When your job becomes too hot to handle

The heat of work pressures will slowly burn you out, unless...

If you are feeling helpless and tattered at your workplace, and something about work constantly keeps bothering you, it could be more than just stress. You need to stop and look deeper. You could be experiencing a job burnout.

The unhappiness and indifference that comes with a burnout can threaten your job, your health and your life as a whole. The good news is that you can deal with burnout. But before that, let’s understand how it affects you.

What is job burnout?

Burnout is mental exhaustion due to prolonged exposure to excessive stress. It kills the driving force that keeps you going. As a result, you are unable to meet the increasing demands of job.

As the stress continues, you tend to lose all motivation and start feeling hopeless and helpless not just about the job, but about life as well. Ultimately, you collapse.

Job burnout is a visible disparity between the demands of a job and the resources one has. When a person finds it impossible to cope with demands of his job for long, the stress associated with work turns into a burnout.

The reasons behind it

Burnout can erupt from many negative conditions at work. Some of the commonest causes are:

Work timings: Long working hours and shift work over an extended period diminishes a person’s capacity to handle stress.

Lack of rewards or recognition: It is normal to expect rewards such as praise, credibility, and promotion for good work. Disappointment sets in when these expectations are not fulfilled.

Lack of control: This happens when a person feels overpowered by others. For example, you are unable to influence the decisions that affect your job, like hours of work, workload, submission timelines and pay.

Undefined responsibilities: There are many instances when the job roles and responsibilities are unclear. Also, uncertainty regarding degree of authority can affect a person.

Difference in preference: This occurs when the values of an employee and her employer or supervisor do not match. Certain behaviours and personalities of the employer like bullying or perfectionism also cause stress.

Poor job fit: Job roles that poorly fit a person’s interests and skills make it difficult to stay motivated. So do monotonous roles, where there is little change in one’s nature of work or little scope for creativity.

Personality traits: Your personality determines your perspective towards your work and work environment. How you manage your work ultimately affects your peace of mind.

How it can affect you

When burnout remains unnoticed or unaddressed, it can significantly affect your health. It can cause psychological disturbances like irritability, anxiety, hopelessness and depression.

Physical symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, headache, stomach upset, insomnia and changes in blood pressure. Behavioural issues like absenteeism, alcohol or substance abuse, strained personal relationships may also crop up.

Warning signs of burnout: Spot it

Burnout is characterised by three main features:

  • Exhaustion: A state in which mental resources are drained.
  • Cynicism: A state of indifference, a negative attitude towards everything, especially your job.
  • Lack of efficacy: A tendency to estimate your performance negatively, which then leads to feeling of inefficiency and poor self-esteem.

It is normal to feel bored or dejected sometimes, only to regain your enthusiasm after a while. Some stress helps keep you motivated, however it is important to realise the difference between normal stress and burnout.

To spot the symptoms of burnout, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you find your job less interesting than before?
  • Do you dread at thought of your job on waking up?
  • Do you feel you are dragging yourself to work?
  • Have you become more critical or irritable at work?
  • Have you started blaming others for mistakes?
  • Do you lack the feeling of satisfaction from your accomplishments?
  • Do you feel you are caught between too many responsibilities?
  • Do you feel that you lack energy to be consistently productive?
  • Are you left with no time for your personal interests?
  • Have you noticed any change in your sleeping or eating habits?
  • Are you using any foods, medicines, stimulants to deal with your worries?
  • Do you experience unexplained headaches, body aches or other physical complaints?

If your answer to the above questions is yes, you may be experiencing job burnout. You can learn ways to manage your stress. At the same time, you can consider seeking professional help if required.

Don’t just quit

It is likely that your present job is to be blamed for your condition. And, in desperation, you may feel like quitting this job and seek another one. But without understanding the basic problem and the underlying cause, beginning a new job is dangerous.

The second job may promote burnout even more rapidly, because the previous frustration is still there. And thus the vicious circle starts. It is better to stop for a while, assess the situation, and then take appropriate action.

Act on it

If you are already on the way to burnout, here’s what you can do about it:

  • Identify your stressors
  • Give yourself some time to analyse the situation.
  • Identify the issues that cause you stress.
  • Modify your attitudes.
  • Know yourself and your capacities; assess your strengths. Identify your weaknesses.
  • Accept yourself as a unique person. Do not compare yourself with others. When you identify your uniqueness and are willing to improvise on your abilities, you will succeed.
  • Set realistic goals and reasonable expectations from yourself and others.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Balance work and play.
  • Develop social support. Discuss your concerns with friends and family.
  • Change your interaction with the environment
  • Improve your outlook. Rediscover the brighter and enjoyable side of your job.
  • Develop strategies on goal setting, time management and conflict management.
  • Take assertiveness training.
  • Use peer feedback to identify areas of improvement.
  • Learn to slow down and relax.
  • Improve your physical health
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • Get appropriate and adequate nutrition.
  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Regularly involve yourself in some recreational activities.
  • Cut down on excess stimulants like tea, coffee and cigarettes.
  • Take a break
  • Go on a vacation, but the kind of vacation is more important than its length. So avoid attending calls and checking emails while you are away.
  • Spend quality time with your family regularly. You may want to start a daily night walk or a collective week-end activity.
  • Update yourself
  • Assess your skills, interests and inclinations.
  • Undertake some continued education programs if possible.

Changes in work environment

  • Talk to your supervisors about altering your work timings to make it easy for you to adjust.
  • Ask for a change in work profile so that you can work on a variety of areas.
  • Choose a job role that better suits your personality. If it isn’t possible in the present job, consider changing jobs.

The key lies in learning to manage the source of stress and to make use of it in a positive way. Manage yourself and your environment so that you can stay within those boundaries.

But act on it now, before it acts on you. While these tips are helpful in coping with burnout, someone who is more deeply affected requires additional measures to recover. If you feel the situation is beyond control, seek medical help.

This was first published in the August 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Snehal Singh
Snehal Singh is a Mumbai-based homoeopath with a post graduation in Lifestyle Medicine. She is a zealous medical writer and has also developed a few health websites.

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