While short-term stress can help us deal with daily life challenges, when it overwhelms us, we might not be able to cope. Burnout usually results from excessive stress over an extended period. However, preventing the chronic impact of stress may require more than simply ‘recovering.’ Instead, it is necessary to recognize that you cannot sustain your old way of thinking and acting. Accepting the change can help to lessen psychological stress and provide protection in the future.
According to Gallup (2020), almost 8 out of 10 people report that they have experienced burnout of varying severity. The World Health Organization recognizes job burnout as a form of job-related stress that is characterized by the following three symptoms:
1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. You may feel extremely tired and excessively emotional (e. g. have a short temper or feel anxious and irritable), becoming easily upset or moved to tears.
2. Increased negative feelings about work or mental distance from it. You might feel that you do not enjoy work anymore and not feel motivated to start new projects at work, increasingly becoming less involved and more distant from work and work-related activities. Negativism towards your colleagues or unwillingness to help them might also be present.
3. Reduced professional efficacy or feeling incompetent and inefficient. You might question your competence, ability to do and finish tasks or make decisions, or, at some point, think you are unsuited for the job. Taking responsibility may also feel like a significant burden (e. g. you might face instances where you cannot deliver projects as you wish by a particular deadline or precise quality and think of yourself as incompetent).
4. Our mental health professionals’ team has identified certain clues on spotting burnout early. High emotional variability, people typically swaying from one emotion extremum to the other (from stressed to exhausted every day, from ecstatic to pessimistic), might be one of them. Burnout impacts self-awareness – therefore, it’s often difficult to spot it early enough yourself.
Small daily efforts are essential and more effective than waiting for the weekend or annual vacation, say job burnout experts Derks, Bakker & Oerlemans (2014). These activities can help you regularly recharge so that you are ready for the everyday challenges of work:
After work hours, disengage from work actively: turn off notifications of work-related communications and shut off work smartphones and laptops.
Prioritize self-care by regular exercise, engaging in hobbies and getting enough sleep, or enjoying low-resource activities, such as napping.
Engage in supportive social relationships that replenish your resources.
There are several things you can do to recover from burnout. Effort–recovery theory by Meijman & Mulder reveals critical aspects to be aware of if we want to prevent job burnout:
Work-related activities and their completion require the expenditure of cognitive and physical energy – so there is a cost involved.
The expanse can be recovered after a brief break from work.
However, the cost is never recovered if the break is too short or not taken at all.
When employees with a lack, or even deficit, of energy approach work-related tasks and obligations, their productivity is reduced. To make up for the difference, the employee might work overtime, which prevents energy recovery from the cost of work-related duties. As a result, the employee is continuously working at expanses of the energy and can never fully recover.
Knowing this, recovery from burnout can happen when we recharge our mental and physical resources.
🌱 Low-energy activities: These require little effort and are not outcome driven – they are just enjoyable, e. g. coloring, watching movies, listening to music, and napping.
🌱 Physical activities: Regular physical activity reduces the effects of stress, boosts our immune system, improves sleep, and contributes to better emotional well-being overall. Exercising with other people can also foster social relationships.
🌱 Social activities: Nurturing social interactions with trusted friends and family is healthy social support that helps to recover from and cope with prolonged stress.
🌱 Shortly, to recharge your resources, participate in activities that: (1) have beneficial consequences to your mental and physical well-being, (2) boost self-care habits (3) foster supportive relationships.
Pause and reflect on the following question – “what activities help you replenish your energy?” Make a list. It is essential to become aware of the sources we gain energy from and what we can do to refuel to prevent and recover from burnout. While this is individual for everyone, it reveals important insights for creating sustainable well-being.