Everyone has days at work where all they want to do is go home and hide under the covers. You feel like there is no way you can get everything done, or that even if you do, it is all meaningless anyway. Everyone faces doubts on occasion that they are capable of doing their job to the best of their abilities, especially in a new position. There are weeks where it feels like all you do is work, and you turn into a hermit temporarily. Those moments of doubt, stress and all-consuming work should be transient and interspersed with long periods of confidence and a healthy work-life balance. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes people find themselves trapped in a cycle of chronic stress that saps their energy, motivation and interest in the world around them. They become cynical, detached and feel as if their skills are inadequate for the job they have been asked to do. When that happens, a person suffers from what is described as burnout, a state similar to depression in which a person’s work-life balance is effectively destroyed, and they feel detached and uninvolved in either side of that balance. Burnout can destroy what would have otherwise been promising careers, and the mental and emotional damage can take years to repair. Burnout it not a certainty, however, and it can be prevented. Even if you are on the road to burnout, you can still turn around once you recognize where you are headed. Here are six signs that you are burning out at work.
When you are verging on the edge of burnout, you are exhausted. The stress of the situation is likely costing you sleep. You may end up staying awake late into the night trying to rearrange your schedule so that you can at least attempt to get everything done the next day. On the other hand, you might be struggling to sleep because you dread going to work the next day. Regardless of how precisely it manifests itself, stress is well known to be an anathema to a good night’s sleep.
Burnout does not just leave you exhausted physically. If you are on the road to burnout, you are likely dealing with emotional exhaustion as well. You are being pulled in a dozen directions and are trying to keep your spirits up despite the cynicism and sense of defeat that nibbles at the edges of your mind. The physical and emotional exhaustion feed each other and leave you in a thoroughly miserable downward spiral.
Lack of Motivation
The occasional day when you cannot find the energy to do anything productive is a sad fact of life. There will be days when you struggle to find the motivation to do more than pour yourself a cup of coffee. These days should be very rare, and when you have no motivation, you should be able to force yourself to push through it in order to get your tasks completed on time. When you are on the edge of burnout, however, the lack of motivation becomes chronic. You find yourself unable to push through those low days, and you become less effective at work. Your performance may begin to suffer.
A lack of motivation is not just limited to your work life when you are dealing with burnout. You might well find that you have no motivation to spend time with friends or family. The lack of motivation and concentration leaves you listless in a way that resembles depression. You either stress yourself out more over your inability to focus, or you become apathetic to everything around you. You simply do not have the energy or motivation to care about much of anything.
Suffering Interpersonal Relationships
When burnout sets in, most people start becoming one man hermitages. They eschew socializing and tend to neglect their relationships. At the time, this makes sense to the person suffering from burnout. They are exhausted and stressed. The last thing they want to do is go spend time with other human beings. At first, many people who are dealing with burnout believe that they can push through the problem. They may be emotionally exhausted and becoming steadily more cynical, but they still think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, when it comes to burnout that light is a train.
Personal relationships are not the only ones that suffer during burnout. Many people who are dealing with burnout end up snapping at their coworkers or hiding in their office all day with the door closed. They come to dislike talking to anyone, even though human connections can give them the necessary support and stress relief they need while they are struggling.
If you have always been a healthy person but now you are getting sick every time someone so much as looks at you, you might be dealing with burnout. Burnout is characterized by chronic stress, and stress is about as friendly to your immune system as kryptonite is to Superman. Constant stress will depress your immune system and leave you far more prone to catching minor illnesses such as coughs and colds as well as increase your risk of suffering from more serious diseases such as respiratory infections. Burnout can also cause other stress-related health problems. Headaches, stomach aches and cramping muscles are all common in people who are routinely stressed. Those who are stressed also tend to be less likely to take good care of their health. They see themselves as having no time to exercise or cook healthy meals and are more prone to either binge eating or skipping meals due to a lack of appetite. When this is paired with the insomnia that follows burnout like a particularly devoted puppy, you have a perfect storm for chronic health problems.
Bad days happen to everyone, but when you are burning out, the bad days outnumber the good. You start to doubt your ability to do your job and find yourself struggling to find meaning in your work. Even people who are generally optimistic tend to start taking a more pessimistic view of life when they begin to burn out. People become easily frustrated and more irritable. This is unsurprising given that many people who are dealing with burnout are also suffering from insomnia. A lack of sleep can make anyone unfriendly.
Perhaps one of the largest signs of burnout is a strange combination of apathy and concern. You know that you need to get your work done or improve your performance, and you are stressed about both of them. At the same time, you are apathetic toward both of them.
Work Ethic Changes
When people start approaching burnout, most of them find that both their work habits and work ethic change drastically. For some people, work consumes their entire lives. As their efficiency drops, they work increasingly long hours. They go into work early and stay late. When they are away from work, their job still consumes their mind. They are thinking about reports when they go out for drinks with friends. They are considering which candidate is a better fit for an open position when they are brushing their teeth. They are debating how they want to handle their presentation during a birthday party.
On the flip side, some people who are burning out avoid work as much as possible. They begin to run late or leave early. They refuse to talk about their job with other people. They call in sick or take as much vacation time as possible. Work has become synonymous with stress, so they avoid any mention of it.
Burnout can affect anyone, but it is harder for it to sink its claws into you if you have a healthy work-life balance. Take a vacation when you need it, and take care of yourself. When you feel burnout approaching, force yourself to take a step back and analyze the situation calmly. Have you taken on too many projects in too short a time? Get through this chunk of time, and then make sure to lighten the load. Work on saying no to things you truly do not have time to do. Are you expecting miracles from yourself or drowning in perfectionism? Learn to set more realistic expectations. If the burnout is not from your own actions, however, but from your job itself, then you have a choice to make. You can try and change what needs to be changed, but if that fails, be prepared to start hunting for another job. Your health is too important, and life is too short to deliberately stay where you are miserable.
By Stephanie Hertzenberg , Beliefnet.com