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Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. The good news — you can take steps to start feeling better.

What comes to mind when you think about burnout? Is it a stressed-out healthcare worker? Or maybe a busy law enforcement officer? But it doesn’t just affect those professions. Anyone can be feel burned out. Luckily, relief is possible. It starts with knowing what to look for — and understanding what to do about it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental or emotional exhaustion caused by chronic stress. Although burnout is most often related to stress at work, it can be caused by any stressors, like ones related to relationships or parenting. Burnout may seem like a minor issue, but it’s something to take seriously.

“Symptoms of burnout can be similar to those of anxiety and depression,” says Kylie McColligan-Oleski, PsyD, director of adult integrated services in the psychiatry department at Geisinger. “That’s why it can be important to get professional help if you are struggling in your day-to-day activities.”

What causes burnout?

It doesn’t matter where you work — anyone can have work-related stress. Wondering what’s behind burnout? It could be one of these:

Workload imbalances

If your workload feels uneven, you may feel stressed.

“Having too much or too little work or frequently having to complete work after hours can lead to burnout,” Dr. McColligan-Oleski says.

You may resent a coworker who has less work than you. Or you may feel unappreciated when there’s too much on your plate. And when there’s too much, the quality of your work can suffer. You may become less productive, miss deadlines or find your job less satisfying. 

Not getting recognized

Feeling underappreciated at work? It may leave you less motivated than normal. “A lack of recognition can make employees feel physically ill or be more likely to quit their jobs,” says Dr. McColligan-Oleski.

Small acts, even as simple as a boss thanking you for your hard work or sending an appreciation email, can lessen feelings of frustration and burnout.

Unclear expectations

If you’re not sure what’s expected of you at work, it can lead to frustration. Communicating openly with your supervisor about expectations can:

  • Keep you both on the same page
  • Identify areas of confusion
  • Create a plan, if needed
  • Ease concerns

No work-life balance

Between endless meetings and emails, plus never-ending tasks, it can be a struggle to juggle everything at work. This can lead to working longer hours or responding to emails on weekends, which can cause you to feel burned out. And if you work from home, it can be harder to find that separation since you don’t truly leave the office.

Symptoms of burnout

Feeling burned out doesn’t happen overnight. Researchers say some personality types are more likely to feel overworked, like high achievers. Some telltale symptoms of burnout include:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling ineffective
  • Isolation from coworkers, family and friends
  • Physical illness
  • Decreased performance and/or creativity

How to recover from burnout

Just like feeling burned out doesn’t happen overnight, getting back to good might also take some time. But there is hope, and you can start with some of these suggestions.

Reach out

Talk to a supervisor or your human resources department. It could be a good start to creating a healthier work environment.

If that’s not an option, talking to a trusted friend or family member can provide relief. 

“Even journaling can help express the emotions you’re feeling and give them a space to exist,” Dr. McColligan-Oleski suggests.

Take care of physical needs

Sometimes you have to go back to the basics. A healthy lifestyle is a solid foundation for keeping stress at bay. Try these to get started:

  • Eat a balanced diet: Fueling your body with the proper nutrition can help keep your mood in check. This means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, unprocessed whole grains, seeds and nuts and lean proteins.
  • Make movement a priority: Exercise releases tension, increases blood flow to the brain and produces endorphins. Basically, it’s a miracle drug that costs nothing.
  • Get enough sleep: A good night’s rest leads to better thinking, learning and memory. Getting enough rest also helps your brain process emotional information. Aim for seven to eight hours each night. And wake up and go to bed at the same time — even on weekends.

Remember to take breaks

Whether you’re on the front lines or sitting at your laptop at home, give yourself a rest every so often. Taking time to step away, get some fresh air or stretch gives your mind a breather from the daily grind. Schedule breaks on your calendar if it’s difficult for you to step away from work.

Keep work and home life in balance

Stressing about trying to keep your work-life balance intact is another possible cause of burnout. 

“Consider work as part of your day — not something in conflict with the rest of your life,” says Dr. McColligan-Oleski. “This mindset can help you better plan your day and avoid unnecessary stressors.”

Commit to a regular time to leave work or shut off your computer. For example, if you must answer emails after work hours, choose a reasonable time to put the computer away whether you’ve responded to each one or not. And if it helps, consider not having your work email or chat apps on your phone to avoid responding after hours or on weekends.

Practice self-compassion

No one is perfect. Treat yourself as you would treat a loved one going through the same situation. If you find your inner voice sounding overly critical, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Pay attention to what you’ve accomplished each day rather than focusing on what’s not getting done. Try reciting a few positive affirmations to give yourself an added boost.

Talk it out

You’re not alone. If you’re still feeling burnt out, consider talking to a mental health professional to help you find different ways to start feeling better.

Next steps:

Get a better night's rest with these 12 habits
8 ways to improve your mental health
Learn about mental health care at Geisinger

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