Comment: Recognising work stress and burnout

By: David Boyce, CEO, NZ Trucking Association

NZTA advices on the steps to treat and reduce the chances of burnout

It’s easy to get burnt out at work. We must work harder than ever just to get everything that needs doing finished in time. Sometimes we must work overtime or extra days just to keep up with the demands of the job. No matter how much you love what you do, or how passionate you are about your work, sometimes we just get burnt out to the point that all we want to do is sleep. Even if you’re only working regular hours it’s still possible to get burnt out.

It can happen when you feel like you are putting in more than you get out of your work, or when you feel that the work isn’t rewarding. There are steps you can take to treat and reduce the chances of burnout, but sometimes it’s difficult to recognise burnout. So, how do you know that you are burnt out?

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Recognising the signs of burnout

You are having difficulty with work and personal relationships

Your stress is affecting everything you do and all your interactions with people, and you feel negative about most things. If you are constantly stressed out, your relationships with others will suffer.

You might also have health issues

Burnout has a huge impact on your physical and mental health. This may include back pain, depression, obesity, or constantly getting sick.

You feel fatigued

Stress has a huge impact on your mind and body – and it can take its toll. If you wake up with no energy, need to drink lots of coffee and constantly feel tired at work you may be burnt out.

You have cognitive difficulties

Are you forgetting important things? Making poor decisions or silly mistakes you wouldn’t usually make? Having emotional outbursts? These are all common for people experiencing burnout.

You constantly worry about your work at home

If you find yourself lying in bed worrying about all the work that you still must do or haven’t completed, then you may be burnt out.

You feel dissatisfied with everything you do

You no longer feel excited for jobs or working with people like you used to. Burnout almost always leads to dissatisfaction.

You lose motivation

You find it difficult to motivate yourself to finish jobs, work hard and stay ahead of the game.

You lose your drive

Your motivation for work no longer stems from enjoyment but from fear – the fear of missing deadlines, letting people down or of being fired.

You perform significantly worse than usual

If your performance at work is much worse than 6-months or a year ago, burnout may be the cause.

You struggle to take care of yourself

You may start to rely more heavily on things that make you feel good temporarily, but that aren’t good for you such as alcohol, drugs or gambling.

So how do you fight against burnout?

If you can identify the symptoms it becomes easier to fix the problem. Fighting burnout is mostly about taking care of yourself and finding a work-life balance that works for you. Some of the ways you might do this include:

Don’t let your work life overtake your personal life

You need some time off to recharge yourself and reenergise yourself each week. Nobody can keep on working all day every day without burning out. Also try to keep work at work – you can’t let it be too pervasive in your personal life. For example, if you can, avoid answering calls and emails straight away. Deal with them during work hours.

Avoid being on call 24/7

If you need to keep on top of them, dedicate a short time each day to deal with them so that you aren’t constantly stressing over it. Turn your phone off when you are at home. You need to prioritise your well-being.

Pay attention to body signals

It’s easy to think that an upset stomach is because of something you ate, a headache because of heat or an ache because of sleeping wrong. This is not always the case; stress and anxiety can have a huge impact on our bodies. Pent up stresses or worries can cause the body to react in many different ways, and can greatly impact your physical and mental wellbeing.

Add relaxation time to your daily schedule

Simply taking a 30 minute break for reading or going for a walk can benefit you greatly. It’s easy to think you don’t have time to do anything when you are busy, but even short breaks can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and give you something to look forward to each day. If possible, taking regular breaks throughout your day can help keep you productive. A 15-minute break every hour or two can reduce mental stress and keep your mind fresh.

Avoid sleeping pills, alcohol or similar substances before sleep

These substances affect your natural sleeping process and contribute to burnout. Also avoid eating or drinking for several hours before you sleep, as your body will be spending energy processing food instead of resting.

Finally, remember to lean on your support network

When you are stressed out it can be tempting to withdraw yourself socially and keep to yourself. It may be because you are always feeling tired and just feel like you don’t have the energy to deal with people. But your friends and family can be your greatest allies in fighting stress, anxiety and depression.

There are also community support networks available for those who need them, so don’t be afraid to seek support if you need it. If none of the above works, it may be time to consider another job. Sometimes the job itself can be too much to handle. It’s all a matter of finding a balance in your work and personal life, and finding what works for you and your health. 

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