suffering from burnout; you can check out more symptoms here.


While the condition known as burnout is not considered a mental illness, it can be a mental health issue, and it can lead to illnesses such as clinical depression or anxiety if not dealt with. Employees may not realize they are suffering from burnout because the condition is difficult to identify. That’s because it can feel like failure or surrender, making us believe that we are just struggling to keep up in stressful times.


Statistics from the U.S. General Social Survey of 2016 reveal that “fifty percent of people say they are often or always exhausted due to work,” a two-fold increase from twenty years ago. Numbers about work-related stress in Canada show similarities, with workers under thirty being particularly prone to work-related stress. The author of the book The Happiness Track found burnout to be pervasive across all occupations and corporate hierarchies.


Part of our problem as a society is that we glorify work-related stress and being a “workaholic” as part of a lifestyle necessary for success. As a result, people don’t want to share job stressors. Interestingly, studies have shown that loneliness is correlated with burnout; we are all feeling more isolated. But what about our organizations – how do they contribute? The authors of Time, Talent and Energy made some interesting findings around corporations with high burnout rates. They found that these companies typically have excessive collaboration leading to endless rounds of meetings and e-mail chains, weak time management disciplines, and a tendency to overload the most capable with too much work. Sound familiar?


Other common work stressors are unrealistic deadlines, uncompensated added responsibility, excessive physical demands (like exposure to cold weather), and unpredictable schedules. Many of these types of issues arise from poor job re-design during organizational change that leads to unreasonable demands being placed on people.


So how can we prevent ourselves from becoming burnt out? First of all, we have to change the way we think about and do our work. Here are a few tips from the experts:


  • Stop multi-tasking! Work at a reasonable, steady pace, on one thing
  • Take a quick break every 20—30 minutes to clear your head or get a drink of water
  • Break down projects into smaller, achievable parts and celebrate accomplishments
  • Be kinder to your body. Walk around, use ergonomic furniture
  • Resist overtime unless necessary and when on vacation, stay as disconnected from work as possible
  • Have a trusted mentor you can discuss and strategize with


Self-care strategies can be whatever helps you to release tension and centre you, but here are a few ideas:


  • Minimize caffeine and alcohol
  • Eat healthily
  • Exercise, preferably in nature
  • Have an outlet such as gardening, painting, journaling or reading
  • Cultivate mindfulness, calm awareness and gratitude


Most importantly, determine some personal priorities and remember what matters to you, and try to avoid unnecessary self-criticism.


And of course, if all else fails –  take a vacation! Even a long weekend can get us out of the work rut. Let’s recognize that as humans we are not meant to be in high-energy/high-stress mode all the time – our biology doesn’t sustain it. Recharging your batteries on a regular basis is the best way to avoid burnout and still achieve your professional goals.