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Burnout: The new workplace pandemic and how to overcome it

·Contributor
·6-min read
Woman with head in hands in front of computer
Workplace burnout is the new pandemic, particularly among women. (Source: Getty)

The pandemic and constant disruptions over the past two years have led many to question what they truly want from life.

Women, who were once told we could have it all, now struggle more than ever to find work-life balance.

A study from Deloitte found that 47 per cent of women plan to leave their employer within the next two years.

Read more from Emily Chantiri:

Forty five per cent described their work/life balance as poor or very poor and, 35 per cent said they had trouble switching off from work.

One-third rated job satisfaction and motivation at work as poor or very poor.

The great resignation continues for both men and women who are feeling burnt-out. They’re prepared to move away from pressured jobs or environments, and earn less if it means being happy.

When writing this article, I was searching for someone to share their story and I was inundated by email from men and women willing to share their burn-out experience.

This overwhelming response has led me to believe we have another pandemic: burnout.

Anjani Amritt’s story is just one of the many I received.

For Amritt, working 22 hour days for months on end and travelling across the globe was a typical work environment. This went on for ten years until her health started deteriorating.

“I was burnt out and could no longer function in my job. I suffered regular panic attacks, chronic digestive issues and constant anxiety. I was a complete disaster.”

Other symptoms she suffered included an inability to sleep or switch off and feeling wired.

“I’d experience one panic attack a day and then rush to the toilet at work to gather myself. It’s terrifying to feel so out of control. My digestion gradually became weaker over time. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.”

Her digestion suffered so much; she experienced severe stomach pains. At times, she would pass-out from constant diarrhoea, acid reflux, bloating and gas.

“I became terrified to eat because of the pain. The only food I could keep down was boiled rice and boiled chicken. I dropped 19 kilos. I was a walking skeleton.”

The trigger for change came when a friend recommended meditation.

“Out of desperation I went. During the meditation I had what I can only describe as life-changing. I fell into a deep state of peace and bliss. It was a game changer for me because it was such a heightened positive sensation, that I wanted to have more of it.”

From that experience she decided to leave her job and law altogether.

“Even though I was terrified of what I would do for work or money, the experience was enough to move me in a new direction. I felt lifted so much by it. I walked away from my job in one of the top law firms and took myself to India on my own eat-pray-love journey.”

During her time in India she read inspirational books and changed her diet, adding more vegetables and fruit.

“My body came back into balance. I adopted a sleep ritual and stopped driving myself to get it all done at once. My mental health improved dramatically. Within six months, I’d almost fully recovered, my anxiety was gone and my sleep returned to normal.”

“I was totally prepared to earn less in exchange for my health and happiness. I worked any job I could get my hands on. I lived off the proceeds of my house sale while I recovered. I retrained as a yoga and meditation teacher.”

Today, she is healthier and happier.

“I realised true wealth did not come in the form of money. I was no longer a slave to money or paying off a huge mortgage or need to be part of the boy’s club legal fraternity that made my life hell.”

For anyone suffering burn-out Amritt’s advice is don't sacrifice your health and happiness for money, status, fame or any other goals to reach success.

Headshot photo of Anjani Amritt
Anjani Amritt is just one of many Australians who have suffered from workplace burnout. (Source: Supplied)

“Whatever you’re doing in your work, business, job, relationships or life that is contributing to your burn out, it is best to just let it go.”

Kate Witteveen, success and empowerment coach, explains the technical definition of burnout - as a "diagnosable occupational phenomenon" which is not a medical condition per se, but a factor that contributes to contact with health services.

She said that burnout typically occurs with prolonged work stress that is not resolved. This stress may be the result of having a high workload and many competing demands.

“People who identify as perfectionists are known to be at greater risk for burnout, as they are rarely satisfied with their own performance and constantly focus on what they should be doing better, rather than celebrating their successes.”

Burnout: 3 signs to look for

Witteveen adds that the result of operating in a constant state of elevation, i.e. fight or flight, people experience physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms.

The symptoms of burnout:

1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.

2. Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job.

3. Reduced professional efficacy.

This group of symptoms can show up in many ways including (but not limited to) feelings of either apathy or overwhelm, lack of motivation, feeling busy but not productive, dreading encounters with others.

Also included are changes in emotional regulation, responses, such as either being more reactive than before or feeling numb or removed from situations.

In addition, physical symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, headaches, increased susceptibility to catching viruses and diminished immune response can also be related to burnout.

6 tips for making change and finding balance

  1. Create a simple transition ritual to commence and finish your work day. This is helpful in creating boundaries for your work, so that you are intentionally present at work when it is work time and intentionally present in your life when it is not work. This can be as simple as shutting down all non-work related tabs on your computer. If you are working from home, start and finish your work day by leaving the house and returning, take a short walk.

  2. Before you finish for the day, write a quick list of your priorities for tomorrow, so you can relax, knowing that you won't forget what needs to be done.

  3. Celebrate your wins, no matter how small. Neuroscience tells us that our brains need regular reinforcement of reward chemicals to maintain motivation.

  4. Prioritise activities that are enjoyable or relaxing which allow you to be fully present in the moment and not thinking about work.

  5. Understand your chronotype (the times you work most effectively). Organise your day to the greatest extent possible to align with your most productive and effective.

  6. Keep a gratitude journal. There is good evidence that gratitude practices are effective for maintaining a positive mood.

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