Life can be draining, many things that can overwhelm and stress us out. One main source of anxiety and fatigue comes from our jobs.
Many of us can relate to working in a mundane environment where we feel we are not contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Eventually, that situation can lead to adverse health impacts that damage our quality of life. As more research is done on work exhaustion and mental fatigue, we are classifying these conditions.
WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?
So what does this “condition” look like? Are you feeling exhausted and unmotivated? Do you have trouble getting out of bed or finding a general purpose in life? Well, you may be suffering from Burn-out. This term is relatively new but describes someone who is suffering from professional exhaustion and the inability to perform tasks inside and outside of work. The WHO recently classified Burn-out as an “occupational phenomenon” characterized by three major symptoms:
Feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion
Increased mental distance from one’s job, increased negative perception of one’s job
Reduced professional efficacy
Burn-out is not only the result of working in an unfulfilling environment but working in a high-stressful fast-paced environment that literally burns you down. High-achievers who believe they are impenetrable to the effects of long working hours, large workloads, and significant internal pressure can suffer from classic burn-out signs such as increased stress and anxiety, insomnia, memory loss, depression, and chronic fatigue.
These are just the mental and physical impacts but the harms of burn-out can run much deeper. Individuals can become more detached and cynical, leading to isolation. To add, your relationships can take a hit and individuals may never seek support.
Things that previously brought you joy no longer have the same effects and your mood can often change drastically. Your productivity will also be negatively affected. Tasks that take hours will turn into days and weeks. Chronic stress results in loss of productivity that can lead to a whole we cannot climb out of.
We are seeing the rise of burn-out across the world. The UK organization, Mental Health Foundation found 74% of people struggle with stress to the point where they are overwhelmed and cannot cope, while nearly 600,000 people in the UK suffer from workplace stress in 2018. Sweden, famously known for its work-life balance, is not a country we would normally associate with chronic stress. Flexible working arrangements, generous childcare policies, and at least 5 weeks of guaranteed holiday define the working culture of Sweden. However, things have drastically changed as the number of individuals diagnosed with chronic-stress related illnesses such as exhaustion has rapidly increased. Stress-related illnesses were the number one reason for Swedes to take work off accounting for 20% of sickness benefits amongst all age groups in 2018. Young workers aged 25-29 present the largest increase as cases rose 144%.
The Swedish government has not ignored the issues. While burn-out is not defined the same nor legitimately acknowledged in every country, the Swedish government has classified burn-out as a medical condition since 2003. The government has a generous welfare system where Swedes diagnosed with exhaustion can receive 80% of their salary.
The progressive approach towards addressing chronic stress and exhaustion deserves plaudits and the taboo of discussing mental illness is slowly going away. However, when we diagnose the issue, we see how aspects of Swedish and other countries can contribute to unhealthy habits for young people. We live in an age where we try to do everything we want and maximize our time as best as we can. Building a successful career, climbing the professional ladder, having a social life filled with meaningful relationships, maintaining an exercise regime, eating healthy, enjoying new hobbies and activities are just some of the goals in our laundry list of priorities for a happy life.
Nonetheless, the practicality of achieving all these things can be daunting and can lead us to severely jeopardize our health even when we think all our accomplishing our goals will improve our quality of life. This paradox is especially present in Millennials and Gen Z who are idealistic and ambitious. In a competitive world where we have to constantly push yourself to stand out, wearing themselves out by trying to be as successful as possible.
While there are different solutions to tackle burn-out and exhaustion, prevention is seen as the best plan. Accepting and understanding there is a problem is a great first step in seeking help and changing your behavior. Notice the signs before they get to a breaking point. It is important to monitor your energy and happiness levels before they drop off. Living a balanced life where you afford yourself flexibility and time for relaxation is key to prevent burn-out. Researchers agree failure to schedule enough relaxation time is one of the most crucial causes leading to clinical burnout.
WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Exhaustion is not merely long and laborious work but the absence of healthy outlets that fill our time with non-work related activities. Setting priorities and placing realistic goals will help reduce stress because you will not overwhelm yourself with what you are not accomplishing. If you set daily and weekly goals that are accomplishable, you will find fulfillment and happiness with your progress.
Chronic stress and burn-out can be crippling and prevent us from reaching our potentials. Change is not an overnight thing but the active process of adopting habits and practices that will lead to a healthy sustainable life. While burn-out mainly refers to the workplace, it’s consequences can be developed through daily life and other stressful environments, like home, school and university. Developing a plan of how to address the root causes of your stress and exhaustion is one of the main ways to get better. Additionally, it is essential to lean on a strong support system that will help you through your journey and pick you up when you need it. Most importantly, be forgiving to yourself for not being perfect because that desire for perfection is what leads us to what we are trying to fix.
Written by Tariq Ahmed
University of College London | 2019
MSc Global Health & Development