The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work right now.
Those in essential services may still be required to go into the office or be on-site. But for many others, working from home while handling various family interruptions has become the new normal.
Both situations can be extremely stressful and can lead to burnout.
The World Health Organization describes burnout as “a feeling of intense fatigue, loss of control, and an inability to produce concrete results at work.”
Workplace stress and burnout affect your job satisfaction and your quality of life outside of work. But critically, they also impact your health. Studies have linked excessive stress to higher risk of heart disease, stroke and even cancer.
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Identifying the early symptoms of burnout not only helps you lead a happier life, but a healthier one too. Here’s how to tell if you’re on the cusp of burnout and what to do to turn things around.
Assess your risk of burnout
Burnout is most commonly linked to a few professions – like health-care providers, entrepreneurs and lawyers. But it can affect anyone, explains Dr. Mariyam Ahmed, a Toronto psychologist. “Anyone can be at risk for developing burnout, regardless of occupation. Burnout is really on the rise across the board.”
To assess your risk of burnout, look beyond your job as well. Things like a personal crisis, life event or more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, can also add to your stress – and your risk of burnout – she explains. Even positive life events, like having a baby, can temporarily up your risk.
Look for early warning signs of burnout
Burnout can affect both your physical and mental health, explains Dr. Ahmed. Creeping workplace stress can cause a range of symptoms.
If you’re now working from home or working in an essential service, y ou might notice a shift in your approach to work – say, from meeting deadlines easily to working at the last minute. That can cause you to feel less satisfied with your job. You might also feel sad, anxious, irritable and less productive. You may even dread getting out of bed in the morning, she says.
Finally, burnout and stress can also cause physical health issues. Watch out for unexplained headaches, GI problems or difficulty sleeping, Dr. Ahmed advises.
How to handle stress and prevent burnout
If the symptoms above sound familiar, you might be suffering from excessive work-related stress or burnout. But you don’t have to be stuck in the cycle of stress. Here are 5 ways to avoid it.
1. Lighten your demanding workload or ask for flexible hours. Look for tasks you could delegate or deprioritize to streamline your workload. Ask your boss about shuffling your responsibilities – it could help your work feel fresh and exciting again.
Or, talk to your manager about having flexible work hours if you’re now working from home. This can help you set aside time to take care of your family. That way, you can avoid or reduce the amount of interruptions you may get during your working hours.
2. Manage your work-life balance, so you truly have a break. Set your phone to do-not-disturb at night and limit email to work hours to ease your stress.
3. Make health a priority, even when you’re tired. A balanced diet and regular exercise both nourish your body and help relieve burnout, advises Dr. Ahmed. Try healthy meal preps to get you started. Or, download a meditation app that can coach you for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Get in a few minutes of exercise at home or try a brisk walk outside if you can.
4. Reach out to your loved ones. Support from your friends, family and colleagues can help ease your stress, says Dr. Ahmed. You may not be able to see your family, friends or co-workers in person during this period of social distancing. But you can still connect them by phone, email or video chat.
5. Get professional help. The right mental health-care provider is an outlet to share your worries. They can also help identify personalized solutions to manage your stress. Be sure you’re maximizing your workplace group benefits to access e-counselling and virtual care services. For example, your benefits may come with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers free e-therapy sessions for you and your family.
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