You don’t have to look far to find someone who is experiencing work-related stress. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as an occupational phenomenon. Here’s how to fight back.
Types of burnout
The symptoms of burnout can include physical and mental exhaustion, depression, cynicism, and professional inefficacy, yet the root causes vary. For example, burnout can happen if you’re working too hard in the pursuit of good results or not receiving enough challenge and stimulation. A work-life imbalance or a missing social support network can also increase the risk.
Juggling a multitude of tasks in multiple jobs, volunteering included, can also become a risk for burnout. People who juggle weekend jobs, on top of their own regular weekday ones, find themselves without a day of break in between, which can ultimately take the joy out of the most enjoyable job.
Helper or caregiver burnout can affect professionals such as doctors and nurses, but it can also affect teachers and stay-at-home and/or homeschooling parents. A parent working full time and coming home to a load of chores is also at risk.
Burnout symptoms can often resemble those found in people with depression, which include extreme fatigue, negativity, and a loss of joy in everyday life.
People who suffer from high stress and prevalent burnout syndrome are thought to have an increased risk of insulin resistance due to high triglyceride levels, which persist even after improving exercise and diet. Insulin resistance can stress the cardiovascular system and increase the risk of heart disease.
Prolonged stress also increases the cortisol concentration in the body, which can cause the body to secrete less over time to compensate. One possible consequence is body-wide inflammation and buildup of plaque in the arteries, which ultimately can cause heart attacks.
Checking your work emails after hours and on weekends can be a work continuum that surreptitiously replaces (needed) free time. For those who struggle with burnout stress but find it hard to meditate, a focus game on a screen can provide relaxation; the equivalent of Sudoku or crossword puzzles for some.
Stress makes us reach for treats. It turns out we are wired for it. “When we experience stress, our brains need and use more glucose,” says Orsha Magyar, MSc, holistic nutritionist. “Fight back against stress by eating every three to four hours to keep blood sugar levels balanced,” says Magyar. “Choose complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein, and avoid highly processed foods, which are low in fiber and high in simple sugars and can cause a serious blood sugar rollercoaster.”
Mind and body
Daily mindfulness exercises (breathing, immersing in the moment, doing a body scan) can help keep you aware of your body’s sensations and reduce stress.
Aerobic exercise, even low intensity, can reduce symptoms of burnout, and so can yoga and stretching. Frequency, rather than intensity, is what matters, so make physical activity and mindfulness part of your routine.