How to Handle Burnout

how to handle burnout

Burnout…What is it? In recent years, the term “burnout” has taken the spotlight of numerous conversations, but what does it mean? Burnout can occur in many spheres of life. From work to friendships, but most often in the work environment. Contrary to belief, burnout is separate from stress. Burnout manifests in disengagement and feelings of devaluation whereas stress is over-engagement and increased anxiety. Avoiding burnout is primarily a matter of addressing excess stress and the work environment. Unfortunately, there is often very little we as individuals can do to impact the overall work culture and environment so let’s focus on what we can do.

People often feel limited in what they can do within the work environment to decrease stress. It may feel there is an endless tidal wave of work that keeps crashing into us making it hard to recognize or communicate when you have had enough. Within the office there are a few things we can do to decrease stress:

  • Get Comfy. Make sure your office is comfortable. Even if you work in a cubicle, try to personalize it. After all, you will likely spend a third of your life working.
  • Manage the Workload. While you are at work, communicate your workload to the people around you. Try to achieve a working equilibrium by aiding co-workers and having them help you out.
  • Communicate. It can be useful to communicate where you stand with your managers. Often, they would much rather the deadline got moved by two days than a rushed product delivered by a harassed employee.
  • Take a break. When work becomes too overwhelming, it can be easy to think you have to remain in your office all day with no breaks to hit your goals. We have all been there, a 12-hour day under halogen bulbs, staring at a screen does no one any good. Take a 10-minute break, go outside, walk around the building, stretch, and get back to it a little more focused.

While most of our work may occur in the office, with an increasing presence of technology, there is a blurring line between the home and work environments. It is not so easy to put down our work even on a trip with family halfway around the globe. While difficult, it can be important to leave our work at work. This can mean anything, from literally avoiding working at home to carving out time for yourself, be that a few hours in the evening or a two-week trip.

For most of us, we have some sort of hobby outside of the work environment, be it video games, sports, or music. Often when we get too stressed or we start burning out, we lose motivation for the things we enjoy. It is important to set aside time to pursue those hobbies and do things that stimulate us in different ways.

Speaking of leaving work alone sometimes, try to put your phone on silent at night. If you are answering calls at 3 am you are not sleeping. We all need sleep. When we are tired, our cognitive abilities decline, our tempers shorten, and we are more likely to be stressed. The recommended amount of sleep for people ages 18-64 is seven to nine hours per night, per the National Sleep Foundation (Hirshkowitz, Max et al., 2015). In addition to the need for sleep, the quality of our sleep is important. I am the first to admit to browsing my phone in bed, but that phone is emitting blue light which interferes with the body’s internal clock.

To improve your sleep, try to:

  • Put the screen down before bed
  • Decrease the amount of stimulants you are consuming (coffee, tea, energy drinks)
  • Avoid working where you sleep
  • Develop a consistent sleep schedule
  • Have a nighttime routine

So while it is not always possible to love what we do or who we do it with, there are ways at work and home to decrease stress and reduce the likelihood of burnout.

Elissa Cannonwood is a Senior Associate at Vivisum Partners. She has experience with both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Email Elissa at elissa.cannonwood@vivisumpartners.com