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How to tell if you’re burned out at work

From dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and different work environments to trying to achieve work-life balance as a working parent, many employees are becoming exhausted from work. Prolonged mental and physical fatigue is not just about one’s emotional state. In fact, it’s a syndrome known as burnout and affects over three-quarters of UK workers.

The good news is that burnout doesn’t happen immediately. It occurs in stages as responsibilities, demands and stressors accumulate. That means understanding the different stages can help you see if you’re heading toward burnout. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we’ll discuss how to tell if you’re burned at work and offer tips to help you recover.

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The difference between burnout, stress and depression

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified burnout as a syndrome that comes from workplace stress. Feelings of burnout tend to arise when a person feels overwhelmed at work and is having a hard time dealing with their responsibilities. However, burnout is not to be confused with stress.

When you’re stressed, it seems like you have too much going on – whether that’s too many things to do or spending too many hours at work. Burnout, on the other hand, is when you feel like you’re lacking energy, motivation or even the ability to care. Burnout and depression can often be confused for this reason. But burnout is generally work-related and doesn’t interfere with every aspect of life as depression does.

Those with low self-esteem or who don’t know how to manage stress can be at higher risk of burnout. Likewise, employees who have demanding roles, work in companies that are understaffed or don’t receive praise when it is due may experience higher rates of burnout.

The stages of burnout

Fortunately, burnout isn’t something that takes place overnight. Your feelings, thoughts and actions go through stages that lead to burnout. While these stages may be easily overlooked at first, they become habitual over time. Eventually, they interfere with your ability to do your job.

Honeymoon phase

When we take on a new role or task, we tend to feel more excited, energetic and optimistic. During this phase, we may also start to get a glimpse of the stresses involved. Implementing healthy coping strategies in this stage means you can support your wellbeing and keep the honeymoon phase going for as long as possible.

Onset of stress

Once the honeymoon phase is over, stress comes creeping in. You’re not stressed day in and day out, but stressful times crop up more regularly. Keep an eye on mental and physical signs during this stage. Mentally, it may be harder to stay focused or productive, while fatigue can affect you physically and start to impact life outside of the office (e.g. sleep or hobbies).

Chronic stress

Sooner or later, stress will become increasingly persistent or chronic. It’s likely to affect your work all the time now, thanks to mounting pressure. You may start procrastinating during tasks, repeatedly showing up late for work or finding it challenging to complete assignments on time. Burnout warning signs such as anger, chronic exhaustion, lack of hobbies and social withdrawal may begin to surface.

Burnout

Symptoms become critical during the burnout stage. Your ability to function normally is gone, and your ability to cope is severely affected. You’ve reached your limit (which is different for everyone). You start to obsess over work issues, and you may feel numb or empty inside.

Chronic headaches and stomach/bowel problems can be common physical symptoms in this stage. What’s more, those close to you may start to express their concern over your changed behaviour.

Habitual burnout

This stage occurs when the symptoms of burnout become a part of your everyday life. You’re probably dealing with ongoing physical, mental and emotional issues instead of experiencing stress or burnout here and there. Some signs you’re burned out in a habitual sense are chronic mental and physical fatigue, chronic sadness and depression.

What to do when you’re burned out at work

After reading about the stages of burnout, you may be wondering if burnout is something you can overcome. Thankfully, there are ways you can recover from burnout and find joy in your work again. The first step is to recognise that burnout is starting to affect you. After all, you can’t get help for something you don’t see as a problem.

Next, it’s time to talk to your employer. Unless you’ve voiced your struggles in the past, your boss may not even be aware of what you’re going through. Whether or not they recommend taking off, you should consider time away from work to recharge and reassess.

This is a great time to start looking for better ways to cope with work and balance your work and personal life. Technology may make it easy to check emails after work, but it’s important to leave work at work in our always-on culture – even if you’re working from home. Also, learn how to say no. Many people take on too much simply because they say yes to everything asked of them.

It’s time to get serious about your self-care and make time for yourself, whether that’s going for a walk during your lunch break or learning some breathing techniques to turn to when you’re stressed. The more tools you have under your belt, the better equipped you’ll be to handle what comes up and recognise when something needs to change.

Read next: How can employers tackle corporate burnout?

Put your health first with Pacific Prime UK

If you’re dealing with burnout and don’t know what to do next, your best bet is to reach out to your healthcare provider. They can assess the situation or put you in touch with a mental health professional who can help. With expat medical insurance in the UK, you can confidently put your health first without worrying about expensive out-of-pocket payments.

Whether you’re looking for medical insurance or want to go over your existing plan, working with a reputable insurance broker like Pacific Prime UK is a great way to ensure your needs are met. With over two decades of industry experience, we have the knowledge and expertise to help you find the best international medical insurance in the UK and beyond.

Contact us for impartial insurance advice and a free plan comparison today!

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime UK
​​Jantra Jacobs is a content writer at Pacific Prime. On a typical workday, she writes and edits articles, guides, and anything else word-related. She loves creating content that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

In her free time, she’s likely to be writing poetry and prose, geeking out on her latest interests, reading, or practicing yoga.
Jantra