In our last blog we discussed some of the differences between stress and burnout. If you think you may be suffering from burnout, or you think that elevated levels of stress may be affecting you negatively, then your first port of call should be to speak with a healthcare professional. However, there are also some steps that you can take that can support you as you follow any medical advice you receive.
How to treat burnout
Firstly, you need to cease and desist as soon as is possible. Take some time away from the cause of your burnout. If your burnout is a result of unending workplace stress, it’s time to book a few days off. Of course, one of the biggest problems with burnout is the inability to see a way out. This might mean that you create reasons why you cannot take the rest you need. Perhaps you have an essential deadline that must be met, or you are providing cover for a colleague who is on leave. While we are not suggesting you suddenly forsake all of your work-related responsibilities, we do recommend that you book some time off at the earliest possible opportunity.
Remember, when you’re in burnout you are basically working without fuel or drive. This means that you are most likely not at your productive best and the likelihood of making a deadline or producing good work is minimised. When you take some time off, completely away from the root cause of your burnout, the relaxation time will enable your mind to resume its efficiency, both intellectually and creatively. Brains are like muscles – they need time to rest and recharge. They also need time to understand and store new information – without downtime, new information is not being processed properly and is more easily forgotten. Therefore, scheduling time off may seem impossible, but it may be exactly what you need to re-calibrate and get back to your productive best. While it may seem overly simplistic, this is the quickest way to alleviate the symptoms of burnout.
The second facet of treating burnout is more about the preventative measures you can take to stop burnout from re-occurring. While you can also apply these measures when you’re in peak burnout mode, it becomes far more difficult due to the lack of motivation and despondency you are feeling. As well as that, applying these measures without taking any actual time off is likely to be completely counter-productive and will only cause you to feel under more pressure.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent burnout from ruining your life.
Look after your physical health
One of the biggest problems with burnout is that it leaves us completely exhausted with little to no motivation to do anything. It can also weaken our immune system. Having good overall health will help to support you on your road to recovery. It is therefore important that you look critically at the habits you have formed around your health and fitness. Try implementing these measures;
- Aim for at least thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day. Certain professions may already be on their feet all day, such as those who work in healthcare or retail, and will have little trouble in getting their daily quota of steps in. However, office workers, or those that work from home, will tend to be more sedentary, and should at least be aiming for a brisk walk in the morning or at lunchtime. Exercise is a proven serotonin booster and helps to improve mood levels and clear the head. If you can get out into nature for your walks, even better, as being in nature can positively impact on your wellbeing.
- Increase your daily intake of vitamins and minerals. Supplements can be a great support to an already healthy diet, but should not be relied on in isolation. If your meals tend to be from a packet, rather than cooked fresh, you are likely missing out on all the many benefits a healthy diet rich with nutrients can bring. If you want to change up your diet, then the best advice is to start small. First, look at increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables. Then consider what bad food habits you may have. Do you sit down with a box of Pringles every night as your way of winding down for the evening? Try making this every second night instead. Then, try cutting down the amount you have. Certain foods may be tricky to eliminate entirely, such as sugar, which some studies have suggested is almost as addictive as cocaine! However, such foods can also have a huge effect on how you feel and cutting them out of your diet may improve your health and mood substantially.
- Examine your sleeping patterns. If you are an anxious person naturally, you may have difficulty in switching off at night-time. However, if you are experiencing burnout, you might have difficulty staying awake. Burnout can make you want to stay in bed all day without ever facing the outside world. While it may seem like your body really needs sleep, too much sleep can actually have a negative effect on you, and this kind of behaviour may prove damaging in the long run. On the other hand, a contributory factor to the cause of burnout is not getting enough sleep. If you are having trouble getting the necessary amount of sleep each night, then try implementing a night-time routine which will help you to wind down and drift off. You could also try listening to some meditations, or sleep stories from YouTube, Headspace, Calm or a similar app.
Re-examine your purposes.
Juggling personal, social and professional responsibilities can often mean we have little time for introspection. A major symptom of burnout is feeling like you serve no purpose, or that the work or duties you fulfil have no real impact. In these moments, it might feel like whatever you do has no real consequence, or that whenever you try to make a change, things just don’t go your way. People suffering from burnout often also indicate that they feel like they have no control over their lives or their careers. It is therefore worth taking regular stock of your career goals.
Consider asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I know what I need to accomplish in my work on a day to day basis?
- Is what I do worthwhile? Who does it directly impact? (Remember to consider the impact it has on you and your family, on a financial level but also how it affects your relationships)
- Do I know the reasons why I must fulfil the duties of my role? Are there any areas which don’t make sense to me?
- In moments of indecision in my role, do I ask for help or do I just carry on as best I can? (HR professionals often find themselves in unfamiliar territory where they could use some extra support)
- Why do I do what I do? Was it a choice that I made for myself, or did I just arrive here as a result of consequence?
- Am I able to prioritise my tasks in a way that makes sense to me, or do I feel like certain things are out of my control?
The purpose of asking yourself these questions is not to make you realise all of a sudden that you are in the wrong job or that you need to make major changes. It should, however, help you to identify areas within your role that you may need more clarity on, and help you think about how you can change your approach to some of the duties of your role.
Strengthen your support networks
Having someone to talk to when you are feeling stressed can be a huge help. Whether you talk to your partner, a friend, a family member or a colleague, opening up about things that are bothering you can be a great bonding exercise. However, remember that, as much as we all like a good rant from time to time, it makes sense to choose your audience wisely. Being overly negative about stressful aspects of your role with colleagues may influence how they feel about their own work and may place an unfair burden on them.
In addition to speaking to your GP, it may make sense to speak with a therapist or a counsellor. Even if you don’t feel like you are at risk of burnout, prolonged periods of stress will only be a cause for concern in the long run. Speaking with a registered professional can really help you to see things more clearly and identify any further steps you need to take to minimise stressors in your life.
There are also several supports available to anyone who finds themselves in a stressful situation throughout the pandemic. You may wish to check out some of the following;
- Turn2me.ie – an online forum run by “a community of fully qualified and accredited mental health professionals working online to provide a high quality, safe, anonymous and confidential space for you to gain support”. Options include peer support, online support groups and online counselling.
- Mymind.org – a free counselling service for people in Ireland who have been directly affected by Covid-19
- Shine.ie – face to face counselling offered at minimal costs on a sliding scale. Sourced from Shine.ie : Maximum charge per session – €40 for those in full employment. Median charge per session – €20 for those in part time employment (less than 21 hours per week). Minimum charge per session – €10 for students and persons in receipt of social welfare payments.
For further information on such supports, please see the HSE site.
We hope that this month’s articles on stress and burnout have helped you to understand the differences and recognise the warning signs a little easier. Remember, working in HR can be hugely taxing on our emotional health at times. However, just as airplane safety crew advise putting on your own mask before tending to your child in case of an emergency, so too should you ensure that you are looking after yourself adequately. Only then can you provide effective support to others.
If you need any advice on wellness initiatives for your organisation, or you wish to discuss a potential employee assistance programme, get in touch today!