Burnout is something we will experience at least once in our life. For the purposes of this blog post, I want to talk about work burnout specifically. Having a job is a necessity for some, something that brings us great responsibility or satisfaction but it is so important to be able to recognize when our job begins to diminish our mental state. Personally, I work in a very high stress environment. As an employee for the police department, there's hardly ever a time when I get a phone call for someone who has just had a good experience or a great day. I get calls when people are in crisis or seemingly having the worst experience of their life. That alone can build up over time and cause burnout. You may also have a high stress job or one that you are so dedicated to, it is literally your life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being dedicated to your job but I want to talk about something we may not realize is going on until it is too late......BURNOUT!
What is burnout?
-Job strain that results from prolonged and excessive stress
-Physical, mental and/or emotional exhaustion caused by the job
-Feelings of having nothing more to give
-Negative feelings about work that spill over into your personal life including home and social life
The 5 stages of burnout:
1. Honeymoon phase
-In this phase we often feel high job satisfaction, commitment to the workplace,
creativity, productivity and energized
-Here is where we begin to predict stresses of the job
-We begin to implement coping strategies (whether healthy or unhealthy)
-We begin to prioritize our mental health (whether high priority or low priority)
2. Onset of stress
-When we start to become aware that some days are more difficult than others
-We may also notice common symptoms of stress affecting us physically, mentally or emotionally
-We may feel symptoms such as anxiety, high blood pressure, lower productivity
than when we first started the job, headaches, fatigue or job dissatisfaction
3. Chronic Stress
-We may go from feeling motivated to experiencing stress on an incredibly frequent
-We may feel symptoms such as lack of hobbies, cynical attitude, anger or aggressive
behavior, increased caffeine consumption, panic, denial of any problems at home or work and/or resentfulness
-Symptoms of stress start to become critical and continuing as normal is probably no
longer possible without intervention
-We may feel symptoms such as, behavioral changes, chronic headaches, feeling empty,
self-doubt, social isolation, chronic stomach or bowel problems, obsession over problems at work or in life, self-doubt, pessimistic outlook on work and life and/or neglect of personal needs
5. Habitual Burnout
-The symptoms of stress are so embedded in our life we are likely to experience a significant physical or emotional problem as opposed to occasional stress
-We may experience symptoms including chronic mental fatigue, chronic physical fatigue, chronic sadness and/or depression
Avoiding burnout is so important for us. Once we have hit the 5th stage of burnout, it can be almost impossible to return to normal without intervention and in worse cases, professional help. Avoiding burnout takes practice and consistency but the reward of being able to enjoy our job for a prolonged periods of time is worth it. So how do we prevent burnout?
1. Self-awareness – It's important to be aware of any physical, mental or emotional changes we may be having. Get to know yourself well and recognize behaviors that aren't typical for you. Are you suddenly unable to fall asleep at night? Are you having nausea for no apparent reason? Are you feeling anxious on your drive to work? These are just some questions we can ask ourselves on a daily or weekly basis.
- Some ways to practice self-awareness are to identify our emotions, recognize your strengths, keep a journal and write about our days and/or ask for feedback from co-workers, family and friends that we trust.
- Below I have attached a link that will direct you to a quiz. The quiz will tell you your level of awareness, experience and manifesting life! Give it a go.
2. Make the switch from negative to positive - It can be very hard to remain positive all the time and that is okay. However, it may become an issue when we begin to let negativity spill over into our personal lives. Remember this, there is always something positive that comes out of every situation even if it is something as simple as having a learning experience. The positive can be hard to find but it comes easier when we practice more often. Using these steps, we can create something positive from something negative.
- write down the negative thought
- write down what you are potentially losing from the negative thought
- write down something positive about the negative thought
- write down what you are gaining from the positive thoughts
3. Practice self-care outside of the job – After a long stressful day, the last thing we want to do is practice self-care. In some cases our self-care comes from venting to our family and friends about our day. This is in no way, shape or form beneficial to us especially if it leads up to an everyday thing. Instead of talking about work, thinking about work or doing any work while we are at home, let's practice some self-care. The hours that we spend venting could be used to take care of our mental health. Here are some ideas:
- meditation/deep breathing exercises
- yoga, walking or another form of exercise
- massage, manicure or something that is pampering for you
- healthy foods that are high in vitamin K (greens, fish, berries)
- less screen time and more intentional time with your family
What to do when you're burned out:
1. Give yourself some grace – Sometimes we can be our number one critic. Why is it that we always give ourselves a hard time even when everyone else is congratulating us? The positive answer to this question is because we are passionate, and we care about our jobs. We get so involved that we become consumed. So we should know that it is okay, and we will be okay! There is nothing wrong with being passionate about what we do! We have to know that we are human beings, and it is completely normal to feel bad or struggle. Allow yourself some grace and don't give yourself such a hard time. Also don't avoid any emotional pain. Face it, deal with it and move on from it.
2. Take a break – I can't stress the importance of taking a break! We all think that we work well under stress, but we do not! In this case, our bodies are in survival mode or fight or flight. We are pushing through because we feel like we must but sooner or later we will crash. If you're burned out, take a break! Whether it is a day, a few days or a week, it is best to take some time off, regroup and recharge our brains. Like I mentioned before, when you take a break don't think about, talk about or do any work during. Rest your body, rest your mind and rest your thought process.
3. Take up a new hobby, get really involved and talk about it – Often times when we are burned out, we have a lack of motivation to do anything outside the workplace. We may just go home and do absolutely nothing, sleep all day on our days off, have a bizarre schedule because of the hours we work or pick up maladaptive behaviors like drinking ourselves to sleep. Start doing something new and healthy like reading a new book, walking every day, hiking, yoga, educational classes, cooking, etc. The more you do it, the more motivation will follow. Our brains are designed to give off dopamine every time we have a rewarding experience. Therefore, accomplishing things feels good! Set goals for your new hobbies, plot your progress, use a reward method, don't do it alone and finally, talk to your friends and family about it.
If you feel like you are past the point of return, there are so many options to help! We are not superheroes and shouldn't put the pressure on ourselves to go back to normal quickly. It takes work and sometimes it takes help! Reach out to a local support group or even a therapist! It is always okay to reach out for help. In fact, after I stopped working at fire rescue as a dispatcher, I went through my own bit of therapy because I was so burned out!
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or practicing professional in mental health. I earned my M.A in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. I am currently a member of the peer support team for first responder's and those who work with first responder's. I enjoy studying mental health and I take training's to further my education on current mental health issues.