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

What do you think of when you hear the word “burnout”? It doesn't only affect people in certain fields, like healthcare or law enforcement. The truth: Burnout is more common than you think, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But identifying where to make changes in your work and home routines can help you feel more at ease.

What is burnout?

Burnout refers to certain physical and mental symptoms caused by chronic stress. According to the World Health Organization, burnout relates to work — it’s not recognized as a medical condition.

But Dr. Julie Hergenrather, psychologist at Geisinger, says we should all take burnout seriously.

“Symptoms of burnout can be similar to those of anxiety and depression,” she says. “That’s why it can be important to get professional help if you are struggling in your day-to-day activities.”

Signs and symptoms of burnout

Feeling burned out doesn’t happen overnight. Researchers say some personality types are more susceptible to feeling overworked, like high achievers. Some of the 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

What causes burnout?

It doesn’t matter where you work — anyone can experience work-related stress. Think about your current role and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you feel heard and valued by your superiors?
  2. Do you have a clear understanding of your job role and related expectations?
  3. Is your workload manageable in the time you have each day?
  4. Do you feel like you receive fair treatment compared to your coworkers?
  5. Is the atmosphere at your workplace collaborative and encouraging?

If you answered “no” to one or several of these questions, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Have you noticed any changes in your behavior during or after work? Are you able to laugh and enjoy yourself? Is your sleep adequate or are you thinking about work much of the night?

What you can do to start feeling better

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 about the situation. 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. Staying connected and feeling supported can ease symptoms of burnout.

Even journaling can help express the emotions you’re feeling and give them a space to exist.

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.

  • 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 zzz’s also helps your brain process emotional information. Aim for seven to eight hours each night. And wake up and go to sleep 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. It doesn't matter if you’re working long hours outside your home or spending all your time in front of a computer. Demanding jobs can take a toll on life after work hours. But it doesn’t mean work and home life are at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

“Consider work as part of your day — not something in conflict with the rest of your life,” says Dr. Hergenrather. “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. If, for example, you believe you must answer emails after work hours, choose a reasonable time to put the computer away whether you’ve responded to each one.

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.

It’s OK not to be OK

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:

Self-care: 5 ways to take good care of yourself
8 ways to improve your mental health
Taking breaks can lead to breakthroughs