We all know what it is like to feel stressed – being under pressure is usually a normal part of life. But at this time of year, especially after the challenges of the last two years, some of us are finding ourselves overwhelmed by stress. This can lead to mental health problems or exacerbate existing problems, cause exhaustion, physical illness and impact on every aspect of your life.
Burnout is chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. If you are experiencing burnout you may feel completely exhausted, have little motivation for your job, feel irritable, or anxious and you may see a dip in your work performance. Some people also experience physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches, have trouble sleeping and lose their appetite.
In 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. In a recent study, three-quarters of British employees reported symptoms of burnout. For many this increase in symptoms has been caused by homeworking, which blurs the lines between work and home and can cause burnout to creep up on us. Even if you love your job, if you are working too many hours it can leave you exhausted and affect your mental and physical health.
If you feel that no matter what you, you do not seem to be able to recharge, you could be burnt out or heading that way. This is your body’s way of telling you that you need a break.
Here are some ideas to help redress the work/ life balance:
- Make sure you are taking regular breaks, even if it’s just to empty the washing machine or wash the dishes, breaks away from your screen every 45/60 minutes really help improve concentration and reduce fatigue.
- Make sure you have a lunch break (at least 30 minutes) and eat something substantial during the day to keep your energy levels up. Food really affects mood. You should aim to keep hydrated, eat when you are hungry if not before, and try to eat a balanced diet.
- Take your annual leave. Many of us may not have taken much annual leave due to all the restrictions on travel, but even if you are not going anywhere it is important to take your leave, so you can relax and return to work refreshed and recharged.
- As the days become shorter and the temperature drops, you may feel less inclined to get outside but exercise and fresh air boost mental health and wellbeing, so even if you just walk around the block during your lunch break that is better than nothing.
- It is tempting to work beyond your normal hours when you are at home but this can be a slippery slope and sets a dangerous precedence for overworking, turning into burnout. You may feel without the daily commute you can just do an extra half hour here and there, but it’s not sustainable so try not to, or if you have to on the odd occasion try not to make a habit of it.
- Switch off – if you have 24/7 access to work emails, WhatsApp, Slack etc. this is going to have a negative impact on your wellbeing. It’s hard to be disciplined but where you can ensure you are only contactable during your working hours, so you do get chance to disengage from work during your own time.
- Sleep and routine go hand in hand and both affect your mental health. If you have been less disciplined working from home you may want to look at your routine and see if you can make small but significant changes to help you to better manage your routine and improve your sleep. You can read more healthy sleep tips here.
If you are feeling totally overwhelmed by work you need to take steps to address this because as Mental Health UK say:
“Burnout isn’t something which goes away on its own. Rather, it can worsen unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore the signs of burnout, it could cause further harm to your physical and mental health in the future. You could also lose the ability and energy to effectively meet the demands of your job which could have knock-on effects to the other areas of your life.”
To address this it is vital to be self-compassionate. Speak to yourself as you would a friend. Critical self-talk and setting yourself impossible goals will only add to your stress and send you further down the spiral of poor mental health.
If you can identify the source of stress try to remove it. Often this is difficult so if this is out of your hands it is important to ask for help. Sometimes managers are unaware of issues and have a duty of care to look after the mental health of their staff.
If you cannot speak to your line manager it is important to speak to HR to ask for support (or if you have serious issues within your workplace your union rep). If you are unaware of your workplace’s approach to mental health this could be a good conversation starter. Many organisations now have mental health first aiders in place, but increasingly those who understand that staff are every organisations’ biggest asset know that staff wellness and a proactive mental health strategy is vital.
For every £1 spent on mental health the average return on investment is a staggering £5 (Deloitte Report – Mental health and employers: refreshing the case for investment).
We think those are statistics worth sharing with every organisation.
Workplace wellbeing training
Manchester Mind want to ensure that mental health problems are not a barrier to someone having a productive and fulfilling work life. Employers are increasingly recognising the need for mental health training for their teams and we offer a range of courses both online and in-person. You can find out more here.
This post was originally written for National Stress Awareness Day in November 2021. National Stress Awareness Day is an opportunity to take a moment to think about your wellbeing and find advice or support on managing stress.