Here’s Why You’re Burned Out at Work—and What You Can Do to Snap Out of It

If you haven’t yet reached the point of sitting in your cubicle and counting sticky notes out of boredom or because your workplace has become so grueling, you can’t be bothered to pay attention anymore—congrats. You’re one of the lucky souls not suffering from job burnout.

But even go-getters can suffer from career stress—the feeling that work has become a series of mindless repetitions and frustrating situations. And once it hits the burnout stage, that feeling is no joke. Left to fester, burnout can wreak havoc on your health, happiness, productivity, and performance. According to the Staples Business Advantage 2016 Workplace Advantage Index, 91% of U.S. and Canadian workers surveyed for the report put in over 40 hours a week, at least some of the time, and 22% have changed jobs because of work-life balance issues, including decreased family time and battling work pressures that seep into their personal lives. In addition, 3 out of 4 respondents reported they aren’t provided with the latest technology and are expected to do more with less, and only 35% have a wellness program available at their current job.

Snapping back from job burnout and once again becoming excited about your career is doable, but you must first take a deep dive into how you’re feeling to identify the source.

What causes career stress?

Nearly every job has some level of pressure. While some thrive on that pressure, others buckle. Job burnout, though, is a very specific type of stress, described by the Mayo Clinic as “a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and value.”

Today’s workers face high-pressure demands and long hours, and many feel under-appreciated. So it’s probably no surprise that 65% of respondents to Staples’ survey say that workplace stress impacts them.

You can categorize two main types of burnout: One stems from the feeling that your work isn’t meaningful, and the other, coined “overload burnout” by the Association for Psychological Science, is due to sheer overwork. Burnout symptoms, including chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, anxiety, and depression, result when you’re not engaged in your work or when your hard work doesn’t seem to have an impact.

Who’s getting burned?

Some roles, including call center representatives, have higher rates of burnout due to factors such as work overload, stringent procedures, and the repetitive, monotonous nature of the job. “Helping” professions—particularly social work—are ripe for burnout due to the emotional intensity that comes with the line of work. Not surprisingly, physicians fall into that category as well, with reports of professional burnout on the rise. A 2015 survey by the Mayo Clinic observed an increase in the percentage of physicians reporting at least one burnout symptom from 45.5% to 54.4% between 2011 and 2014.

Lawyers are also susceptible to burnout due to long hours, tedious schedules, intense negotiations, and the high-pressure culture prevalent at many firms. Teachers are prone to burnout as well, with 78% reporting they feel physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the school day. Minimal support from higher-ups, conflicts and concern over student disciplinary actions, and low salaries contribute.

How to fan the flames of burnout

No matter what your profession, avoiding or recovering from burnout is possible with some effort. Find ways to make your job meaningful and impactful. By being productive in the face of stress, you can lose yourself in the moment as you work, and capture the experience of “flow.” Use these tactics to rebound and, ultimately, boost career happiness:

1. Intercept the burnout. If you’re just starting to feel overwhelmed by work, put boundaries and supports in place. For instance, get out of work mode by taking meal breaks away from your desk each day. Also consider a change of schedule. Human Resources can be a valuable asset when it comes to making workplace changes that allow you to decompress and recharge. You might find that something as simple as moving to another area of the office makes a major difference in your productivity and stress level.

2. Ask for what you need to get the job done. When facing a challenging project or deadline, ask leadership for additional resources or request opportunities to collaborate with departments you may not normally interact with in order to create a motivational work dynamic.

3. Embrace your role. Get a better sense of the business at large to fully understand why your position is important to the overall success of the company. Follow projects from start to finish to appreciate your individual piece in the puzzle. Doing so will confirm your value and put your efforts into perspective. Finally, attending conferences and other events in your field can open your eyes to current trends and ways to advance your career.

4. Look for creative outlets. Incorporate art into your workday by hanging pictures in your workspace or visiting an art gallery on your lunch hour. Also try visualizing data; for example, instead of writing text notes, doodle your notes. Art can motivate creativity and help you reimagine past strategies and create new ones with originality.

5. One-up yourself (or revise and reward). Insert fun into your work by thinking of stressful projects as games or creative challenges. Focus on setting reachable goals, and then beating them. After a job well done, reward yourself with something you love, be it a concert or a relaxing massage.

6. Give yourself permission to fail. If a project doesn’t go well, acknowledge it with humor and grace, and use the experience to grow. Nothing is a mistake if it propels you to the next level.

7. Just breathe. Change up your routine once in awhile for a fresh perspective. Take a different route to work, go for a brisk walk on your lunch break, or practice deep-breathing exercises before delving into a particularly demanding day.

Make a fresh start

If you still feel overwhelmed after exhausting all strategies to mitigate stress, it might be time to steer your future into a new direction. Use burnout as a motivator to find meaning in a new position that could much better align with your skillset and passions.

If you’re ready to explore other options, connect with a SoFi Career Coach to help you determine the next step for your career.

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