Out With The Burnout
No matter where we’re at in our careers, we should look out for the signs of burnout so that we can overcome it.
Although our mental health is something we should be mindful of year-round, World Mental Health Day on 10 October is always a good reminder to pause and take a look at how we’re doing. Mental wellness is equally as important as physical health, but it's something we often ignore. In fact, we sometimes fall sick because of underlying stress or exhaustion. If we’re not careful, they can add up and end in mental breakdown.
A recent report ranked Singaporeans as the most fatigued in the world and second highest in average number of hours worked annually. Work is where many of us experience the challenges of maintaining mental wellness. It’s not only exhaustion—stress can also come from heavy workloads, workplace conflicts, or un-engaging work.
What happens when it gets too much? Burnout. We feel exhausted, disengaged from work, and have reduced self-belief at our job. Our poor mental and physical health from work affects our personal lives as well.
No matter how long we've been working for, we should be aware of the signs. According to psychologists, there are 12 stages on the way to total burnout. They help us identify where we’re at so that we can take immediate action to prevent a breakdown.
While the stages show the progression of symptoms, it also explains the psychology and physiology of our response to prolonged stress and exhaustion. Understanding how our minds and bodies work is the first step to fighting burnout. When we experience any of these signs, we know that it signals something deeper that we need to attend to.
If you’ve found yourself at one of the stages, don’t stress! We’ve got you covered with some strategies to manage stress, avoid burnout, and achieve mental wellness at work.
Turn negativity to positivity
Prolonged stress can lead to a negative outlook. You start doubting your capability or think your coworkers look down on you. To overcome that thought, realise that you’re stressed and not perceiving things in a healthy state of mind. Changing the negative thoughts into positive ones is a good place to start, though it’s often easier said than done.
As such, it’s important to be aware of the difference between your own negativity and actual bad experiences. If you have genuine troubles at work, don’t sugarcoat or suppress your emotions— also known as toxic positivity. Acknowledge your experience, accept your emotions, and get support.
Understand different types of stress
While chronic stress isn't good, some stress can be, in fact, healthy for us. It could be a big presentation or pressing deadline—mild stress from a manageable workload stimulates our brain and body to focus on the task at hand.
In addition to actual stressors, we may experience perceived stress—feelings and thoughts about how much stress we’re under. Perceived stress increases when we feel a lack of control and confidence in facing difficulties in our lives. It affects our mental health just like actual stress. However, if we have the self-belief to overcome stressful situations, we experience less perceived stress and are better able to preserve our mental wellness.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a link between work disengagement and burnout. If you find yourself losing satisfaction in the work you do, it’s good to take a step back and reframe. Focus on aspects of your job that align with your own values, see past your work to the people you serve, and celebrate the small and big wins at your job.
Engage with colleagues
Having good relationships with your colleagues doesn’t just reduce possible conflicts but increases the enjoyment of working itself. Whether it’s lunch or a quick check-in at the start of the day, these touch points form connections that boost your social well-being. For those who work from home, it’s even more important to be intentional in reaching out. Texting and phone calls—not just liking a post on Instagram!—are simple ways of socialising.
Create a conducive work space
Research shows that, for work environments, light, greenery (real or artificial), space that allows physical activity, outdoor views, and control over your personal space all promote psychological and physical well-being. Think about having plants on your desk, using comfortable lighting, creating an exercise corner, or sitting by a window if you're working from home. If you’re in an office and can’t really reconfigure your space, there are other ways to achieve the same effect. For example, take a break outside to be in nature or move about during work.
These are some practical steps to help you manage stress and maintain mental wellness. But what if you’re already burnt out? The good news is that you can recover and come back even stronger with techniques during work (internal recovery) and outside of work (external recovery).
Take a hiatus
For those who are severely burnt out, you may need a more drastic measure like taking time off work for an extended period for your body to recover. The goal is to detach yourself entirely from work and focus on family, friends, and hobbies that give you life.
Burnout may be a result of workplace culture instead of yourself. If you’re struggling in an unhealthy environment, don’t be afraid to get professional help or share about it with people you trust. Having a support network is important as we don't have to face it alone.
Burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” (according to the World Health Organization) that many of us commonly experience. Most of us keep tabs on our physical health, being acutely aware of any unusual aches or pains, and the same should be done for our mental health as well.
Just like physical exercise, being mindful of your mental health and implementing preventive or combative strategies will help your mind to stay in shape. If you’re looking for more resources, these might help:
For more workplace wellness practices, we spoke to the team at Rakuten.
If you're struggling during this difficult time, here are some ways to take care of yourself in the pandemic.
We also have some insights on how to build resilience and a healthy mental state from Dr Tim Errington, Founder-CEO of Total Health Chiropractic.
We hope that these tips and resources will help you manage burnout throughout your career!
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