Job-related pressures are by far the biggest source of stress for American adults, and as a society, we are more stressed than ever. Most of us feel overwhelmed or stretched thin at work periodically, but some feel this way all the time. Before long, stressful days turn into stressful weeks, months and even years. This prolonged anxiety leads to professional burnout – a real health condition affecting millions of Americans.
Labor Day was created more than 100 years ago to recognize the contributions of American workers to the economic health of the nation. In those day, a typical work week equated to about 60 hours. Fast forward to today when workers log an average of 44 hours, and probably much more before we power down our devices, and it’s clear the true meaning of Labor Day hasn’t fully sunk in.
The problem of burnout in our “always on” and “always available” high tech world is more serious that people think. Being overworked leads to sheer exhaustion, which spills over into cynicism and feelings of diminished self-worth. When people put all their energy into their job and don’t get enough in return, they reach burnout, which is obviously bad for productivity and career advancement, but even worse for your health.
It’s not a coincidence that as work demands escalate, so does poor health. It’s also no surprise that the incidence of chronic illness is on the rise. Rightfully so, one in three adults accurately points to stress as a major factor in their overall health, and many are turning to their provider to help solve the physiological fallout of an unhealthy relationship with work.
As a nurse practitioner, I treat burnout almost as frequently as I treat the common cold. Here’s a list of the red flag complaints I hear from patients reaching the end of their rope. If these describe you, it’s time to make some changes. Left unchecked, these traps will not only jeopardize your success, but also your life.
You think eating well takes too much time. The time it takes to buy and prepare food is the biggest barrier to healthy eating, but even the most productive people need to refuel. Prep for eating like your prep for a presentation, enlist the help of a grocery delivery service and buy plenty of easy-to-carry containers to store pre-packed meals that you can grab on the go.
There are not enough hours in the day to exercise. Exercise scares busy people off because they think they need to block off a big chunk of time, but they’re wrong. A 10-minute workout offers real health benefits, as does every flight of stairs you climb or lap you make around the office. Something is always better than nothing, so max out little pockets of time to sweat stress away.
You can’t sleep. On any given night, half of all adults lie awake stewing about work. Not only are we not getting enough sleep (collectively we average a measly 6.7 hours), but only 30 percent sleep well when they do get shut eye. Most people miss out on sleep because it’s low on their priority list, but really it should be near the top, so schedule a meeting with sleep like you would an important client, and aim for at least seven hours.
You take your stress out on others. Half of adults will take stress out on their significant other or their children, and a quarter unleash on their co-workers. Don’t let mounting stress sabotage important relationships at home or in the office. Exercise, sleep, meditation or simply just time alone can help diffuse work anxiety before it becomes toxic.
You get sick all the time. People navigating stressful situations are twice as likely to get sick, so if you can’t shake that cold and are the first to get the flu every year, your prolonged stress could be the cause. Simple things like eating healthy and getting enough sleep can boost your immunity and keep nagging ailments off your list of stressors.
You’re noticing bigger health problems too. Prolonged burnout can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and obesity, among other things. Regular trips to your provider can help you prevent or detect these chronic conditions early, so add a recurring physical to your never-too-busy-for-good-health calendar.
Burnout is more than stress – it’s the human equivalent to running out of gas in your career with no filling station in sight. If your gauge is approaching empty and you have less and less to give, it’s time to recharge. Burnout is your body’s way of telling you it needs more input to sustain the level of output, so pay attention to the warning signs and focus on ways to make healthier living part of your job.