Getting Better At Burnout
How to change your approach to burnout, and why it matters.
This aim of this article is to help you (and people like you working online) to gain a better understanding of burnout.
I look at what it is, how it might affect you, and what you can do to build better practices that support your health, wellbeing and productivity better.
The Pandemic of Burnout
Over the past few years, the second hot topic on everyone’s lips (aside from Covid) has been BURNOUT.
We’ve all seen what it can do.
We’ve most probably experienced it ourselves.
And most likely had to help someone else through it too.
And although the constraints of the pandemic are now subsiding, burnout is still on the rise.
Across industries, across countries, whether you work from home, in a hospital, or in an office.
To put this into stark perspective … let’s look at the stats.
As part of Yerbo’s Burnout Index they interviewed over 30,000 tech workers for their “State of Burnout in Tech” report 2022.
- 2 in 5 people working in tech are at high risk of burnout (and this is more prevalent in women than men)
- 62% feel physically and emotionally drained.
- 42% of tech professionals who feel they are at risk of burnout, are considering leaving their jobs
According to Converkit’s latest research in their State of the Creator Economy Report 2022:
- 61% of the over 2000 content entrepreneurs surveyed experienced burnout in 2021.
And those are just stats for people in certain types of knowledge worker fields.
Recent research in the UK indicates that 46% of people working across industries are at risk of burnout from their job, and this risk profile increases for those of us working from home.
Not only is this affecting our health, wellbeing and productivity, burnout also has immense costs for businesses, healthcare systems and economies.
We need to get serious about changing our approach to burnout, to get better at both handling it and combating it.
So let’s take a look at what it is, what causes it and what we can do about it.
Defining burnout and understanding the symptoms.
Burnout is an umbrella term which covers mental, emotional and physical fatigue that occurs due to a prolonged exposure to stressors of some kind.
It’s a term commonly used in a work context, where it’s seen (and defined by the WHO) as “chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed”.
While burnout is often seen as a workplace-focused affliction, it can span the breadth of work and life.
There are other aspects of our lifestyle and our economic, societal and cultural structures, which can also increase stress and contribute to burnout, particularly for women, minority groups, LGBTQ+ and people who are severely economically disadvantaged.
It can cause a host of physical, mental and emotional health issues, which means that there’s often more than one thing that needs fixing.
- The most common physical and emotional aspects of burnout can manifest as exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, low energy, low morale and a lack of motivation.
- Less well-known is that symptoms of burnout can also display as brain fog, and reactive or anti-social behaviour, such a cynicism, reclusiveness, hostility or irritability.
- It can also show up in the body as a hormonal imbalance, or through food sensitivities, adrenal fatigue, cardiovascular problems or issues with your gut microbiome.
And that’s the tip of the iceberg!
So the experience is similar, yet different for everyone.
Knowledge Worker Burnout
“A combination of skills gaps, increased pressure during the pandemic and the intensity of workloads is increasing burnout for tech workers.”
Many of my clients, listeners, readers are entrepreneurs and knowledge workers who experience burnout due to work.
So let’s look at typical causes of burnout and how they apply to entrepreneurs and others working online.
The common circumstances that contribute to workplace burnout include:
- an unsustainable workload
- a lack of autonomy or control over how we work or the situation we are in
- a loss of self-efficacy
- a lack of connection with our coworkers and/or community
- insufficient recognition or reward for our perceived value
- a sense of depersonalisation, unfair discrimination or judgement against us
- a disconnect between external circumstances and internal values
Burnout existed well before the Covid-19 pandemic came along.
And economic fluctuations have put more pressure on individuals to work longer hours and do more within their roles.
But the pandemic then forced us to develop work habits which haven’t been supportive of our health.
For people working online, this has meant more time online and an inability to switch off.
Be it in tech or elsewhere, entrepreneurs are also more susceptible to burnout as they are almost 25% more likely to experience mental health issues compared to non-entrepreneurs (72% vs 48% – National institute of Mental Health).
The reasons why include that entrepreneurs tend to have an intense and intimate connection with their businesses and they often link their self worth directly to their business success.
Across knowledge worker industries, the hustle culture also gives rise to insecure overachievers, who feel the pressure to perform and then experience self-doubt over their abilities.
These situations and behaviours take a lot of energy, putting pressure on our cognitive load and depleting our resilience.
How to Get Better at Burnout
Let’s consider some proven ways you can break the cycle when you are in it, and how to combat it over the long run.
IN THE MOMENT:
1 – Self-Regulation
Unlike wild animals who have an inbuilt automatic system for releasing stress in their bodies (they literally shake it off), humans need to do it mindfully and manually.
We need to change our state.
And we can do so by completing the stress cycle through physical and emotional self-regulation.
This means movement such as dance or exercise, meditative or conscious breath work, and changing our visual focus and the stimuli we are seeing and hearing.
2 – Rest
Although sleep is the number one thing that supports our immunity and recovery, rest can also take other forms such as mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social or spiritual rest.
Each of these formats requires taking time away from what is causing the stress and fatigue to focus on something else.
That could be engaging in a hobby where you use your hands instead of your mind. Or taking time out for prayer, or other spiritual practices, or doing meditation or yoga.
Social experiences, which include conversations and activities that are fun and bring about laughter, are also good release mechanisms.
OVER THE LONG TERM:
If burnout keeps occuring it means we may not be able to physically adapt to the stressors, so we need to remove or adjust them.
1 – Improve Your Workplace Culture
The WHO recommendations for staving off burnout in the workplace include: creating psychological safety, increasing employer dependability, building more structure and clarity around how we work, and increasing the positive meaning and impact of the work we do.
So what’s lacking in your workplace and what can you change?
2 – Manage Your Workload Better
Learn to say no.
Design your work days with less meetings and more space in your calendar. Schedule downtime in your days, weeks and months.
Plan ahead, set self care reminders and use proven focus tools such as time blocking.
Rituals for starting and ending your work day also help create better structure in your day. And I talk more about the power of rituals in my podcast interview with Samantha Hartley.
As a last resort, where you can’t remove or adjust the stressors that are contributing to burnout, can you find ways to accept them?
Consider, how can you find meaning in the experience by developing your skills in using coping strategies such as reframing, positive reappraisal and analytical, planful problem-solving.
3 – Set Boundaries Around How You Use Your Attention
That includes managing time working online and time spent on social media.
Many of our online tools and the applications we access daily have been designed to keep us online.
They can cause us to fear missing out and create the desperate need for more dopamine, which leads to fatigue of all kinds.
They distract us and fracture our attention, leading to procrastination and making it difficult to focus for longer periods or work in flow.
(Incidentally, I talk about these topics often on the Creating Cadence podcast).
We need as much time offline as we spend online (if not more), to aid with recovery. So we can do it all again tomorrow.
4. Build Strong Self-Care Foundations
These are regular habits and practices that support our health and build your resilience.
Building strong foundations includes finding purpose in what you do and how you do it.
We need to find ways to connect more deeply with the meaning in our lives. And we can do this by engaging with something larger than ourself – such as our relationships, our life goals, and our spirituality).
With the pace of life and work speeding up, burnout isn’t going to go away.
But we have the ability to change how we approach our days, so that we are less susceptible to the effects of burnout.
When we build strong foundations and better habits, we develop the skills and resilience to bounce back more quickly when we feel it coming on.
Helping people build these foundations now forms part of my Growth Sessions coaching framework and comes from my own experience with epic burnout.
And season 6 of the Creating Cadence podcast (Episodes 31 – 35) is specifically focused on Burnout.
So for a deeper dive, subscribe.
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