How to avoid burnout when working from home
Tired, irritable and lacking motivation? You could be suffering from burnout.
We might be working from home but, for many of us, it feels more like we’re living at work. Maintaining a work-life balance is increasingly challenging, and experts say the risk of burnout is on the rise.
With lockdown offering little reprieve from the monotony of the daily grind, here’s everything you need to know about burnout and how to avoid it.
What is burnout?
Burnout is characterised by the World Health Organisation as an “occupational phenomenon” that is the result of chronic workplace stress. So prevalent has corporate burnout become, that in 2019, the condition was included in the WHO’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
“Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, which leaves us feeling anxious, stressed out and unable to focus,” says clinical psychologist and leading mindfulness expert Dr Richard Chambers. “It’s caused by the way we approach our work, which makes it a very portable problem.”
Just because many of us are not physically in the office, Richard says it doesn’t mean we’re any less affected by the pressures of the workplace.
“Increasingly we are working in ways that are so driven and hyper-stimulated that we have difficulty switching off," he says. "This is amplified when working from home because there is the added temptation to answer emails at 11pm or to spend that hour you’ve saved on commuting sitting at your computer, rather than doing something positive for your mental health.”
Our brains are like computers and, when the cache gets full, they get sluggish and glitchy and stop running at full capacity. Burnout is similar, Richard says. You have to create a gap in the programming.
What are the signs of burnout?
If you’re tired during the day, easily irritated or no longer getting joy out of what you’re doing, burnout might be to blame.
Richard says some of the early warning signs include having trouble sleeping, ruminating and relying on stimulants such as coffee and sugar to get you through the day.
“At the pointy end, you might start feeling depressed, have trouble getting out of bed or lose motivation to go to work,” he says. “If you’re anxious, stressed out or can’t focus, they’re often early indicators that you need to make some changes.”
What are the dangers?
Aside from the obvious emotional and physiological toll of workplace-related stress, and the pressure it can put on both professional and personal relationships, burnout has been linked to a raft of mental health complications, including depression, alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders. Left unchecked, burnout may also have physical manifestations, with research finding that those suffering from burnout syndrome have increased risk of heart disease, obesity and insomnia.
While it might be easy to cast burnout as “just being a little tired”, ignoring the signs can lead to long-term health implications. The worst thing to do would be to ignore it, Richard advises. Speak to your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms.