Are You Burnt Out? How To Manage Stress And Recover

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You’ve had the same high-stress job for years now. Work has become terribly mundane, yet increasingly painful.

Work days feel much longer. Maybe you’re even burning your weekends!

You resent that work’s chipping away at family time, and eroding your personal and social life.

Each night, you end work utterly exhausted, only to dread repeating this cycle again the next day.

Ever felt this way?

If you have, you might be burnt out.

 

What is Burnout? Am I Burnt out?

Singapore employees are notorious for working incredibly hard, and we’re frequently reported to have the longest hours in the world.

And as studies have shown, the risk of burnout rises with increasing work hours.

Since the start of the Circuit Breaker period, most of us have been working from home, which has increased our stress at work, and stretched out our work hours even further.

Yikes!

In a survey by EngageRocket, 22% of Singapore workers felt that they’ve been putting in more hours than usual.

Another survey by Cigna in April found that 63% of Singapore respondents are suffering from work-related stress (up from 58% in January!)

Even more worrying was this finding – most medical spending in Singapore is associated with chronic stress-related illnesses.

In other words, conditions related to work stress cost our country a whopping $3.2 billion annually.

How did this happen?

How are so many of us becoming victims of work stress and burnout?

It’s important to note that burnout doesn’t just happen overnight.

Burnout occurs when stress is exacerbated and compounded over time.

It’s what happens when you don’t know how to manage stress well.

To know if you’re burnt out, or approaching burnout, check in with yourself.

How are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally?

The tell-tale signs of burnout are plenty, and these are the common ones:

Signs of burnout Symptoms
Physical signs – Feel tired and drained most of the time
– Lower immunity, frequently fall ill
– Frequent headaches or muscle pain
– Change in appetite or sleep habits
Emotional signs – Sense of failure and self-doubt
– Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
– Detachment and loneliness
– Loss of motivation
– Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
– Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Behavioural signs – Withdrawing from responsibilities
– Isolating yourself from others
– Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
– Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
– Taking out your frustrations on others
– Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Source: Helpguide

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Stress vs Burnout

Do you have some of those early warning signs?

Wait! Don’t panic yet.

There’s a difference between stress and burnout!

You’ve probably felt stress at some point while working.

Burnout though, is way more extreme.

Here’s how to clearly differentiate between the two:

Symptoms of Stress: Symptoms of Burnout: 
– Characterised by over-engagement
– Emotions are overreactive
– Produces urgency and hyperactivity
– Loss of energy
– Leads to anxiety disorders
– Primary damage is physical
– May kill you prematurely
– Characterised by disengagement
– Emotions are blunted
– Produces helplessness and hopelessness
– Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
– Leads to detachment and depression
– Primary damage is emotional
– May make life seem not worth living

Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

 

So what is burnout?

Simply put, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Although we typically speak about stress and burnout in the same breath as work, your lifestyle, personality and thought patterns can compound stress too.

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but its ill-effects don’t have to be.

As long as you know how to relieve stress and manage it well, it doesn’t always lead to burnout.

So even if you’re just beginning to feel the niggling effects of work stress, start actively managing and reducing your stress today.

But if you’re already in a state of burnout, fret not – you can still find your way out.

ResumeWriter Tip: Don’t wait to take action! It’s essential to start your recovery and proactive stress management as soon as possible, to minimise any lasting damage from burnout to your career and overall well-being. Continue reading to learn how to reduce stress.

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There are proven strategies to help you manage stress at work and accelerate your recovery:

 

How to Relieve Stress

Here’s how to manage stress at work (and in other areas of life, too!)

1. Basic self-care

A healthy diet, a solid amount of sleep, and consistent exercise are huge factors that affect our overall well-being.

We all know the importance of these, but when you’re superbly busy and caught up in work, it’s easy to forget your basic self-care needs.

So, do forgive us if it sounds like we’re stating the obvious – we really can’t emphasise these enough!

There are practical and quick stress management methods you can adopt to strip away work stress each day.

Here’s what they could look like, as part of your daily schedule:

In the morning

1. Take a few minutes of quiet before work

Contrary to what you might think, self-care doesn’t have to be time consuming.

