Are you at risk of burning out?

Burn-out at work has become so prevalent that it’s been officially recognised as a serious health issue. Here’s how to spot the signs.

It has become part of 21st century language.

If we feel physically exhausted, we talk about feeling burnt out.

If our mind feels overworked and fried, we also talk about suffering burn-out.

And that feeling of being exhausted, overwhelmed and running on empty has recently been recognised by the World Health Organisation.

Classified as an “occupational phenomenon”, WHO says burnout can affect our efficiency at work and leave us feeling distant or cynical about our job.

The serious consequences of burn-out

In some places the effects of burnout have been fatal.

Young Japanese TV reporter Miwa Sado made headlines when she died after working more than 150 hours of overtime in a month.

She developed congestive heart failure – her heart became weak and could no longer pump blood around her body.

Burn-out is so common in Japan that the country even has its own word for death from overwork – karoshi.

Who’s most at risk of burn-out?

Dr Michael Musker, of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, says younger people trying to gain a foothold in the workplace can be at greater risk of burnout.

People who are highly reliable and conscientious and who see work as a large part of their identity are also at risk.

“I think workplaces expect more from young people these days and there is no job security,” Dr Muster says.

“Young people are having to work longer hours to buy a home or pay rent and pay debts.

“There is no longer a 5pm cut-off now either and many people take work home with them.”

If burn-out symptoms like stress, physical and mental exhaustion and feeling cynical and down are ignored, they start to take a physical and mental toll.

Stress raises adrenaline levels and when this happens too often and for too long, this causes too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, to be released and this starts to damage internal organs, says Dr Musker.

High cortisol levels are linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease and unhealthy weight gain.

What to do if you are feeling burnt out

  • Look at how you can get better work-life balance – how can you avoid working until late?
  • Improve your sleep quality by going to bed and getting up at the same time, and don’t use your laptop or tablet in the bedroom.
  • Stop looking at work emails and messages at a specific time each evening.
  • Keep at least one day at the weekend as a work-free zone.
  • Consider finding another job that has more meaning and sense of reward for you.
  • Try and get some physical activity each day because exercise is helpful in coping with burnout.

More on stress relief and mental wellness:

Written by Sarah Marinos.