How to Identify and Avoid Workplace Burnout


Working women know that success is made — not given. Despite strides forward, many women still face more obstacles to career advancement than men. As a result, professional women tend to pile on a lot in order to achieve our goals. When we do this, however, we run the risk of taking on too much and burning out before we can accomplish what we have set out to do.

Effects of Stress

In recognition of Heart Health month, we want to highlight the impact stress can have on your heart. Researchers at Harvard University have identified strong correlations between women’s workplace stress and their risk for heart disease. In fact, women with high-stress careers are 40% more likely to develop heart disease than their peers in lower stress jobs. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women, causing one-third of the deaths in women annually. Chronic, unmanaged stress puts the lives of professional women at risk.

Additionally, stress can cause or contribute to chronic headaches, chest pain, muscle soreness or tension, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, and fatigue. Stress can impact on your mood and mental health. Anxiety, irritability, depression, restlessness, and difficulty focusing all may be symptoms of unmanaged stress. 

Identifying Burnout

Everyone gets frustrated or overwhelmed sometimes. Burnout, however, is more than occasional workplace stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Since burnout isn’t a specific medical diagnosis, there aren’t tests to determine burnout. Instead, when trying to differentiate between standard workplace stress and burnout, an honest self-assessment is your best tool. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have my sleep patterns changes? 
  • Am I having chronic issues with stomach upset, headaches, or sore muscles not related to physical exertion?
  • Do I rely on alcohol or drugs to unwind or cope with stress?
  • Am I feeling disillusioned or increasingly cynical about my job?
  • Do I often feel exhausted, irritable, or angry while at work?

Answering yes to even one of these questions could be an indicator that you are at risk for burnout. It’s important to take steps to put the brakes on it before you burn out completely.

If you are dealing with unrealistic expectations at work, consider talking with your supervisor to discuss solutions. Reach out to your support system, both personal and professional. Assess whether it is time for you to change jobs or industries. Additionally, make your own health a priority. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Take time for a relaxing activity that can help you focus on something other than work.

Preventing Burnout

Job burnout is not inevitable. Prevention is all about you. One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to find ways to manage stress before it becomes chronic and sustained.

Take a Break — Taking a vacation and reconnecting with yourself and family is a great way to avoid burnout. Additionally, try to take smaller breaks on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. If at all possible, leave work at work.

Get Creative — Do something that works your mind in an entirely different fashion than your career. We are all complex individuals with an array of abilities, but often our jobs only require us to use one or two of our skills. Learn something new. It honestly doesn’t matter what, as long as you enjoy it.

Exercise — Regular physical activity is a fantastic way to manage stress. In addition to the health benefits of exercise, it takes your mind off of work and forces you to be present in the moment. The endorphin rush from exercise can help lift your mood.

Sleep — When you do not sleep enough or do not have restful sleep, you set yourself up for failure. Even just a single night of poor sleep can affect your focus and resiliency. Your body and mind need sleep to recover from the day.

Practice Mindfulness — In the 1970s, the first Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. While MBSR programs are available around the country to teach mindfulness practices, you don’t need to sign up for anything to begin practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is an awareness of your breath, body, and your mind in the present moment. If you are unfamiliar with mindfulness, this article is a good place to start and includes a video with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the very first MBSR program.

Eliminating workplace stress entirely isn’t possible. However, it is possible to manage workplace stress, prevent burnout, improve work life balance, and reduce your risk for heart disease. If you are taking steps to deal with stress and still feel like you may burn out, it may be a sign that you need to change careers or at least workplaces. 

For more information about how to achieve work life integration, don’t hesitate to contact us. In February, we will be hosting a panel of women to speak more about work life integration, heart health, and self-care. If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, feel free to join us for this virtual networking event. Register here.


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