A few moments of quiet could mean:

  • 5 minutes of meditation practice on a mat
  • 2 minutes of quiet in your car, before you head up to your office
  • A 10 minute breathing exercise while on your daily MRT commute to work
  • Even a slow, 30min jog in the morning, if time permits

Whichever method suits your lifestyle, the objective of this is straightforward: clear your mind, be still and present in the moment, and calm and centre yourself ahead of a busy day.

If you’re curious about meditation, there are apps offering guided meditation, like Headspace, that you can look into.

ResumeWriter Tip: It could feel like second nature to mindlessly scroll through social media or run through your emails first thing in the morning. Our advice is – don’t! You have absolutely no control over what you’ll see (exposure to negative news and clutter), your time and attention gets hijacked, and you then lose control of your morning.

 

Throughout the day

2. Schedule mental breaks

Block out time on your own calendar and build mental breaks into your daily work schedule.

These reduce mental fatigue, and give you time to pause and catch your breath amid a crazy work day.

Before each day, you could fix time slots such as:

  • 20min reminder to grab a proper lunch
  • 15min for a quick walk walkabout or stretch in the afternoon
  • 10min to rest your eyes after a mentally straining task

Once you have these in your calendar as “scheduled” time slots, it becomes harder to forget or miss them.

These brief pockets of time will help you re-energise, and stay on task for the rest of the activities you need to complete during the day.

ResumeWriter Tip: Try to schedule your mental breaks BEFORE you hit bottom of the productivity barrel. If you know you have 2 immense tasks that you need to work on, schedule your break in between them to relieve the mental strain.

 

At the end of the day

3. Reflection

Before you head off to bed, set aside 10min to pause for reflection.

Put away your digital devices, pull out your journal, think about and note down your answers to these questions:

  1. What were my wins for the day?
  2. What worked and didn’t work?
  3. What am I grateful for?
  4. What did I learn today?
  5. Did I achieve all my intended goals? If no, why not?
  6. How can I do better tomorrow?
  7. What do I want to achieve tomorrow?

(These are just sample questions! Adjust them according to what works for you)

Studies have shown reflection and gratitude to be powerful coping methods and management tools for stress and anxiety.

So create and take the time for these necessary pauses in your busy day.

You might be surprised at the impact these have on your life.

ResumeWriter Tip: The burnout recovery and stress management process is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistency is absolutely key. Be kind and patient with yourself. Put in the effort to build these mental breaks into your schedule, and it’ll become easier to stick to them with time.

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2. Find out the reasons behind burnout


Sometimes, it’s obvious why you’re feeling burnt out.

Perhaps you can relate to some of these common causes of burnout from work:

  • Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of resources or support you need to do your work.
  • Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your boss expects from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
  • Toxic workplace dynamics. Do you work with an office bully? Do you feel constantly undermined by your colleagues? Does your boss micromanage your work? These can contribute to job stress.
  • Extremes of activity. If your job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
  • Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
  • Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

Source: Mayoclinic

 

At other times, the reasons are more complex. It could take greater introspection and digging to identify your stressors and uncover the root causes behind burnout.

Take Jane, for example. She’s a PR Executive in Singapore who works long hours in a fast-paced work environment.

She dashes in and out of the office every day between client meetings and pitches, handling anything from press events to photo shoots, and still squeezing time in between to conceptualise new campaigns and manage the day-to-day running of her accounts.

That sounds terribly exhausting, doesn’t it?

The thing is, Jane actually loves her job!

For her, those aren’t stressors. She thrives on the frantic pace of work, the opportunities to work on exciting, multi-faceted projects, and strong camaraderie with her teammates.

So she doesn’t mind occasionally working long hours.

BUT she feels resentful when her client gives her new briefs with tight deadlines at the last minute, which then forces her to cancel on family and social gatherings to work overtime.

In this case, Jane wasn’t burnt out because of her job.

She felt burnt out because she hated these last minute components of her work.

 

The 5 Whys Technique

If you’re burnt out like Jane, think about the negative feelings you have about your work.

