Are You Headed for Burnout?
Sign 1: Feeling overwhelmed
The beginnings of burnout are related to job stress. You find that the original expectations for your job or role are unrealistic and that there's more to do than time to do it. You work longer hours than intended, give up your routines entirely (you can’t remember the last time you went to the gym or got your hair done) and don't even have time to relax, at all. You say to yourself: "I'll relax on the weekend!"
When you share your feelings with friends or family, they shrug off your concerns and suggest you be more grateful or that you just take more time for yourself. Friends might say, "Your job sucks -- you need to find a new one." You find yourself saying, "Stay positive; this will get easier." And then...it doesn't.
Sign 2: Disenchantment
This sign is more intense than the first: You have no illusions about the amount of stress you're under, but you keep working. You find your energy levels are lower than they used to be, and your days are filled with frustration, boredom and confusion. You work harder for less satisfaction. You tell yourself: "Just hang on 'til the weekend; I'll be able to sleep then."
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Sign 3: Brownout
You've completely abandoned your needs for relaxation, adequate rest and good nutrition. You often feel rushed and indecisive, with intense negative feelings about your job and/or clients. Your sleep begins to be disrupted, and you have a change in eating patterns. You try things in excess to make yourself feel better: alcohol, food, shopping. You tell yourself: "I need a vacation, but there's too much work to do."
Sign 4: Irritability
You feel that you have no support whatsoever, and you find yourself becoming angry and cynical. You become detached from work and actually get more sick (dang colds) than you used to. You tell yourself: "I wish everyone would just leave me alone."
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Sign 5: Despair
You have a tremendous sense of failure, self-doubt and very low self-esteem. You say to yourself: "I just want to run away -- from everyone and everything."
How to Deal
The time to deal with job stress is when it starts (sign numero uno). If you find yourself identifying with any of these burnout symptoms, try to focus on feeling better by creating "healing rituals" (don't roll your eyes just yet!) that will allow you to focus on something else. Setting up healthy eating habits, rest time and exercise times will create a natural release. Try to make these happen at the same time each day -- it's important to have a routine rather than just random occurrences, so you can balance your day. In that same vein, think about planning mini-vacations that can give you something to look forward to: Weekend getaways or even a street fair in your neighborhood can give you an end point. Also, confront the problem head-on. Talk to your boss or manager to get more goals that push you to be more creative and that add value to your work routine. Is there a project you've always wanted to spearhead? A new department you've been looking into? Be proactive.
If you're already experiencing full-blown burnout, it's important to talk to someone, whether it's a friend or a counselor. Force yourself to get more rest and go on a vacation if you can (even if it means hanging out in your house and getting some zzz's!). Last, tell your employer the truth: that you value your job but are risking a job-related illness. They should be able to point you to some helpful resources.
Nestperts: Ruth Luban, MA, a counselor and consultant in Santa Monica, California, specializing in behavioral and occupational health (RuthLuban.com); and Kristie Leong, MD, a family physician with a strong interest in disease prevention and alternative medicine, who often contributes to Yahoo.
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