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June 11, 2019

Recently you may have noticed there’s been a heap of news about burnout so we thought we'd pull together a list of tips and tricks to help you avoid it!


So, what is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

It drains you and affects your ability to meet the constant demands of your job.  It makes you resentful, cynical and certainly stops you drinking your company’s Kool-Aid.  Eventually you feel like you’ve got nothing left to give.

According to the World Health Organisation, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they experience the following symptoms:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  3. reduced professional efficacy

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I know what you’re thinking, “but I’ve felt exhausted or distant from my role at some point” - burnout happens when you can’t shake it, when you’re constantly feeling all 3 of the above.

But how can I tell if it’s stress or burnout?

Don’t worry – there is a difference, it may not be the easiest thing to recognise, but you can.

First things first, burnout starts out as stress, which is an expected human response to challenging or dangerous situations.

We’ve evolved over time to be able to handle a range of stressors and recover from them, only today our stressors are coming from a little red dot saying how many unread emails we have opposed to a tiger chasing us in the jungle.

Stress is a part of being human, and some amount of stress is actually helpful – think back to uni days and trying to get that assignment in on time...it made you get it in!  

Is stress helpful sometimes?

Yes, it increases our energy, productivity and alertness.  If we weren’t stressed at all it would lead to reduced motivation and even reduced performance.

You’ve heard of ‘fight or flight’ – this happens when our body is getting ready to take action against potential danger, it gets our system firing with the release of adrenaline and cortisol, and with it our heart rate and metabolism speed up.

The problem is when we can’t return to a state of ‘normal’ once the stressor passes. When we continue to focus on worries or get caught up in the next new stressor, leaving the body without enough time to return to a state of natural calm….as it thinks the tiger is still chasing us.

Constant stress = burnout

This constant state of stress will lead to burnout, and places unnecessary pressure on the limbic and adrenal system, making us mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

Burnout can lead to severe depression and anxiety.

Periods of excessive and prolonged stress can also manifest physically and cause health to deteriorate. Along with headaches, memory impairment, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, burnout can cause sleep disturbance and suppress immunity.

How to identify burnout

Physical signs

  • Headaches
  • Struggling to get to sleep and/or get out of bed
  • Sore muscles
  • Change in appetite
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, feeling constantly off

Emotional signs

  • Lack of motivation
  • Increasingly negative thoughts
  • Decreased satisfaction at work
  • Sense of failure
  • Feeling defeated
  • Feeling alone in the world

If you’re feeling any of the above we recommend you talk to a health professional.

How can I avoid burnout?

There are many ways to avoid burnout, but we think these are the most simple and effective for most people.

1.   Go for a walk at lunch

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You may feel like you need to push through your work and not take any breaks, but get up and get outside, It’s pretty simple but even a quick lap of the block can get you in the right headspace.  Fresh air and a fix of vitamin D do wonders. Trust us.

2.   Be helpful

One easy way to add meaning to your work is to help others, even if it’s in the tiniest way. When you help others it often makes you feel good, re-energises you and helps you find meaning in what you’re doing.

3.   Talk to your colleagues

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Guess what?  We’re all in this together!  Sometimes when we’re stressed we can feel like everything is on us, but it’s not, so often what we’re working on is part of a bigger piece of work that others are also working on so don’t be shy, ask for help.  Also take an interest in those around you, they have families, weekends, holidays, funny stories, recipes etc they’re probably bursting to share with you, life is better with mates!

4.   Practice mindfulness

It wouldn’t be like us if it didn’t mention mindfulness, so here it goes…10 minutes a day is all you need to see real changes, not convinced yet?  Check out this short video that explains the science behind it.

Mindfulness reduces stress, increases productivity and builds resilience, you can check out more of the benefits here.

New to Smiling Mind?  Download our free app and get started with the Body Scan meditation, your mind will thank you for it!

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5.   Learn to say no

You can avoid the feeling of constant stress by finding new ways to manage your time and your boss.  If a deadline is going to be impossible to meet say no. Have a conversation with your boss and explain why you won’t meet it and ask for more control over your tasks, workload and deadlines.

6.   Decide if it’s the job/company for you

It’s a no-brainer really, but if your role and/or company is no longer right for you maybe you should consider leaving.  We spend most of our lives at work so if you’re not happy do something about it. Find something you’re passionate about and it will make life much better.

We hope these tips help to keep you burnout free. Remember to keep checking in with yourself and those around you.