Use the 5 “Whys” technique to get to the root of your problem quickly – so you can tackle the underlying cause directly.

1) Assemble a team
Your team should include people who are aware or familiar with the specifics of your issue.

2) Define your problem
Write a clear, brief problem statement that your team can agree on.

3) Ask the first “Why?”
Ask your team why the problem is occurring.

4) Then ask “Why?” 4 more times
For each answer in (3) ask 4 “Whys” in succession. Each time you ask “Why”, pose the question to the answer you’ve just received. Each “Why” uncovers new reasons, until a potential counter-measure becomes evident (it could take fewer than 5 “Whys” in total!)

Let’s observe how Jane puts this technique into action:

Tired of repeating the same cycle of last-minute briefings, Jane decided she needed to deal with this work situation once and for all.

She gathered her close colleagues for a discussion:

Problem

The client gives me new campaign briefs with too-tight deadlines on too short notice.

Why?

The client only informs us about upcoming campaigns when his boss starts chasing for these.

Why?

The client forgets to brief us when he receives campaign updates from global.

Why?

The campaign updates from global come in early on Mondays, the client’s busiest day; he’s too occupied with back-to-back meetings to pay attention to new campaigns.

Counter measure

Set a meeting time with the client every Monday morning, before the client starts his hectic workday, to get a full download on the briefs. Then. we can start working on the briefs immediately and deliver better quality work in a timely manner.

 

Eureka!

Now that she’s gotten to the root of the problem, Jane could finally resolve her issue!

She spoke to her client to set up this weekly meeting. Once she started receiving the briefs earlier, she was able to manage her workload (and the client) so much better.

Remember this – you can only take actionable steps towards resolving your feelings of burnout AFTER you’ve uncovered the underlying reasons.

 

3. Reassess Your Priorities


But what happens if you’ve done all the above, and the situation hasn’t changed?

Stolen rest hours at work, weekends and even short vacations aren’t enough.

Day in, day out, you’re still emotionally and mentally drained.

You’ve gone through the 5 “Whys”, but all signs point to something deeper…

It might be time for a bigger change.

Your life and career priorities might have evolved with time without you realising it.

It happens.

Burnout can occur in these cases – when your work is no longer aligned with your values, or when it’s not contributing to your long-term goals.

You could also experience burnout if your career goals have evolved to the point you’re no longer sure what they are.

When that happens, taking a longer term break – a sabbatical or leave of absence – could be highly beneficial, so you can carefully reassess what matters to you.

ResumeWriter Tip: Need time off for your mental health, or to reassess your priorities? You might consider taking a sabbatical, a leave of absence, or leaving your job. Learn more about sabbaticals in Singapore here.

But how do you go about reevaluating your life and career goals?

Step 1: Start with defining your values

Define your personal values to know what’s truly important to you.

Both in your career and personal life, identify the times when you were:
1. At your happiest

  • What were you doing?
  • Who were you with?

2. Most proud

  • Why were you proud?
  • Did others share your pride?

3. Most fulfilled and satisfied

  • What needs or desires were fulfilled?
  • How did these give your life meaning?

Next:

4. Determine your top values (based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfillment)

Use this list of values from Mindtools to get started. Aim to pick around 10 top values.

5. Prioritise your top values

  • After you’ve identified your top 10 values, work through the list.
  • Compare any 2 values, and ask yourself: “If I could only fulfill one of these, which one should I pick?”
  • Repeat the process until your list is in order.

6. Reaffirm your values

  • Make sure your top priority values fit with your life and your vision for yourself.
  • Do your values make you feel good about yourself?
  • Are you proud of your top three values?
  • Are you comfortable and proud to share your values with people you respect and admire?
  • Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn’t popular?

Life and career decisions are really about determining what you value most.

When you consider your values when making career decisions, you can be sure that you’re making them with confidence, clarity, and grounded in what you know is right.

These are the best decisions you can make for yourself, to set the course for a fulfilling career.

Step 2: Define Your Goals

Next, set SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals.

Goal setting helps you decide where you want to go in life.

