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Defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’, burnout is made up of three main aspects: energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from your job, and feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job combined with reduced professional efficacy. 

Over the last year, one in five people had to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress, with women being five per cent more likely than men to suffer from extremely high pressure at work. The reasons range from women working unpaid overtime more frequently or suffering from poor sleep to poor physical health or financial uncertainty and general money worries. 

Those aged between 35 and 44 suffered most from extreme stress, while workers aged between 18 and 24 were most likely to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by high pressure. The job roles with the highest risk of burnout, unsurprisingly, include health professionals, teachers and educators, social workers, and prison officers.

The science behind burnout

Burnout is different to transient stress. Transient stress is normal and can be beneficial in certain scenarios, such as improving your focus during an exam. It is short-lived, with no lasting effects. However, burnout is complex and debilitating. For example, chronic stress can impair the body’s normal physiological response to stress through over-production of the stress hormone glucocorticoid, which can impact the parts of the brain responsible for attention, memory and judgement, causing an inability to perform complex tasks and affect decision-making. 

Common causes of burnout include high workloads exceeding one’s capacity to cope, perceived lack of control over decisions that affect your professional life, an imbalance between expended effort and rewards, the lack of a supportive community or fairness at work, and your values mismatching that of the organisations.

Burnout can cause emotional blunting, a coping mechanism for overriding feelings of failure and underperformance, with some people coming across as unempathetic, while others go into autopilot (known as ‘presenteeism’). It does not happen suddenly – chronic stress occurring over five to 10 years can result in emotional and physical exhaustion, long-term illness, and reduced efficiency.

Conquering chronic stress

To thrive at work as a female professional, work on these key areas:

  1. Stress management – do this through mindfulness practices such as meditation, aiming for 20 minutes a day. Journaling has also been linked to lowering stress levels; write five things you are grateful for each day and three words that sum up your day. Run yourself an Epsom salt bath with magnesium – this is fantastic for aiding muscle relaxation before bed.
  2. Sleep hygiene – aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to synchronise your body’s internal clock. Optimise your sleeping environment by sleeping in a dark, cool and quiet room, using eye masks, earplugs and blackout curtains. Avoid eating heavy meals or drinking at least three hours before bedtime. 
  3. Gut health – incorporate probiotic and prebiotic foods into your meals, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt, kombucha, onions, and garlic to boost gut health and immunity. 
  4. Physical health – do a mixture of cardio and strength training exercises. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Between 20 and 30 minutes of strength training at least three times per week will help you maintain a healthy muscle mass.

Rhyanne is a certified health coach who helps female professionals overcome burnout and feel at ease, energised, and get a good night’s sleep. Find out more about her work at rhyannecoaching.com/coaching or follow on Instagram @rhyannecoaching.

Author WCS

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