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Overwork and burnout; it might not come as too much of a surprise to hear that millions of us tend to overwork. What might surprise you is just how long this rather worrying trend has been going on. The systemic idea of overwork being something to be proud of stems from way back in the 16th century.

Known as the Protestant work ethic, it was a worldview that “made hard work and the quest for profit seem virtuous”. In a way, this is what drove the industrial revolution to happen as relatively quickly as it did. But this rose-tinted view of hard work at any cost could result in very negative, long-term effects. 

Do we value hard work more than well-being?

Since then, we have tended towards the idea that the most valuable method of work is “consistent hard work, often at the cost of personal well-being”. Since the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the traditional lines that created boundaries between work and our private lives have faded. This means that many of us have taken to working remotely.

This might sound good when you only have to get up a couple of minutes before the 9 o’clock meeting but there are some serious drawbacks. As we become used to working from home, the hours that we spend working have expanded exponentially for many of us. Instead of having a standard work day, for example, 9 to 5, work tends to spill over into what used to be personal time. 

This, of course, results in us giving extra hours to the company (for which we are not paid extra) and losing ’personal’ time that we were previously dedicated to rest, relaxation and family. Even before Covid-19 took hold of our lives, we were very much slaves to work. Typically at the beck and call of our bosses even into the night, the technological advances we owe so much to in terms of ease became our downfall.

This overwork is idealized, but all too regularly, it comes at the cost of personal well-being. But of course, nobody was prepared for the occupational burnout that regularly followed the non-stop, hard work that was expected. 

What is burnout? 

First coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1970s, the term burnout has become a common axiom.  But what exactly is burnout? According to Lensa, in a state of burnout, you are likely to feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Essentially, it is a state of intensely emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. This is caused by extreme stress over a prolonged period. In a state of burnout, you are likely to feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained. It is also likely that you will not be able to meet the demands of your life. 

This prolonged stress causes you to lose both interest and motivation across your life, both personal and professional. One of the major issues with burnout is that it erodes both positivity and productivity, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a lack of control. The less productive you are, the more there is to do, which inevitably makes for a vicious cycle. Thus, the stress cycle increases and the feeling of overwhelm becomes inescapable. 

Burnout usually comes as a result of severe work stress which is sustained over a long period of time. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. This has severe and extremely negative effects on the mind and body. However, even if the stem of your stress is work, burnout and its negative effects will inevitably spill over into the rest of your life.

It also has long-term consequences such as making you more susceptible to illnesses. It can weaken your immune system and, ultimately, you are less likely to be able to cope with home, work, and social responsibilities. This makes life impossible and can cause you to feel dehumanized, physically and emotionally exhausted, and question life in general. 

burnoutAm I at risk of burnout, or is this just a short-term struggle?

As emotional beings, it can often be difficult for us to differentiate between a short-term negative cycle such as a few bad days, and a long-term, seemingly never-ending negative cycle. This can lead many of us to question whether we’re actually experiencing burnout. It’s important to remember here that we all have the occasional bad days and will, inevitably, occasionally struggle with feelings of overwhelm. But burnout is about more than just a passing feeling of negativity. 

You may be on your way to burnout if you experience these symptoms.

  • Every single day is a “bad day”.
  • You can no longer be bothered to care about either your work or home life as it feels pointless
  • Feeling constantly exhausted
  • Daily tasks feel boring and joyless
  • You feel unappreciated
  • Feeling like nothing you do makes the slightest bit of difference

If you are worried about burnout and are experiencing the below, you should contact your medical professional for advice.

What are the symptoms of burnout as a result of overwork?

One of the things that makes burnout so difficult to diagnose is that as humans, we experience a vast array of emotions on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we all experience bad days, and some days feel so bad that you can hardly bring yourself to get out of bed.

The major difference when it comes to burnout is that this feeling is constant. Like many other mental health problems, burnout does not happen overnight.

The symptoms of burnout are subtle and are likely to creep up on you. Early signs and symptoms should be treated as red flags and should alert you to reevaluate how you are managing your stress levels in the workplace. According to HelpGuide.org, these are the signs and symptoms you should look out for:

Physical signs and symptoms

  • Extreme tiredness and a feeling of being drained of energy all the time
  • Lowered immunity
  • Persistent headaches and frequent muscle pain
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns

Emotional signs and symptoms

  • Feelings of failure and self-doubt
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased feelings of detachment
  • Negative outlook
  • A decrease in satisfaction
  • Feelings of helplessness or of being trapped

Behavioral signs and symptoms

  • Isolating from others including family and friends
  • Procrastinating all tasks
  • Taking longer to get things done
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Ignoring responsibilities
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • Taking your frustration out on others
  • Blaming others
  • Skipping work

Twelve phases of burnout

According to psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, the twelve phases of burnout known as stress syndrome are:

  1. Excessive drive and ambition
  2. Pushing yourself to work too hard (a result of high ambition)
  3. Neglecting your own personal needs
  4. Blaming others for your stress, most commonly, your boss or colleagues
  5. Withdrawal from family and friends, including prioritizing work over social engagements.
  6. Avoiding non-work-related events
  7. Denial and not taking responsibility for your actions
  8. Behavioral changes such as having a much shorter temper and shouting at loved ones
  9. A feeling of detachment from your life
  10. Feelings of emptiness and anxiety that may result in engaging in risky behaviors
  11. Depression
  12. Mental or physical collapse, at this stage, medical intervention is often necessary.  

So, how can you prevent burnout?

An article in the Journal of Occupational Health suggested that increasing physical activity may aid us in the fight against burnout. In fact, physical activity has ‘promising’ effects and seemed to reduce the symptoms of burnout.

One of the major issues with physical activity as a means of combating burnout is that already exhausted employees are likely to struggle more with the motivation to exercise. 

When it comes to physical activity, high-intensity exercise seems to have the most significant impact on preventing burnout. Other, more easily targetable preventative methods for exhausted, already burnt-out employees include eating a balanced diet, practicing good sleep habits, and perhaps most importantly, asking for help when you feel like you are no longer coping. Make sure that you are scheduling (fairly) regular vacations, even if it’s just time away from the office.

Unfortunately, with ever-increasing financial pressures, lower salaries and a more unstable job market are toxic combinations that the younger generations are exposed to. Despite this, the rise of TikTok and Gen Z’s penchant for being more open about mental health is at least bringing this to light. More and more, employees are feeling empowered to make work decisions that prioritize their mental health.

However, Anat Lechner, a clinical associate professor of management at New York University, doesn’t believe that this will be resolved quickly or easily. Ultimately, Lechner says, “it has to be up to the workers to stop making burnout somehow desirable, and up to the companies to stop making the workers feel like they should”. 

References

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Katie Hart

Katie Hart is a successful health, beauty and fashion blogger with a BA in Fashion Media at LISOF. Her hobbies include styling, reading, true crime podcasts and singing. She is a lover of all things fashion and beauty, but is happiest when sitting with her mini Maltese, Aria.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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