Work equals stress for most U.S. workers. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, and 25 percent of workers view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.
Because stress developed in early humans as a natural physical response to trigger our fight-or-flight instinct in dangerous situations, it’s an inevitable part of life. However, too much stress can lead to burnout—which can, in turn, lead to a number of physical and mental ailments, including:
- Sadness, anger, irritability
- Alcohol/substance abuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- A weakened immune system
Who burns out?
Burnout can happen to anyone. If you have a heavy workload, and long hours cause you to struggle with your work-life balance; if you feel you have little to no control over your work situation; if your workplace dynamics are dysfunctional (e.g., you’re bullied or micromanaged); if you have little social support and feel isolated at work and home, your risk of burnout is high.
What are the signs of burnout?
Not everyone manifests burnout the same way. And right now, with the added challenges of disrupted offices and remote work, it can be even harder to recognize the symptoms in yourself or a co-worker.
So, how can you tell when you—or someone you know—have transitioned from stress to full-on burnout? Watch for these signs:
- You have to drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started
- You’re disillusioned with your job
- You’re apathetic and have lost the energy to be productive
- You’ve become cynical or critical at work
- You’ve lost confidence in your abilities
- You can’t concentrate, your quality of work has slipped and you miss deadlines
- You’ve withdrawn from all but necessary conversations at work and no longer socialize with co-workers
- You’ve become irritable and impatient with co-workers, customers or clients
- You take more “mental health days”
- You use food, drugs or alcohol to feel better—or to not feel at all
- Your sleep habits have worsened
- You suffer unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints
Can burnout be reversed?
One of the signs above may not mean burnout. But if you see—or feel in yourself—several or all of these behaviors, it’s time to consider your options, which may include:
- Talking to a mental health professional through an employee assistance program (if your employer offers one) or asking your doctor for a referral
- Discussing specific concerns with your manager to see if you can work together to reach solutions
- Reaching out to co-workers, friends or loved ones for moral support
- Trying stress-reducing activities like yoga or mediation, and getting regular exercise
- Getting more sleep to help protect your health
It’s not easy to admit that you’ve reached the point of burnout, but it is reversible. For the sake of your physical and mental health—and for those who care about you—take that first step now and consult your doctor or a mental health professional to rebuild a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life.