5 Tips for Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace
Are you tired of work? Have you been experiencing burnout in the workplace? If yes, you are not alone; a recent survey revealed that 77% of respondents – nearly 4 out of 5 people – have experienced burnout at work. For those of you working in the medical, human services, and education sectors, it is even more likely that you need a break.
So what is burnout? If you think you are experiencing it, online surveys such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory or seeking a mental health professional can help you clarify. But in simple terms, World Health Organization characterizes it with three dimensions:
- Energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Negative feelings or lack of pleasure at your job, such as becoming cynical or critical;
- Reduced efficacy at work, such as low productivity or struggling with concentration.
These symptoms could have dire consequences if left ignored or unaddressed. According to the Mayo Clinic, sustained burnout can lead to the following:
- Mental health and mood issues, such as fatigue, insomnia, sadness and anger, and alcohol and substance misuse; and
- Physical issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and vulnerability to illnesses.
Fortunately, many employers are pushing for policies to ensure employee mental wellness, such as increased time off and after-school childcare. In this blog, we’ll cover five additional tips to manage work stress and help you get through tough times at work.
Build Strong Relationships
We, humans, are social creatures. Like any other environment, social support at work and outside of work is necessary for workplace well-being. Research has shown that good social interactions regulate our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system – the stress response system in our body, protecting us from psychological and physical diseases.
There are many scientific studies proving that good relationships decreases burnout at work. For example, a psychology study revealed that good coworker relationships are associated with lower burnout and higher job satisfaction. Obviously, not everyone is comfortable with making friends at work, but we still recommend that you try to connect with even a few that you share commonalities with. Or, in most cases, you may NOT LIKE the people you work with – they may be hostile, competitive, undermining your efforts etc. As this happens to most of us, it’s important to find a buddy (or two) who can also be a mentor and help you manage the politics in the workplace. Every job that I’ve had over the years, there was ALWAYS at least one key person that I was well connected to – this helped me navigate the challenges and difficulties.
Sometimes, mental exhaustion can hit in the middle of the day. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, try getting some movement! There are many research studies showing the cumulative benefits of staying active. For instance, a research study on 99 adults showed that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on a stationary bike improved mood and cognitive flexibility afterwards. This means a light run or a brisk hike during your lunch break is enough to energize you and help you mentally prepare to get back to work.
Don’t have 30 minutes? That’s fine, too. Science has already proven that 10 minutes of walking a day can literally lead to a longer life. Or try some at-home yoga after work; many Youtube videos are only 10 minutes long, and as long as you watch out for injuries and stretch effectively afterwards, they are amazing ways to boost your mood while staying healthy! Here is one for beginners.
Good Sleep Habits
Ever noticed you feel more cranky when you’re sleep deprived? Studies have shown that sleep loss is linked to burnout in the clinical field, and this holds true in other workplaces as well. On the other hand, quality sleep helps you grow new neural pathways in the brain, and thus enhances attention, creativity and decision making.
For good physical and mental health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, the necessary hours do vary between people, according to sleep expert Russel Foster, so focusing on building good sleep habits suitable for your energy levels is more important. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, across weekdays and weekends; invest in some curtains to keep your bedroom dark; adjust your room temperature to be cooler; and avoid caffeine and nicotine, including chocolates and soda, in the late afternoon and evenings. Finally, focus on progress and not perfection. Sleeping well three days a week is still better than none!
Mindfulness refers to the state of awareness where you focus on feelings and sensations of the present moment. According to research, mindfulness protects us against stress and burnout, helps cultivate better self-compassion, and even reduces blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.
Practicing mindfulness is easy to do but hard to put into practice. If you’re like me and your mind is always going and it’s hard to shut down, you can schedule some time out of the day and do it for just five minutes. The Mayo Clinic has outlined instructions for each on this website; or, here is a simple, 5-minute Body Scan exercise for you to try during a break. This will help you maintain a peaceful mind through and after work.
Establish Work-Life Boundaries
Work-life balance has never been easy but with more of us working from home resulting from the pandemic, establishing appropriate professional boundaries is even more important. These boundaries can be mental, such as setting certain “work hours” for yourself and tracking the tasks you allow yourself to do; or physical, such as turning off email notifications after work. If you work from home, changing in and out of work attire, and establishing an office space or corner can also help separate work and personal life. Some people even carry two phones so they are not ‘bombarded’ with notifications and messages during off-hours. You shouldn’t have to pay the price of working from home by working around the clock. And you will be more productive at work with a balanced life in the long run.
Workplace burnout is extremely common but know that you are not alone in today’s “gotta-get-everything-done-right-now” society. Hopefully, these five tips will help you prevent burnout from creeping into your professional life.
Remember that you work to live, not the other way around!