Just about everybody goes through stressful times at work. Projects pile up, you stay late and take work home with you — but the flow of emails doesn’t slow down. When this becomes the norm, it’s time to re-evaluate your work-life balance — and make some healthy changes to avoid job burnout.
How do you know when it’s time to examine how your job fits into your life? Here are the telltale signs.
1. You stop taking care of your body
You’re staying up too late or having trouble staying asleep. You’re sitting all day and not exercising. You’re getting most of your food from a vending machine or drive-thru window — or not eating at all. You have a nagging pain or health concern but don’t feel like you have time to go to the doctor.
2. Your mental health is going downhill
You’ve started noticing signs of anxiety or depression. Are you feeling angry or irritable? You may even experience dread, restlessness, hopelessness, panic attacks, mood swings, and maybe even thoughts of suicide.
3. You just don’t care anymore
Your work no longer feels meaningful. You don’t feel connected to your colleagues or clients. You’re just going through the motions.
4. You feel incompetent
No matter what you do, it feels like it’s never enough. You’re always behind and the quality of your work may suffer. You worry constantly about your job performance. You fear (but maybe also secretly fantasize about) being fired.
5. There are no clear boundaries between work and home
You’re working longer and longer hours. You can’t take time off without getting calls, texts and emails from work. You feel like you have to be available around the clock.
6. You’re lonely
Although you may have people around all the time and you’re constantly connected electronically, you no longer have the time or energy for meaningful interactions with family or friends. Your relationships begin to suffer.
There’s a way out of the hole
If any of this sounds familiar, don’t despair. Psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, offers the following tips for taking control and getting things back in balance.
- Disconnect when you’re at home. “Put down the phone,” Dr. Sullivan says. “We don’t need to be available 24/7.” Constantly checking and responding to texts and emails raises stress levels, makes it difficult to connect with family members and negatively affects your sleep.
- Be more efficient at work. Focus on one task at a time and keep working on it until it’s complete. Don’t try to multitask. Close your email and turn off your phone when possible to minimize distractions. “If we’re efficient we finish our work, and then we’re able to go home and spend time with our family,” Dr. Sullivan says.
- Prioritize self-care. Make a decision to set aside time for exercise. Choose and plan for nutritious meals and quality time with friends and family. Make those things non-negotiable in your schedule.
- Get professional help. If the stress is really getting to you and impacting your mental health, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist. Many employers offer employee assistance programs that can connect you with a mental health professional who has experience helping people manage their stress.
Although hard work is prized in our culture, you don’t have to let your job take over your life. It’s OK — and necessary — to take care of yourself first.