Once upon a time, the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. But people have actually struggled with work-life balance issues for generations – and today, those lines are frequently blurred.
Advancements in technology – including laptops and tablets, smartphones, wearable devices and social media – can keep us “plugged in” 24/7, even when we don’t really want to be. Instead of traditional office jobs, an increasing number of employees work from their homes or places like coffeeshops and co-working spaces. There are also people who work multiple jobs or are part of the so-called “gig economy,” which creates a unique set of challenges.
Add in families, friends, school and other obligations, and it becomes obvious: finding the balance between our personal and professional lives is more complicated than ever before.
If you feel like you’re walking a tightrope while juggling lots of different things, you’re certainly not alone. The term “burnout” was developed in the 1970s by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger to describe the condition, which can lead to severe physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
Burnout is more than just fatigue. It can make it hard to cope with stress and handle day-to-day activities. Left untreated, it can lead to a wide range of health issues from heart disease and diabetes to anxiety and depression. Anyone can experience burnout, especially parents and those with challenging careers like first responders and healthcare workers.
In 2019, the World Health Organization categorized work-related burnout as an “an occupational phenomenon,” Here’s how they defined it:
“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
2019 was also the year the WHO launched a special, four-year initiative calling for universal coverage for mental health to increase access to quality, affordable mental health care for millions of people around the world. The WHO made clear that while burnout is not a health condition, it often leads people to seek healthcare treatment. That’s because burnout can cause both emotional and physical symptoms.
Burnout comes in stages – it doesn’t necessarily happen all at once. Some warning signs to look out for are:
- Escape fantasies
- Frequent illnesses
Whether or not you think you’re on the road to burnout, if you want to take steps to improve your quality of life, here are some suggestions.
- Set limits.
Try to establish a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. There are all sorts of tools to help you stay organized, from apps to paper planners. If writing things down helps you remember them, great! If not, try something else until you find what works best for you.
- Schedule time for YOU.
Amid all the other demands in your life, from work to family to other interests, remember to take breaks to recharge your mental and physical batteries. Make appointments with yourself to do something you enjoy; it could be as simple as taking a walk around the block, sitting in the sunshine for a few minutes, reading for pleasure or meeting up with a friend.
- Take care of yourself from the inside out.
You may have heard it a hundred times, but exercise, diet and sleep really do make a big difference in how well our bodies and minds function, especially when we’re stressed. Small changes can lead to big results, so don’t think you have to change your entire life overnight, but to try incorporate some healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It can be really difficult to admit it, but no one can do everything on their own. Reach out to your coworkers, family and friends when you need to. There are also lots of different kinds of professional support, whether it’s in your community or by phone, the internet or even text message. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s actually a sign of strength when you recognize your limits and know you need a steadying hand to find your balance.
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