“I was barely sleeping, had put on a lot of weight, and became a big plan-canceler in my personal life. I wasn’t feeling like myself, but it wasn’t until my colleagues started asking if I was okay that I took a good, hard look in the mirror,” says Kara Cronin, a community manager for Shine. Ironically, Shine is a daily self-care app intended to help people deal with stress and anxiety, yet Cronin had been so focused on work that she failed to take care of herself. As she described it, Cronin was experiencing exhaustion at work, and she needed to make a change.
Exhaustion at work has sadly become a standard part of work-life. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 48 percent of workers feel physically and mentally exhausted, while another 41 percent suffer from work burnout.
This type of exhaustion can lead to:
- Long-term deterioration of physical and mental health
- Poor job performance
- A lack of passion
- And an increase in absenteeism
Coming home tired after work every day doesn’t have to be normal for you. Once you recognize the signs of exhaustion from your job, you’ll be better equipped to solve the problem and make your job more fulfilling and satisfying.
In this article, learn about the signs of burnout and the top strategies for overcoming exhaustion at work so you can return to performing at your peak.
What is Exhaustion at Work?
When you experience exhaustion at work, you’re experiencing work-related stress that can negatively affect your personal feelings, physical health, job performance, close relationships, and emotions. Feeling exhausted at work is closely tied with emotional fatigue and feeling drained and lethargic.
Exhaustion at work can take the form of mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual weariness. Such feelings can be your body, mind, and soul’s way of telling you that something is wrong. When these feelings crop up, it may indicate you need to stop what you’re doing and address the problems before they lead to even worse outcomes such as a mental breakdown.
Top Signs You’re Experiencing Job Burnout
When engaging in exhausting work, you may occasionally feel tired. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have job burnout. True exhaustion and job burnout are unending feelings of fatigue that don’t seem to go away. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burnout as a syndrome resulting from constant stress “that has not been successfully managed.” To better understand if the exhaustion you’re feeling at work is temporary or something more serious, learn to recognize the following signs of burnout:
- Difficulty relaxing
- Mood swings
- Constantly thinking about work when not at work
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Limiting your vacation time
- Feeling trapped
- Problems focusing on important tasks
- Physical issues such as headaches and stomach pains
- Having little to no energy
- Trouble getting up in the morning
6 Strategies for Overcoming Exhaustion at Work
If you have the signs and symptoms of work burnout, including feelings of being emotionally drained, the time to overcome them is right now. A delay could lead to further damage to your physical and mental health, not to mention your personal and professional relationships. For those experiencing burnout and emotional exhaustion, try the following strategies.
1. Practice Priority Management
In his book The Power of Full Management, Jim Loehr recommends a priority management strategy that focuses not on time but on your energy. Loehr states: “To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”
What matters is what you spend your energy on. After all, energy is the most critical resource at your disposal. With discipline and focus, you must be intentional about how you live each day. Spend your energy on what really matters. If something is trivial, then you shouldn’t waste energy on it.
How to prioritize your energy:
- Practice essentialism: Essentialism emphasizes that you only put your effort into essential work. This approach includes eliminating the non-essential from your life.
- Manage time wisely: While your focus shouldn’t only be on your time, time management remains a skill to help you plan for the future. Schedule things into your calendar so you’re not caught by surprise.
- Set a cut-off time: Set a time when you finish work for the day. If you don’t need to spend more time at work, don’t do it.
- Identify your priorities: Pick out what matters in your life and focus on those things. If it doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t spend time and energy worrying about it.
- Learn the power of “no”: Sometimes, you need to say “no” to new tasks and projects. Saying “yes” to everything will leave you overburdened and wasting time on the non-essential.
2. Work Hard and Play Hard
People focus so much on the value of working hard that they forget they need to take time for themselves, as well. While engaging in play when you feel tired after work might sound childish, it can be beneficial if done correctly. In fact, playing as adults can relieve stress, stimulate creativity, build connections with others, give you more energy, and improve overall brain function.
How to play as an adult:
- Have a board game night with friends and family.
- Join an intramural sports team.
- Go on a hike.
- Take dance classes.
- Plan an extended vacation.
- Play an instrument.
- See a stage show.
- Go on thrill rides at an amusement park.
- Give yourself a spa day.
3. Make Exercise a Daily Habit
In addition to finding time to play, daily exercise also contributes to preventing burnout. Finding enough time during the day to exercise can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits make the effort worth it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can help you control your weight, decrease the risk of depression and high blood pressure, boost your energy and mood, and improve your sleep quality. If you have an accountability partner to make sure you stick to your routine, you should see results in no time.
Daily exercises you can try:
- Going for a walk in the middle of the day
- Joining a workout class in-person or online
4. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Fun and exercise are only parts of the equation. Don’t forget the other aspects of leading a healthy life, particularly when it comes to your diet. A nutritious diet can give you added energy, not to mention its effectiveness at preventing diseases and boosting your overall health.
When combined with regular exercise, a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and organic meat is one of the surest ways to prevent constant feelings of exhaustion and burnout.
Try the following foods to help you with exhaustion at work:
- Bell peppers
- Organic eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Coconut oil
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale
5. Get a Good Night’s Rest
Additionally, make sure you always get plenty of sleep at night. This is an obvious way to combat exhaustion at work, but many people tend to overlook it. According to Dr. Susheel Patil of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Center, people should get seven to eight hours of sleep if they want to feel rested and energized. Dr. Patil also gives the following warning: “Often, people will try to catch up on sleep over the weekend to repay the ‘sleep debt’ we accumulate over the week. While this can help, one weekend of increased sleep is not enough to repay [it].”
If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, don’t feel discouraged. As long as you’re exercising and eating right, sleep usually follows. In case you still find a good night’s rest out of reach, there are several strategies you can try.
How to get good sleep:
- Create a rested atmosphere, such as with white noise or soft instrumental music.
- Read just before bedtime.
- Don’t spend time on your phone or computer right before going to bed.
- Stay away from sugary snacks.
- Keep the same sleep schedule every day.
- Use essential oils such as lavender or chamomile.
- Get natural sunshine during the day.
- Pray and meditate.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress.
6. Talk to Someone About How You’re Feeling
You shouldn’t keep your feelings and frustrations bottled up inside. Unfortunately, many people think that talking about your feelings is a sign of weakness. Don’t let this stigma affect your decision because a failure to reach out may only worsen the problems you’re experiencing. The person you talk to will depend on who you trust to give you good advice or who you know is willing to provide a listening ear.
Who to reach out to when you need help:
- Manager, boss, or human resource specialist: Take this approach if you’re an employee who feels overwhelmed at work. Be honest about your feelings of exhaustion, and create a plan with them to get on the right track.
- Mentor or business coach: If you’re an executive leader, take time to talk to a trusted mentor or business coach. They can provide helpful advice and may have even experienced the same thing.
- Family and friends: These are the people who know you the best and are in a perfect position to provide support.
- Mental health professional: There’s no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor. Mental health professionals are trained to help people cope during troubling times. Although once stigmatized, since 2002, the number of people who regularly receive mental health treatment has doubled.
You Can’t Pour Into Others If Your Resources are Empty
Exhaustion at work is not something you should take lightly. Feelings of exhaustion happen when your body and mind try to give you a message that they need help. If you put off addressing these issues, you may find it difficult to perform even the easiest of tasks.
Likewise, if you feel empty, you won’t be able to give your help and support to others. As a leader, you won’t have the energy to build up other leaders. Your relationships with coworkers are more likely to break down, which could lead to feelings of underappreciation and make employee retention more challenging. The potential to lose key players simply isn’t worth it.
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