It's not uncommon to feel more stressed and anxious these days, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. As we try to find our footing under "the new normal" between personal life, work, or even studies, the additional stress can take an extra toll on us, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, and potentially leading to burnout.
Psychological health is just as important as physical health, so we sought three experts; psychologist and president of Hong Kong Association of Psychology, Dr Adrian Low, founder, CEO and executive coach at Balance Group, Judy Xu, and director and owner of FitnessU and life and career coach, Tali Weiss on the best ways to deal with burnout.
Knowing the Basics
What is burnout?
Xu defines burnout as "the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. It's a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. People in [a state of] burnout often feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the constant demands of life."
Weiss describes the feeling as like a "depleted balloon" while Dr Low defines it as the "discrepancies between the physiological demands within a workplace and the inability to either manage or cope with such work demands." Of course, burnout doesn't just apply to the workplace, as students can also suffer from burnout.
What work situations can cause burnout?
According to Xu, "burnout can happen in situations such as too much work over a long period of time with overly demanding job expectations, too much uncertainty or feeling of lack of control over one's own work, lack of sleep and relaxation. It is a situation where the demands in life overwhelm the capacity of the individual in some form."
Similarly, Weiss says working long hours, taking on too many tasks, and not having work-life balance can cause burnout. But other causes also include "not being appreciated or acknowledged, being in the same position or role for too long, not having options for promotion, and not having healthy boundaries."
Dr Low says that out of all the workplace stress triggers, tensions between colleague-colleague, boss-employee, staff-client relationships, stemming from role ambiguity is the most severe that could lead to burnout. This is when employees "perceive a lack of role clarity and significant information that is required to perform his or her role appropriately."
What are some signs of burnout?
Xu defines the telltale signs into 5 aspects: physical, emotional, attitude, cognitive, and behaviour.
Physical: Always feeling tired and lacking energy, physical pain such as back and neck pain, headache, digestive issues, low immunity, sleep issues
Emotional: Loss of motivation, feeling helpless, trapped, or defeated, emotionally numb or detached
Attitude: Loss of purpose or meaning, self-doubt, increasingly cynical or negative outlook, exit intentions such as quitting the job or seeking an out in a personal relationship
Cognitive: Poor memory, rigidity in thinking, reduced mental capacity and feeling overloaded, difficulty in making decisions or making poor decisions
Behaviour: Withdrawal from responsibilities, skipping work (arrive late or leave early), procrastinating, taking longer to get things done, neglect appearance, social isolation
Is there a risk factor when it comes to burnout?
Weiss says perfectionists and those who are trying to do everything for everyone will be more at risk. As for age, millennials tend to push themselves to achieve as much as possible. "Fear of missing out is also a strong risk factor. Boomers experience much less burnout."
Xu echoes this and calls them "type A-high performers." She notes that "such individuals tend to double down to gain more control when there is uncertainty or more evident risk factors. When you have a pandemic that is prolonged and individuals cannot adjust to the new situation, an overly strong pattern of wanting to control the surrounding environment can easily lead to stress and burnout."