In the fast-paced, high-stress world we live in today, having a work-life balance is often viewed as a luxury, not a guarantee. Many employees are expected to always be “on” – whether that’s sitting at their desk and working through lunch or checking and responding to emails at home.
However, when you’re highly engaged and constantly on the go, you’re bound to reach a breaking point. Your body and brain don’t have time to recharge, you aren’t spending time enjoying the things you love, and your sleep cycle is disrupted. All these things (and more!) can eventually lead to burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a form of chronic stress. You’re exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get out of the slump you’re in.
Signs of burnout include:
- Feeling drained
- Lack of focus
- Reduced performance
- Headaches, stomachaches, and bowel problems
According to the Harvard Business Review, one in five employees is at risk for chronic stress. In the United States alone, burnout costs an extra $125 to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending. We’re overworked and exhausted due to our jobs, which negatively impacts our mental, physical, and emotional health.
Eight Ways You Can Avoid Burnout in the Workplace
Here are eight ways to avoid burning out at work and improve your mental clarity and health:
1. Set boundaries.
This is one of the most important ways to avoid chronic stress in the workplace, and it’s important to do early on. Learn to say no if you have too much on your plate, especially if you want to stay excited and engaged at work. Although it might be appealing to look like an overachiever, saying yes to everything will eventually wear you out. Be honest with yourself about how much you can handle and always put your health first.
2. Prioritize sleep.
Most of us already know that getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night is good for our health. However, how many of us actually get that each night? Unfortunately, increased anxiety and stress from work often lead to insomnia or sleep deprivation, which can affect weight, hormones, concentration, and judgment.
Getting adequate rest is important for both our bodies and our minds! Even if you’re a night owl or find it difficult to fall asleep, try to get into bed an hour earlier each night. You’ll start to relax and unwind, which will send a signal to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
3. Pursue your passions.
Many of us don’t truly enjoy or feel fulfilled by our jobs. Although it can be difficult or scary to switch careers, pursuing a job you’re passionate about will boost your mood and help you feel more fulfilled. Find what makes you happy and then take proactive steps to help you get there – whether that’s forwarding your resume to friends or networking and connecting on LinkedIn. You can also pursue passions outside work - Having space in your life for things you love can increase your tolerance for a job you don’t enjoy as much.
4. Turn off notifications.
Staring at a screen for the majority of the day is a requirement of many jobs. After we leave the office, we continue to stare at screens because we’re scrolling through Instagram, checking our email, or watching TV. It should come as no surprise that it’s also affecting the way we sleep. Too much screen time is reducing the amount of natural melatonin our bodies create, making it harder for us to fall asleep at night.
It perpetuates a vicious cycle: we’re over-tired and want to get a good night’s rest but can’t because our brains never really “turn off.” To help stop this cycle, try silencing all notifications at least an hour before bed and unwind by chatting with a friend, taking a bath, or reading a book. The key is to find things that you enjoy that don’t require a device.
5. Work out.
Whether because of the endorphins that are released during and after a good sweat or the simple knowledge that it increases energy and supports health, try adding a short workout to your daily routine. Exercise reduces stress, lifts your mood, and boosts productivity. Have you ever had a really bad day but then instantly felt better after an energizing workout? Physical activity is an effective way to release tension, so start or end your day on a high note by incorporating at least 30 minutes of exercise.
Find your Zen and do it as often as you can, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day. Chronic stress can make it impossible for us to focus on our breath and relax, but meditation helps us combat that. Mindful meditation has been shown to improve well-being, feelings of distress, and job strain. Meditating in the morning is a great way to start your day, but you can also try meditating to calm your mind before bed. It’s all about creating a safe space for you to release any negativity or anxiety that’s been building up. To help you get started, you can also try downloading a meditation app.
7. Take a mental health day.
Nothing leaves us feeling recharged and ready to tackle new goals like a few days off from work. Even if you feel like there’s always a million things that need to get done, taking the time away from your computer or desk is something we all need to do from time to time. Give yourself a break to do what you love – whether that’s hiking for a few days, lying on a beach, or taking in some new sights. You’ll get that much-needed break you deserve and return to work feeling restored and more optimistic.
8. Make plans with family, friends, or loved ones.
As human beings, we crave connection. However, it’s sometimes the first thing we give up when our schedules start to get busy. Make your social life a priority and plan ahead to ensure you’re spending enough time with the people you love. Meet a friend for coffee, grab a drink after work, or make fun plans for the weekend. Surrounding yourself with friends, family, and loved ones is a great way to talk, laugh, vent, and most importantly, get your mind off work!
The Bottom Line
Although burnout in the workplace has been on the rise in recent years, there are several things both you and your employer can do to help prevent it. One positive change many organizations have already implemented is adding wellness programs, like nutrition advice and lower-cost exercise programs, as employee benefits. Other small changes include collaborative team environments, positive reinforcement, and flexible work hours.
Still, it’s always valuable to empower yourself, especially when your health is at stake. Self-care is something we should all prioritize, even if it’s something as simple as surrounding yourself with positive relationships.