An Empty Shell Sitting at a Desk

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The term “burnout” gets thrown around a lot, but what is it, really? I look at it as a sequence, a build-up right before the boom – or in this case, the white flag.

When things start to get hectic at work, the initial onset of stress feels like you’re on edge – your stomach gets messed up, your head hurts, you feel tense, and your heart starts to race. If the stress becomes chronic and lasts for a while, your body reaches a threshold point…the point when you’re so exhausted that you’re just going through the motions. It’s when you just don’t give a damn anymore about your job, your clients, or anyone else. You’re drained, physically and emotionally. As I explained to a friend of mine whose husband had reached burnout, “When you’re dealing with a lot of stress, at some point, your mind and your body are going to give up on you – even if you don’t want to.” It’s more than a lack of motivation or sleep. You’re a shell. A zombie. The walking dead.

Research we conducted at Queendom on 9,000 people reveals that the majority of our sample has some symptoms of burnout, though not to an extreme degree. The most common issues were overall fatigue and feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled at work. Gender comparisons reveal that women were more likely than men to experience physical symptoms of burnout (headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances) while men seemed to be less fulfilled by their job. Additional statistics indicate that 34% of our sample have consulted a professional for a stress-related problem, 9% are considering it, 6% have been previously diagnosed with burnout, and 18% indicated that they have taken at least a week off work or school to recover from stress.

So what is stress and burnout doing to your mind and body? According to our research, those who are currently being treated for burnout are significantly more detached from their job and experience more physical ailments than those who don’t have burnout. Those who are stressed at work have a lot less energy and are significantly more fatigued. Essentially, a lot of people are fed up, tired, and overwhelmed. The worst part is, when you work at a job that comes with a lot of stress on a consistent basis, it’s not a question of whether or not it will take its toll – it’s when.

When comparing people with burnout to people without, results from Queendom’s study reveal that:

  • 63% of burnout sufferers feel that there’s too much weight on their shoulders, compared to 12% of non-sufferers.
  • 46% of burnout sufferers feel that they work too much, compared to 22% of non-sufferers.
  • 63% of burnout sufferers feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that is expected of them, compared to 11% of non-sufferers.
  • 48% of burnout sufferers stated that just the idea of spending the whole day working with people makes them apprehensive, compared to 2% of non-sufferers.
  • 34% of burnout sufferers admit that sometimes, they don’t really care what happens to their customers, compared to 6% of non-sufferers.
  • 81% of burnout sufferers feel physically rundown, compared to 23% of non-sufferers.
  • 69% of burnout sufferers feel emotionally empty at the end of the day, compared to 9% of non-sufferers.
  • 64% of burnout sufferers have difficulty sleeping, compared to 23% of non-sufferers.
  • 58% of burnout sufferers encounter periods at work where they feel like crying, compared to 6% of non-sufferers.
  • 13% of burnout sufferers find joy in their work, compared to 62% of non-sufferers.

So you’re stressed and burned-out. What do you do? And how do you prevent it from happening again?

  • Give yourself a break. Schedule down time for yourself, and make sure you stick to it. Turn off your phone, say no to any social invitation, promise not to let yourself feel guilty and then do something you enjoy. Unwind and pamper yourself – and make it a habit.
  • Fight isolation. Resilient people lean on others when they need to, and develop meaningful relationships that help pull them through. Although you shouldn’t depend entirely on other people to hold you together emotionally, a support network is certainly beneficial. If you feel you don’t have people to turn to, go out and find them. Online communities, clubs, classes, support groups, volunteering…the list of ways to reach out and make human connections is endless.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. Putting extremely high standards on yourself will only amount to added pressure. Accept that you are human, and forgive yourself for making mistakes.
  • Cut nasty habits. Alcohol and cigarettes only weaken your personal arsenal against stress. Even though a cigarette or drink may initially relax or calm you down, the after-effects will leave you feeling worse than you were before. As with other drugs, alcohol physiologically brings you down and intensifies your negative feelings once the initial high subsides. While moderate indulgence might not be totally hazardous, it is best to avoid drinking when extremely stressed. If you’re a smoker, giving up the habit will give your mind and body an extra boost against the dangers of stress.
  • Seek help if you can’t cope. Don’t be afraid to get professional help if you just can’t deal with things. Burnout is a serious condition, not a personal weakness. You wouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor if you were physically under the weather, would you?

Join me for next week’s discussion on the hardy personality!

Insightfully yours,

Queen D