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Self Care Won't Cure Your Burnout (But This Will)

If you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed, and maybe even incompetent, you may be suffering from burnout.

Feeling stressed at work is common, but when it gets worse or persists, it can lead to chronic stress and the occupational phenomenon known as “burnout.” It’s often described in the literature as being work-related, but those who work at home know there’s plenty of stress there too. 

This type of tension needs to be addressed, for the sake of your well-being. But the oft-suggested remedies of “self-care” like a long bath won’t cut it after all.

Self-care won’t cure your burnout, but this will.

What is Burnout?

Burnout has become one of the biggest occupational hazards in today’s society, and it can develop among all types of professions and occupational groups. It also creates significant costs for both individuals and organizations.1

Overall, burnout is described as a syndrome in which an individual responds to work stress that progresses, is not successfully managed, and eventually becomes chronic.2 Burnout can cause health impacts at a cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal level and can eventually translate into negative behavior towards your work, the people you work with, and your professional role.1

The key symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, feeling distant, negative or cynical at work, and a reduced sense of competence.2 The consequences can be severe, including physical ailments like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, musculoskeletal pain, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and more.3 

Psychological effects include insomnia, depressive symptoms, use of antidepressant medications and more. And professional outcomes include job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and disability pensions.3 

These impacts simply underline what we intuitively know: burnout causes individual and workplace impacts and it needs to be identified and addressed. 

How to Deal with Burnout

If your job is stressing you out, there may be organizational changes that would help you and others. For instance, improving your work station, changing work schedules, and other interventions may be effective.

But let’s talk about what you can do for yourself if you feel like you’re getting burned out.  

The first step is to actually acknowledge your burnout, by recognizing the symptoms like exhaustion or feeling disconnected from your work. It’s okay to feel this way! You can then look for the underlying causes of those feelings, and perhaps develop strategies to counteract the burnout.4 

Four Strategies to Cure Burnout

#1. Self-care: You’re probably saying that you thought self care won’t cure your burnout. To be clear, self-care on its own won’t fix it, but it is still important that you make time to do what you love, allowing you to replenish your physical and emotional energy. Exercise, eating well and getting enough rest are important for everyone. Seek out practices that can help you relax, like going for a walk at your lunch break or journaling. Set aside time for yourself every day if possible.4

#2. Self-assessment: Look for signs of burnout by keeping a diary, taking note of your thoughts and feelings, and documenting positive actions you used to cope with stress. Mindfulness training, for instance, may help reduce feelings of burnout at work.1

#3. Assess your workplace: Self-care and self-assessment focuses on you as an individual, when the root cause of burnout is likely workplace issues. Are there areas of your work that you can change for the better? Can you delegate some of the work that is leaving you exhausted? Can you speak to your supervisor about making adjustments that would support your work? 

Burnout is often caused by overwork or a lack of recognition for work, along with feelings of a lack of fairness and strained relationships. Take a look at what’s going on in your workplace, and determine if there are changes you can make to feel better about your job. It may mean asking your employer for training or other support.5

#4. Make connections: Strained relationships can make work difficult, so look to build positive, supportive relationships to counteract the ones that drain you.4 Peer and team support can help you cope with the challenges of work, as well as create space to celebrate achievements and create a sense of community at work. Support groups can be used to share work knowledge and ideas too.1

You’re Not Alone

If you’re feeling workplace stress, it’s important to know you’re not alone. In a 2021 survey, 79% of employees experienced work-related stress and nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue.6

If our four strategies aren’t working, or your stress becomes unbearable, seek medical advice. You’re worth it.

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