Taking time off due to work-related stress isn’t new. But, years ago, when employee wellbeing wasn’t so high on the agenda, the condition wasn’t as well understood. Nowadays, thankfully, health and wellbeing in the workplace is a priority.
During the past few months, we’ve seen clear evidence of the incredible levels of stress our health workers have had to deal with. The COVID crisis has brought some medical professionals to their knees.
But it’s not just health professionals who suffer. It can happen to anyone, in any workplace. Many of us have suffered with a mild form of stress and depression whilst working from home over the past nine months. The shortness of sunlight, the cold damp weather, the lack of socialising, missing family and friends and the endless depressing news certainly doesn’t help.
This unhappy feeling of ‘burnout’; as I call it, is on the increase. I think it’s important for us all to acknowledge what is going on and do what we can to help ourselves and each other’s mental health.
So, what is this ‘burnout’?
If you’re suffering from burnout, you may have noticed, you:
• Have low energy or you feel completely exhausted
• You aren’t as productive or interested in your job
• Won’t feel connected to your job or your co-workers. You might experience negative thinking and dissatisfaction
You might have liked the idea of the fast-paced environment. Maybe you didn’t mind ever leaving your desk on time or answering emails immediately. But, working at such a frenetic pace isn’t good for you.
It could start with the feeling of not being valued, being overlooked for promotion or conflict with a co-worker. Maybe you suddenly feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities. You start to feel unhappy.
If you are not careful, one day you’ll wake up and you realise you don’t want to work. You’re burnt out. Had a long relaxing holiday recently? Nope, me neither.
Are burnout and depression the same thing?
Although burnout and depression have some similar symptoms, they are not the same and need to be treated differently. It’s one of the reasons why you should see your doctor if you feel anxious and overwhelmed so that you get the right diagnosis.
Depression will include other areas of your life too. If you’re depressed, you could have low self-esteem; you stop enjoying things that used to give you pleasure. You may stop wanting to go out and distance yourself from family and friends. More seriously, you could have suicidal thoughts.
Burnout, like depression, will leave you feeling exhausted. It can also give you physical symptoms like headaches and stomach upsets. You won’t have any enthusiasm for work and, you’ll find it difficult to get through the day. While depression might need treating with counselling or medication, burnout may improve with time off work and/or lifestyle changes.
How do I try and help myself?
I’ve recently changed my daily working routine to try and keep my mind healthy. I now try to take two hours out from my working a day to get outside in the daylight to take some sort of exercise. I might have a run, go for a bike ride, find a job to do in the garden or even just take a walk to the shops. I just get outside whenever there’s a break in the weather. I try and cut myself off completely. Although you might find it difficult to imagine, people will cope and, the work will get done.
I find that making the time up later in the evening, whilst it is cold, dark and miserable outside works well for me. I also seem to be more productive when the office phone stops ringing, I can focus better. I might now write a proposal at 7.30pm after dinner; and after spending a couple of hours walking with the dog whilst it was sunny earlier in the day. It makes me feel great and certainly helps my overall mood. In the summer I might look at it again and change my daily routine again to suit.
As well as being good for your physical and mental health, exercise should help you to sleep better. Sleeping well will also help to give you more energy and lift your mood.
I also try to eat well and drink less alcohol. I love a glass of wine in the evening, but maybe little is more, if you know what I mean.
What else could you try?
Learn relaxation techniques that you can apply whilst working, there are some great apps available for smart phones now. Talk to your boss about time management. Make it clear that getting away from work for a time on most days is important to your wellbeing.
If you have a conflict situation with a co-worker and you can speak to them, then do it. Don’t go on the defensive or let your emotions get the better of you. Listen to what the other person has to say and then think before you reply. If you are unable to talk to the person and the conflict is causing you stress, then speak to your manager. If you feel your workload is too much ask for help. If you’ve never said anything about the situation, your boss may not realise there’s a problem. Don’t bottle things up.
Finally, take time for yourself. Tell your family and friends you don’t want to be disturbed. Use the time to watch a favourite TV programme, listen or read a couple of chapters of a good book or play a video game. Have a relaxing bath or an invigorating shower. Whatever seems to help, make it a habit and do it daily. It doesn’t have to take hours just make sure you use the time to do something that makes you feel good.