Maybe you know what it feels like to be sitting at your desk, staring at your screen as it stares right back at you waiting for you to call that hot sales lead, tackle that challenging project, or finish up that report that your boss wanted by the end of the day.
Maybe you start to feel the heaviness of guilt creep in about how little you are doing and how blocked you feel. This feeling creeps into your psyche and creates a negative spiral of energy that has cortisol pumping through brain and adrenaline pumping through your veins. You start to feel on edge. You might even feel like a volcanic eruption is brewing and you do not even really know why.
While your experience of burnout and stress may be different from this, back in 2015, the American Psychology Association identified that the three major sources of stress among U.S. adults are money, workplace responsibilities, and family obligations. Followed closely by number four, health issues and concerns. Couple this statistic with the estimate that anywhere from 75% - 90% of all visits to a primary care doctor are stress related and you start to understand what may be going on.
More than likely the stress that you experience at work isn’t because you are physically in harm’s way all day long or even some of the day long. More than likely, you are experiencing psychological stress as a result of your body going into a fight, flight, or freeze mode. You may have a dry mouth as your saliva flow decreases, your muscles may become tenser or start trembling, your pupils might begin dilating, your lungs might start gasping for air, or your heart rate might beat faster or harder.
All of these responses are psychological threats that connect with what meaning you are making in a particular situation that is likely not life-threatening. Most of you have not honestly been in harm’s way at work, but your brain and body were made to protect themselves from perceived threats, and it is merely operating out of its perspective of what is going to keep you alive and well. It is resorting to its current set-point, but it wants to evolve to a new a different way to interpret the world.
Here are ten reasons why your job might be stressing and burning you out:
- Are you staring at a screen for too long? As the Washington Post reports, “screen induced eye strain has an official name: computer vision syndrome.” Your eyes function best when replenished with natural tears, so it makes sense why staring at a screen is making them dry and red. Further, when your mobile device or computer screen is too close to your face, your eyes turn in slightly which also makes them tired and fatigued. You can reduce the strain by looking away from your screen while on the phone, closing your eyes while listening to that webinar, or blinking more.
- Are you physically moving around at all? Your body is not designed to sit all day long and you have probably heard the adage, “sitting is the new smoking.” Moving around in your seat or going for a 5-minute walk can lift your mood, reduce your stress and fatigue, and allow your brain to make connections that it could not make when it was looking at that Excel spreadsheet or lengthy research paper. You might be thinking that you do not have time to move around because you have so much work to do, but I would wager that by being a little bit more active, your productivity while at your desk will go up significantly. For more ideas, read this article.
- Are you drinking enough water? My wife is a nurse, and for years she told me that one of the top reasons people end up in the hospital is due to dehydration. When I work from my home office, she’s always bringing me cups of water. Moreover, I have struggled a bit with water, because when I drink sufficient water, it necessitates more frequent trips to the restroom, which means that I lose precious time and my productivity plummets. However, I have found this to be a myth that I tell myself and believe. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about how much water you need daily.
- Are you eating healthful foods? I have a sweet tooth. When I was growing up, my grandparents stocked their basement freezer with delicious ice cream and novelty desserts. I binged on these treats back then because they were delicious and I had a blazing metabolism that seemed to keep up. Now, not so much. Sugar is a gradual killer and is a gateway to obesity and diabetes. In fact, recent research shows that sugar can cause cognitive decline which leads to Alzheimer’s. Moreover, the last thing you need to be doing to your brain at work is feeding it foods that break it down instead of build it up.
- Are you interacting with other people? The quality of the connections that we build with professionals at work plays a vital role in our health. Some of these interactions can be negative, and some can be positive. In her research, Barbara Fredrickson emphasizes the importance of at least a 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative events to maintain a healthy connection and a 5 to 1 ratio for optimum connection. Here is some additional information from Psychology Today that speaks to the health benefits of socializing.
- Are you learning something new? Your brain is plastic. No, not like Tupperware® or Rubbermaid®, but plastic in the sense that it is continuously changing and growing. Neuroscience calls this neuroplasticity. The brain loves to change, and newness, novelty, and challenges give it the growth that it is looking for. So, take that college class, attend that professional training, complete that Lynda® course, or learn a new skill to feed your brain and make you more valuable to your employer. Read more about neuroplasticity here.
- Are you taking regular breaks? The business environment today is one of constant change, chaos, and seemingly endless options and permutations that you could do. With all of these options, decision fatigue can creep in and rob you of energy, so take a step back, take a break, and re-focus on your long-term goals. For even more reasons to take a break at work, read this article.
- Are you clear on your priorities? Being clear on what is most important to you seems like an obvious thing that you have checked the box on a long time ago. However, over time subtle shifts occur in your workday without you taking the time to reevaluate that proven process, pet project, or prize product that you believe to be the most significant. It may have been your primary focus before; it may not be right now. In his book, Growing the Positive Mind, Dr. Larkin gives a clear framework for understanding and methodology for increasing the clarity, belief, and openness to help you move towards what you truly want. Buy it on Amazon here.
- Do you believe that you can accomplish your work? As mentioned above, limiting beliefs can block your productivity at work. If your self-talk keeps saying “that project is not perfect yet,” or “you will never have what it takes to pull off X,” even if you are clear about what you want, you will experience the added friction that slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. Remember, your brain is a tricky organ, it is tendency is to cling to false beliefs even when it knows better. Read more about this phenomenon here.
- Are you pushing too hard to get your work done? The American business culture prioritizes productivity and goal-setting, and while those are excellent things, sometimes this leads an employee like you to put too much pressure on yourself or your team that the intensity starts to backfire or blow up in your face. One way to tell that you may be pushing too hard is that if most of the social invitations that your friends, family, or kids are inviting you to you are unable to attend and your excuse is that you are “too busy.” A re-evaluation may help you loosen up the death-grip of this overwhelming pressure that you are putting on yourself. Here are some other indicators that it is time to lighten up.
To wrap up, if your job is wearing you out and you feel exhausted at the end of your workday with no energy to invest in the people and things you enjoy the most, it is time to get off that treadmill and make some changes that will bring you greater fulfillment and joy. Because, as Shawn Achor says, “Success does not lead to happiness; rather, happiness leads to success.”
Moreover, if you are tired, grumpy, and ready to explode most days, you are probably on the fast track to derailing yourself and your career. I urge you to stop and reevaluate now before it gets harder to turn your career around.