With clearly defined goals, you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts, and can quickly identify and avoid distractions.

You’ll need both short-term and long-term goals.

These will enable you to measure your progress, and take pride in hitting each milestone.

1. Long-term (personal and career) goals

When writing your career aspirations, think about:

  • What level do you want to reach in your career?
  • What do you want to achieve
  • How much do you want to earn?

Other goals you can consider could be related to Education, Family, Physical or Community, etc.

2. Short-term goals

Break down each long-term goal into short-term goals.

These will help you stay the course enroute to your long-term goals.

You could set goals and plans over:

  • 1 year
  • 6 months
  • 3 months
  • 1 month

Each plan should build on the previous one, so that you’re continually working towards your long-term goals.

ResumeWriter Tip: Your goals may still change over time – and that’s okay! We’re continuously growing and evolving, as people, so it’s only natural that our wants and desires in life may shift too. Periodically review your plans and adjust them to reflect your new priorities.

More goal setting tips:

  • Positivity! – Set your goals as positive statements
  • Be precise – Goals should not be vague. Use dates, amounts, etc.
  • Be realistic – Set goals that you can achieve, especially for smaller goals. If a small goal is too far out of reach, you might set yourself up for disappointment and discouragement when you miss the mark. You might not feel that you’re making progress. So keep these goals achievable, and incremental.

 

Step 3: Bring Meaning into Your Work

Now that you’ve defined your goals and values, ask yourself:

Are these aligned with my work?

If they are, your work should be giving you a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment.

But if they’re not…

Can you redesign your job to bring more meaning into your work?

The idea behind redesigning your job is that most jobs are actually rather flexible in nature.

What does that even mean?

Jobs can be subtly shaped to play to the strengths, skills and preferences of the current employee in the role.

For example, Jane’s predecessor in her PR Manager role excelled at delivering results by leveraging the strong professional relationships she had built with key journalists and influencers.

Jane, on the other hand, is great at identifying and bringing the right resources together. When she stepped into the PR Manager role, she gathered colleagues with complementary skill sets from different departments to form teams, and led them to effectively deliver on campaigns.

WOW.

Don’t those sound almost like 2 entirely different roles?

Both Jane and her predecessor are high performers who contributed significantly to the company – just in their own unique ways.

The truth is, most jobs can be shaped to some degree.

Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want

Start by thinking about what you want to change in your job.

This is a technique known as job crafting:

1) Task crafting
You can adjust the way tasks are performed, take on more or fewer tasks, expand or reduce their scope, or craft them to match your strengths and interests.

Is there a certain part of your role that can be outsourced or delegated, so you can take on more meaningful work that you excel at?

2) Relationship crafting
Enjoy social interactions and working closely with others, but don’t get to do so? Create your own opportunities.

John, who works in IT, is brilliant at his job. But with most of his workday spent alone at his desk, he also finds it lonely. So he decides to volunteer to mentor new employees, and join in brainstorm sessions with other departments when he has time to spare.

3) Perception crafting
Modify how you interpret the tasks or existing work you are doing.

As a PR Manager, Jane could think that she’s just the struggling middle man, caught between clients and media or influencer demands.

Or, she could instead consider her role as a brand guardian, who bears responsibility for communicating brands’ value propositions to the masses.

What’s great about job crafting is that it’s something that YOU, as an employee, can decide to do and initiate.

But it’s important to note – job crafting should be mutually beneficial for you, your boss, clients, team members, and organisation as a whole.

You can’t simply delegate away all the parts of the job you don’t enjoy, or lose focus on vital tasks while you’re socialising. That’s avoiding the problem, not solving.

Job crafting is all about striking a balance.

Once you’ve identified the areas you want to change, start refocusing and crafting your job.

Keep checking on your job crafting progress, and adjust as necessary, until your key stakeholders are happy 🙂

ResumeWriter Tip: Followed all our tips, but still feeling burnt out? It might be time to consider a new job, or even making a career change. If you’ve been working for a while – and are in your 30s, 40s, or 50s now – it’s not too late! There are plenty of stories of successful mid career switches.

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