If you are anything like me, you pine for days gone by when the world seemed to spin just that little bit slower, and there seemed to be more hours in the day. Well, that ain’t just nostalgia talking. Hours spent in work has risen steadily over the last few decades, and we feel every second of it. In the last 12 months, burnout has risen 5% as we struggle to re-adjust to living with COVID (I wrankle a little bit when people say a ‘post COVID world’ - sadly, we ain’t there yet). Research released by the Global Burnout Study this year showed that over a third of people surveyed were currently experiencing burnout in their workplaces. While this fact might thrill car enthusiasts, the rest of us are not so pleased. It has even prompted a wave of people re-thinking their professions or employers, known in business circles as ‘the great resignation’. It can manifest in emotional and even physical symptoms. In short, people are quite literally sick of their jobs.
Today, I am going to walk you through some of the symptoms of burnout so that you can get the upper hand before it does. Ask yourself any of the following questions:
- Are you more cynical about your job than you have been in the past?
- Is it a struggle to get out of bed on workdays?
- Are you more irritable with people at work than at home?
- Are you less productive than in the past?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to get you through the day?
- Are you struggling to get to sleep?
- Do Sunday evenings fill you with an existential dread?
Look, there are natural ebbs and flows in life, but if you answered yes to more than one of these, you might be on the path to burnout. You are particularly at risk if you work long hours or have a heavy workload, and if you work in a helping profession like teaching or health.
So what? I imagine you scoffing. That’s the job, and it puts food on the table! Well hold up, because you may be compromising your long term health. You will carry the scars of that job long after you are but a distant memory to that place. Here is what burnout does to your body:
- Excessive stress - stress hormones can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the long term. It also negatively impacts your sexual appetite.
- Fatigue - if you lack the energy to do anything beyond your 9-5, you are at risk of becoming overweight. This puts unnecessary stress on all of your organs and (to cut a long and unenviable story short) you can die young. I hope the job is worth it!
- Insomnia - According to sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life expectancy. Sleep offers your brain the chance to flush itself of negative toxins that bring about early onset dementia.
- Depression - I suspect you can imagine why we want to avoid this. What good is a job if it makes the rest of your life not enjoyable. Cheap and cheerful will always beat rich and miserable.
- Heart disease - The complex interplay between emotional wellbeing and physical health is well documented and this constant anxiety will eventually play out as high blood pressure which can bring about cardiac arrest.
- Type 2 diabetes: This is the ninth largest cause of death in developed countries. It kills upwards of 1.5 million people every year. You might watch your health in other areas, not smoking, watching your sugar intake… but if you aren’t managing your professional limits, it might all be in vain
- A weakened immune system - This means every winter, you will be dealing with the common cold, and you will need to be sponsored by Codral to shake it every few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, Codral is a wonderful option for alleviating the symptoms of a cold, but Codral won’t help you redress the imbalance in your personal life.
It’s a harrowing list, no? And yet, so many people risk these health consequences because dealing with burnout seems too hard. I recognise that everyone’s situation is different and there aren’t always simple answers in a complex world. So if I may, I will offer just a few principles which might give you some ideas going forward.
- Seek some help: I am such an advocate of talking with a psychologist. They are experts in the way our brains function, and can offer you some pretty helpful strategies. Alternatively, a mentor or friend might even be able to help you see the forest for the trees. Either way, don’t try and weather the storm alone.
- Rationally think through your choices: My wife and I have a thinking exercise called ‘blue sky thinking’. When this rule is in effect, no suggestion is bad. You don’t shut anything down, you just allow all options to breathe. Sometimes, you end up with something you might have never considered if you had shut it down straight away.
- Practice mindfulness: There are plenty of apps which can guide you through a meditation. They can be done on the bus, or even at your desk, and no one else would know what you're doing. But being mindful and present in the moment has a marked effect on our levels of anxiety.
- Prioritise sleep and exercise: Psychologically, this releases endorphins into your brain which are the happy chemical. The break from work might give you the epiphanic clarity you’ve been searching for. To almost quote Joe Strummer, should you stay, or should you go now?
At the end of the day, burnout is a real phenomenon. And I suspect that in 10 years time, there will be much greater awareness of how to protect yourself (maybe even some legislation to protect workers from unscrupulous bosses).
But in the here and now, no job is worth your health. I hope you realise that before it is too late.