Everyone who works will experience stress at some point in their career, but how do you know if your stress is normal workday 'arghs!' or something quite serious?
Hi, I'm Izzy and I'm a recovering workaholic.
I’ve always felt that I won't be the smartest or most talented person in the room, so I'll have to rely on a strong work ethic to build up my credibility and climb the career ladder. So when I started my first job I was often one of the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave. I'd be working most weekends and evenings after work too - all the while obsessively worrying over my performance and whether my manager was regretting his decision to hire me.
As time went by, any trace of work-life balance went out the window. I had no energy, I withdrew from my friends and family, I neglected my health and I became disillusioned with my work everything. Nothing catalyzed this - it wasn’t that I wasn’t performing well, or that I suddenly didn’t like my job. It was just a classic case of burnout. Chronic anxiety over a relatively long period of time left me completely drained and unable to function properly. In just a few months I went from fresh-faced, confident and ambitious to an emotional wreck.
Looking back, it’s pretty obvious that my former lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, nor the smartest career strategy, but at the time I wore my workaholism like a medal of honour. The way I saw it, I was young and eager to be successful and my work ethic was the only ticket I could use to get there.
Alarmingly, my story isn’t that uncommon. Many millennial women are experiencing career burnout before they turn 30, and researchers have found that Gen Y workers exhibit more anxiety depression and mental health issues compared to previous generations.
There've also been a spate of suicides and unexpected deaths among financial-services employees. Two days ago, Sarvshreshth Gupta, who worked as an analyst in Goldman Sach's San Francisco office, was found dead at only 22 years old. While each individual situation should be treated separately, they all worked excessively long hours in high pressure jobs.
So how can we tell we’re at risk of burning out? What can we do if we already are?
First, you need to know the classic symptoms of burnout.
1. You're exhausted all the time.
A clear sign of burn-out is when you feel tired and lacking energy all the time.
2. You just don't give two hoots (about anything).
If you’ve suddenly lost enthusiasm for work and other hobbies there’s a good chance you are burning out.
3. Are you ever NOT in a bad mood?
You might feel like everything you do is meaningless and that you are more pessimistic than usual.
4. You can't focus.
Burnout and chronic stress can impede your ability to concentrate and pay attention. You might also find that you’re more forgetful.
5. You're taking it out on your body.
Some people react to burnout by engage in unhealthy coping strategies like smoking, binge drinking, eating too much junk food, not eating enough or not sleeping. They may also turn to self-medication - relying on sleeping pills and caffeine to keep going.
6. You're squabbling with everyone.
Burning out can cause people to have more conflicts with others or withdrawing from them entirely.
7. When you're not working, you're thinking about work
If work is "following" you home, you’re probably unable to recover from the stresses of the day, which often leads to burnout. We all need time to ourselves to think back and reflect on their day or week, and time spent not thinking about work at all.
8. Everything feels flat...
This is when you struggle to feel happiness or excitement about anything. You may also start to lose feelings of unhappiness or anger too. Instead you’re just… flat.
9. Health Issues
Finally, chronic stress can lead to health problems relating to your heart, digestive system and mental health.
And if you are burning out?
It may be tempting to run away to a shiny new career and think that will make everything better, but the only way to truly conquer burnout is to stop, lean into the situation, and think about how you can improve your current situation. If you don't address what has made you feel this way, the same problems may follow you in your next role.
Here are some strategies that should help -
1. Take ‘me time’ seriously
Whether you take up yoga or meditation, listen to music, read a book, go for a walk or visit family or friends, you need to think about what activity makes you truly relax and block out time in your diary to do it.
2. Cultivate a fulfilling non-work life
Find something outside of work that you’re passionate about and gives you a buzz. Joining a sports team, pursuing a new or existing hobby, volunteering in the community or learning a new skill will help you switch off from work and gain a sense of achievement. Ideally, try to find something that will help you meet new people.
3. Take a 'time out' from tech
While technology can increase productivity and connect us with, it can also let work-related stress interrupt family time, holidays and social activities. Set some boundaries to encourage a healthier relationship with your tech by blocking out time to check your emails and times to ‘switch off’ from tech altogether, and stick to them.
4. Get some sleep
Ok, it sounds super obvious but sleep deprivation is a major cause of stress and burnout. When you’re tired, your productivity and performance will drop and you’ll feel more irritable and pessimistic. If you’re the type to respond to an unproductive day by burning the midnight oil, you’re pretty much asking for burnout to smack you in the face.
Recovering from chronic stress and burnout requires reducing the demands on you and replenishing your energy. Unsurprisingly, getting some more zzzs is the best ways to recover. If you're struggling with insomnia, these tips should help.
5. Train Your brain to be more positive
There are tons of amazing apps out there to help train our brains into being more positive. I can’t guarantee that they’ll make you smarter or happier, but they can help you have more control over your emotional state. Bear in mind that most of these games are designed for people who are fairly healthy, not for those with mental health disorders, and aren’t a replacement for a mental health professional.
6. Is it you, or is it the job?
Burnout is sometimes motivated by internal factors, and sometimes it really is a result of external ones. In either case you need to ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” so you can pinpoint the problem. If it’s internal, you’ll need to discover what you can do to maintain internal resources and stay motivated, happy and improving yourself.
But sometimes it’s not you; it’s the job.
To find out whether it’s time to move on, figure out whether your needs are incompatible with what you’re getting out of your job with that particular organisation. If you think the situation can be improved, consider talking to your manager or HR about how they can help you recover from burnout and how to create a better, more positive work environment. If you’re experiencing burnout, chances are that someone else in the business may be feeling the same way. If the organisation is unwilling to make any changes to support you, it’s probably a sign it is time to move on.
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