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Five signs of professional burnout and what to do about it

by Liz Marchant

Professional burnout. We talk about, we read about it, we wonder if we have it and we caution friends and family to be mindful of it. Yet many women don’t fully understand the signs of professional burnout, and what to do to guard against it.

So, what is professional burnout?

The team at the Mayo Clinic describe professional burnout as

a special type of work-related stress leading to a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Without intervention, professional burnout can send destabilising tendrils across your life, impacting your happiness, health and relationships. Ironically, while one of the triggers for professional burnout is working harder to deliver higher results at work, professional performance also inevitably suffers when you’re experiencing professional burnout.

Like water coming to the boil, burnout doesn’t happen at all once. Although you might wake up one day and decide you’ve simply had enough of your current work situation, the reality is that professional burnout typically builds slowly over time. There are many subtle warning signs along the way.

Five signs you might be experiencing professional burnout

If you’re in tune with yourself there’s every chance you can take steps to prevent professional burnout fully taking hold before it is too late. Be mindful to listen to those closest to you too, who might spot symptoms of burnout before you do.

Here are five common signs of professional burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
    Most full-time women are tired. Juggling the many facets of life is relentless and can take a toll. Professional burnout tired is tired-beyond-tired. This is true exhaustion. The kind that leaves you feeling drained of energy even after a full eight hours of sleep. That sense of feeling drained applies to your physical, emotional and mental state too.
  2. Lack of motivation
    Can’t be bothered to put your hand up for that exciting new project at work? Getting to the gym is too much to manage? Not in the mood to meet your friends for a weekend picnic? Not feeling enthusiasm for the activities or opportunities that usually inspire and energise you can be a sign you’re experiencing professional burnout.
  3. Thinking about work even when you’re not at work
    Spending time with the family at the weekend and find yourself staring into space thinking about how you’re going to handle next week’s meeting? Or chopping carrots for dinner and replaying the conversation that happened during the day and varying the ending? We all think about work when we’re not there. When those thoughts become all-encompassing, it could be a sign of professional burnout.
  4. Not taking care of yourself
    Full time women are used to prioritising and re-prioritising daily. With so many demands competing for attention it is easy to put ourselves last. A warning sign of professional burnout is when you’re putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. If you find yourself giving and not making time to replenish your own reserves, or using substances to make it through each day (coffee to warm up and wine to wind down sound familiar?), you could be on the path to professional burnout.
  5. Cognitive problems
    When we experience sustained stress, it can become difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Having impaired cognitive abilities can impact decisions and actions that we need to take at work and at home. If you’re finding yourself hesitating, delaying making decisions or deferring to others when you’d ordinarily make the call, you might be experiencing professional burnout.

Six tips to prevent professional burnout

Imagine your wellbeing is like a cup. When you do activities you enjoy, or that are healthy for you, the cup is replenishing. When you’re functioning while stressed, exhausted, unhappy and not looking after yourself, the cup is draining.

It’s a simplistic yet effective way to stay mindful of the balance between what you’re giving and how you’re replenishing your own energies in order to be able to keep going.

Here are six tips on how to keep replenishing your cup:

  1. Prioritise
    Make a daily practice of evaluating what needs to happen right away and what can wait. Not everything needs to happen right now. Truly.
  2. Sleep
    Quality sleep has many renowned benefits for mental and physical health including improved abilities to concentrate and recognise emotional cues along with a boosted immune system and lower rates of depression. Internationally renowned full-time woman, Ariana Huffington, is a dedicated advocate to the power of sleep. Her life changed when she started getting more sleep. Watch her Ted talk on the power of sleep
  3. Have some fun
    Make time each week to do something that you really love or that you feel like doing. Maybe that means cooking a new recipe, walking in nature or watching a movie with the family. Invest in replenishing your cup by doing something simply for your enjoyment.
  4. Disconnect from digital (temporarily)
    Technology is a wonderful addition to our lives. However sometimes technology can interrupt our ability to connect with those around us and be present. There is also research suggesting the type of light emitted from devices can disturb our potential to have quality sleep. Our tip is not to ditch technology, that’s largely impossible, it is possible however to place some limits on its usage. For example, no phones at the dinner table, checking email only during specific times and leaving phones out of your bedroom at night.
  5. Support
    Ever heard the old adage that “a problem shared is a problem halved”? Discussing problems or stressors can shed a different light on the situation and make things seem less daunting. Sometimes it’s reaching out to a friend or loved one for a real conversation. However, if you know you’re in the phases of professional burnout already, seek professional help to develop a plan unique to you to support you through the recovery. The first call is to your general practitioner.
  6. Exercise
    There is so much research supporting the benefits of exercise for a healthy mind and body. Making time for exercise can be tough in a busy week (and when you already feel tired). So here’s our tip: schedule your exercise in your calendar. Putting it on your work calendar means no one can book your time without checking with you first. Putting it on your home calendar means everyone in your house knows when you’re not going to be around for an hour or so.

Try it out
Our goal is to help every full-time woman be her best person and reach her fullest potential. Whether you’re experiencing full-blown professional burnout, are recovering from professional burnout or are not sure if you’re heading towards professional burnout, something about burnout made you click on this article to read more about it.

So, beyond simply skimming this list and clicking to the next article, we invite you to join us in pursuing at least one of the tips above for a 28-day period of your choosing. We are giving it a go, are you going to join us?