People tell you all the time that hard work is necessary for any type of success. Unfortunately, many of us get so caught up in trying to succeed, that we take on more than we’re able to. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to reach our end goal. We’ll work for hours without breaks. We’ll go home and pull all-nighters just to put the finishing touches on our projects. We’ll volunteer for special work assignments in hopes that we’ll stand out above the rest. Does this sound like you? Well, bad news for you. You may be working hard, but you might not be working smart.
In taking more work than we can handle, it’s extremely easy to forget to take care of our mental health. Eventually, we can become overworked. We burn out.
A burnout is defined as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
A burnout marks the end of a persons ability to function professionally, and personally. But what are the signs of a work-induced burnout? How can we avoid being overworked? Here is a list of 8 symptoms that tell you that you may be overworked, and some tips on how to ease them.
1. You Lack Energy
When you work more hours in a day than you should, your body begins to tire out. You might begin to realize that you don’t have as much pep in your step as you used to. Do you find yourself dragging your feet and moving a little slowly at work? You might be a little fatigued. Do you feel so exhausted that even the thought of working makes you upset? If so, it’s definitely time for a break.
Want to prevent burnout? Take steps to separate work from your personal life! Restrict your workday by doing what you can at your place of work. Whether you work from home or clock-in to an office building, it helps to make yourself a schedule – prioritize your tasks from most to least important, and make time in your day to get the most important tasks done. If you run out of work time, the less important things can wait until the next day. Allow yourself a few hours of leisure time between arriving home and going to bed.
Use your days off to truly relax! If you get to spend your weekends away from work, take a break from your email inbox. It’s perfectly acceptable to limit your time answering work emails to business days (Monday to Friday).
2. You Have Trouble Falling Asleep
Ironically, overexerting yourself during the day can also mean sleep problems at night. The overstimulation of your daily workload may leave you lying in bed wide-awake, as your brain processes the excess information.
Is all of that work stress preventing you from peacefully falling asleep? Use meditation to empty your mind! Mindfulness meditation is a great way to relax your thoughts and your body so you can get some rest. Need help meditating? There are plenty of online videos and phone apps available to help talk you through a peaceful meditation. Headspace is a favorite of mine; this app has general meditations as well as sessions specific to sleep and anxiety!
3. You Replace Sleep With Caffeine
Lacking energy but can’t get enough sleep? Do you compensate with tons of coffee or even a few cans of soda? You’re not alone! It’s common for people to use caffeine as a means of
replenishing at least a portion of their energy to get through their day. Unfortunately, caffeine is a very temporary band-aid and not the solution to the effects of being overworked. Caffeine works as a central nervous system stimulant that uses fight-or-flight symptoms to keep you alert. Caffeine can lead to restlessness, irritability, symptoms of anxiety, physical symptoms like an upset stomach… what it doesn’t lead to is increased energy. A cup of coffee might be a great way to wake you up in the morning, but drinking it late at night to help you push through that final assignment is only going to keep you from getting your 8 hours.
Calm it down on the coffee. I know, it’s really hard. I myself am a huge coffee addict. In fact, I’m hypocritically drinking my second cup of coffee as I write this to you in the middle of the night. But if you’re a frequent coffee drinker and you’ve been feeling anxious lately, cutting down on the caffeine is a great tactic to help calm you down. Looking to cut down? If you’re tired or craving coffee, have a glass of water instead.
4. You’re Forgetful
Overworking yourself can lead to impaired concentration. The more you work you take on a daily basis, the harder your brain is working to take in and consolidate information. Eventually, you may find that you’re lacking in focus and are beginning to forget things; small tasks you meant to do later, appointments you forgot that you made, where you last placed your keys… eventually, all this forgetfulness adds up, causing further distress and frustration.
The best solution to decreased concentration is sleep. The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep in order to work at their best. Are you getting enough sleep but forgetful anyway? Use a planner! Go old school and pick up an agenda or use the calendar on your phone, and write down a to-do list at the beginning of your day. It’s also useful to practice utilizing your calendar to help remind you about meetings and events so that you’ll never miss one again.
5. You’re Getting Sick More Often
Not giving yourself time to rest and relax can take a toll on your body as well as your mind. Being stressed never feels good – we often link stress with symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches, chest pains, stomach issues, and increased heart rate. But stress also affects your immune system! Our brains respond to stress by commanding our endocrine system to release hormones like cortisol, which suppresses the immune system. Yes, being overworked can leave your body defenseless against sickness! Have fun trying not to sneeze out a lung trying to get paperwork done.
