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Work-life blues: Here’s how to identify symptoms of burnout and deal with it

More and more employees are feeling the heat due to their hectic work-life and stiff competition. Here’s how to deal with it.

more lifestyle Updated: Sep 13, 2017 18:39 IST
Saad Ghani
The prevalent culture of workaholic-ism at workplaces, these days, is a factor that contributes to burnout.
The prevalent culture of workaholic-ism at workplaces, these days, is a factor that contributes to burnout.

In today’s era, it is hard to beat the stress that comes along with our hectic professional lives. Competitiveness and fast-paced environment at workplaces require one to devote oneself wholeheartedly towards one’s work. So much so that apart from work lives, everything else takes a back seat.

This devotion often results in one getting into a work cycle, where in working for long hours becomes normal and one ends up having more on one’s work plate then one ought to have. And that’s when the work-life begins to take a toll on the well-being of the individual — and one starts moving towards a situation, which is called burnout.

Interestingly, the term burnout was first portended by English novelist Graham Greene in his 1961 novel, A Burn-out Case. The novel narrates the story of a once famous, downcast and spiritually-lost architect, who abandons his profession and heads for the African jungles.

Nowadays, workplace burnout has become common — with many employees showing symptoms of burnout, which in turn is impelling organisations to hire happiness and wellness coaches to help their employees deal with the crisis. Burnout is a phase where in an individual undergoes excessive emotional exhaustion — if you are someone whose performance has taken a dip in the past few months, and have been persistently making mistakes in work, then chances are you are experiencing burnout.

The prevalent culture of workaholic-ism at workplaces, these days, is also a factor that contributes to burnout. Though employees earn praise from their bosses for working beyond work hours — taking extra work upon themselves and meeting near-impossible deadlines, in the end it creates a pressure cooker situation for them. And if the situation gets prolonged, anxiety and stress creep in.

All this work-related stress results in making employees anxious, angry, agitated and more often than not they end up getting stressed and later on, distressed.

Symptoms of burnout:
  • A spell of bad performances over a period of time
  • Persistent errors in work
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleeping disorder

In his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out, “With a few notable exceptions, today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour.” Pang, who is a consultant in Silicon Valley, US, in his book calls for limited working hours at workplaces as opposed to 80 hour a week schedule followed by most organisations. He also emphasises on the importance of taking “active rest” in order to increase productivity and creativity. He explains that the biggest names in the realm of science, literature, philosophy, mathematics were all slackers and used to work merely three to six hours a day. “Even in today’s 24/7, always-on world, we can blend work and rest together in ways that make us smarter, more creative, and happier,” Pang writes.

It is true that achieving work-life balance as well as work-rest balance has become a gigantic task for employees. And the imbalance in turn impacts their performance, can result in an individual developing stress, anxiety issues and sleeping disorders.

According to Sakshi Mandhyan, psychologist, who is an expert on corporate stress, the factors that trigger work-related stress are many and they differ from person to person. She says pressure of deadlines, appraisals, disinterest in one’s work, emotional baggage, self-esteem issues, family issues, extramarital affairs etc can all trigger stress. For some, social isolation due to hectic work life or hostile colleagues can be the reason, for others it can be job insecurity and differences with co-workers and bosses.

But the root cause remains work-life imbalance, which is what wreaks havoc on one’s professional and personal life. Mandhyan says, “Work-life imbalance happens, when you don’t do things in proportion. It is, then, things begin to fall apart.”

She advises, “It is important to live in the moment and look at the positive side of things. And it is only resilience that leads to work-life balance.”

Causes of stress can be divided into two sections — internal factors and external factors. Internal factors include lack of motivation, inability to meet set expectations and disinterest in one’s work. External factors can be impossible bosses, ill behaviour on part of colleagues, bad relationships in office, dissatisfaction with job responsibility, appraisals etc.

Reasons for work-related stress:
  • Putting in long hours at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Job insecurity
  • Conflicts at workplace

Mandhyan feels that employees tend to ignore signs of burnout like irritability, anger etc thinking they are common problems. And these problems later turn into big problems.

“One should be aware of one’s thought process as it is what makes one or breaks one. What one needs to do is reflect on one’s automatic thoughts (irrational thoughts like nobody likes me, constantly blaming others or bosses for one’s failures) and contemplate how true these thoughts are. Mostly, when one is stressed, the thought process also becomes negative,” Mandhyan says.

“A balanced diet is what one should go for. One must start the day by eating seasonal fruits or drinking juices. Also, one must keep oneself hydrated throughout the day — drinking 3 litres of water is recommended,” says nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan

While regularly exercising can somewhat help a person deal with stress, Mandhyan believes guidance is the key. “In such situations what the person requires is a mentor or someone he or she can trust to discuss work-related problems,” she says.

Diet always plays an important role in the well-being of an individual. Thus, it becomes all the more important for a distressed individual to eat healthy, so as to think like a healthy person. “A balanced diet is what one should go for. One must start the day by eating seasonal fruits or drinking juices. Also, one must keep oneself hydrated throughout the day — drinking 3 litres of water is recommended,” says nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan.

Patwardhan also advises increasing the intake of foods rich in antioxidants in order to remove harmful oxidising agents from the body. One should also include nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios in one’s diet.

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