Again, relaxation and rest are huge bits of help in aiding your immune system. If that really isn’t possible for you, it’s a great idea to take extra steps to help defend your body against sickness. Ensure that you’re getting your fill of vitamins, particularly vitamins D and C, which aid in building your immune system. You can get these in concentrated pills at your local grocery or drug store! When I’m feeling a little under the weather, I start taking Emergen-C, a flavored vitamin C supplement in powdered form, that mixes into water!
6. Your Mood is Awful
Doing more work than your mind can take in a day can affect your mood. As mentioned before, being overworked can lead to symptoms of anxiety. But it can also lead to symptoms of depression as well. All work and no play can leave you feeling hopeless and stuck, feeling like all this work isn’t getting you anywhere. Alternatively, being overworked can leave you tense and irritable. The frustration caused by an overbearing workload can lead to some petty arguments.
No matter job, work isn’t fulfilling 100% of the time. Even in the career of your dreams, you can hit a plateau or a rough patch. That’s why it’s important to keep other things in your life that you can find happiness and fulfillment from as well. Hobbies and recreational activities are great ways to have fun, relax, and practice skills that we may not get the chance to utilize in our usual workplaces. Whether it’s a sports team, a church group, or a charity you like to volunteer at, being a part of something fun and fulfilling can help you out of your bad work mood.
7. You’re Losing Weight
The anxiety caused by overworking can lead to an altered diet. An upset stomach is a common symptom of stress, and it often causes people to skip a meal in fear of puking it up later. But some people just skip out on food because they just don’t seem to have the time in their schedule. People who take on too much work may find themselves working their way through lunch or dinner, opting instead to survive on snacks alone.
Alternatively, an overworked individual may opt for take-out so that they don’t have to waste precious time with cooking. While fast-food can be a nice treat every once in a while, ordering it every day can be detrimental to your health as well as your wallet. Weight gain due to poor eating habits can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease (among other things), which in turn increases your odds of anxiety and depression. If your workload tends to be heavy, keeping your meals frequent and healthy can help reduce the risk of a burnout.
It’s simple: make time for food! Make time in the evening to prepare a healthy lunch for the next day. If you’re like me, and don’t give yourself enough time to make a decent breakfast in the morning, consider prepping breakfast as well – it could be as simple as leaving a box of serial and a bowl on the counter, or packing a sandwich and an apple to eat while you’re on the go. Schedule your lunches, and make sure you eat what you bring! Hungry or not, your body needs calories (roughly 2000-2500) to function, and not eating will only hurt your ability to handle your workload.
8. You Feel Isolated
Overworked individuals tend to have trouble balancing their work lives with their social lives. In fact, their work lives tend to eat up their social lives altogether. Working nonstop and stretching yourself thin to complete different projects can often leave you wondering how long it’s been since you had a conversation with anyone in any of your social circles – about literally anything other than work. Before you know it, months have flown by and you’ve missed countless social events and attempts from your friends to hang out with you. Overworking can really make a person feel alone.
Your career is important. But so are your friends! Nobody’s telling you to play hooky (seriously, don’t skip out on your job just to hang out with your friends) but make an effort to socialize in your off time. It’s completely okay that you can’t accept an extremely last-minute coffee date, but try your best to reschedule! If you absolutely can’t see them in person, it doesn’t hurt to call and catch up for a while. Socializing with loved ones isn’t only a means of having fun, it’s also therapeutic — it’s an opportunity to vent about the stresses of work and to release your frustration. It’s also an opportunity to remember that you’re not alone in your struggle; your friends are dealing with stress too! Work is more manageable when you have a support system of people who have your back.
This is a list of possible symptoms of work burnout – you don’t need to have all of them in order to take personal time for yourself. Just 1 or 2 symptoms alone should be enough of a warning that you need to make some health-conscious changes. Listen to the warnings that your body gives you and allow it to recover from a hard day’s work. In today’s competitive professional world, you may feel the urge to overwork yourself to get ahead. But trust us… in the long run, being well rested and mentally healthy will keep you leagues above the rest. And you’ll be much happier for it too!