A woman feeling exhausted while sat at her desk

Burnout: feel exhausted at work, even after the weekend? You’re not alone

Posted by for Mental Health

Struggling with feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm at work, even after the weekend? You could be one of the thousands of people dealing with burnout right now. Here’s how to cope, according to an expert.

It’s long been known that the pandemic has contributed to a rise in the number of people experiencing burnout.

Doctors, nurses and care workers have obviously been among the worst affected – a report published by the General Medical Council at the end of last month found that one in three trainee doctors are feeling burnt out to a high or very high degree – but the isolation, stress and pressure of living through the pandemic has taken its toll on workers across the board.

In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 UK workers from the workplace platform Envoy found that four in five respondents had felt close to burnout over the last year.  

However, as lockdown restrictions ease and life gets back to ‘normal’, things still don’t seem to be getting any better on the burnout front.

If you’ve been feeling exhausted (even after the weekend), struggling to stay motivated and feeling overly irritable or emotional, you’re not alone – as the response to this recent viral tweet highlighted, many people feel like they’re in a state of ‘permanent burnout’ right now. 

Of course, ‘permanent burnout’ isn’t an official term: burnout is a term used to describe an “occupational phenomenon” that can last for any given time, so if you’re experiencing regular burnout symptoms (feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy) chances are you’ve just been burnt out for an extended period of time. 

But what is it about this point in the pandemic that’s left so many people feeling like this?

Chartered psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll believes that it could be down to the amount of stress many are already carrying as a result of the last 18 months.

“In my clinic I’ve seen heightened levels of burnout, and it’s no surprise given what we’ve been through in the past 18 months,” she explains. “The underlying stress of the pandemic has meant that our cups are quite full before we even start work, so tasks that may not have felt difficult now send us into a spin.”

Dr Arroll continues: “The change in our regular routines, sleep disturbance and lack of defined time off/holidays are all contributing factors to the higher rates of burnout we are now seeing.” 

While the shift to home working at the beginning of the pandemic was stressful in and of itself, it makes sense that the impact of WFH for 18 months – and all the blurred boundaries, increased overtime and general anxiety that’s come with it – would continue to take its toll. The question, then, is this: what can you do when the weekend just isn’t cutting it anymore?

To find out more about how to deal with feeling permanently burnt out, we asked Lisa Kramer, business psychologist at the digital mental health platform Kooth, to share her advice. Here’s what she had to say. 

Build more ‘rest’ into your routine

While the ideal way to deal with burnout would be to take some time off, that’s not always possible. So, to counter this, Kramer recommends trying to build some more ‘rest’ times into your working day, so you have more opportunities to switch off.

“Doing things like making sure you take a lunch break and logging off work at a decent time will ensure you have time to rest before your next shift or working day,” she says.

Get enough sleep

When you’re feeling stressed out, you might be tempted to ‘steal’ time away from the day by engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination (aka, putting off going to bed in order to have some more ‘me’ time). But getting enough sleep is incredibly valuable, Kramer explains.

“The importance of getting enough sleep cannot be underestimated,” she says. “An extra hour in bed will make you feel so much better than watching ‘just one more episode’ on TV.”

A woman watching TV in bed
It can be tempting to put off going to bed when you're stressed to steal some 'me' time, but sleep is incredibly important.

Be kind to yourself

It may seem simple, but showing yourself a bit of kindness can help you to feel more in control and on top of everything that’s going on.

“Notice if you are talking to yourself in a critical way, such as saying ‘I can’t see a way forward,’ and try to reframe your thoughts in a more compassionate way,” Kramer recommends. “For example, try telling yourself ‘I am doing my best’ and asking, ‘Who might be able to help me?’”

Talk to someone

Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone else will not only help you to feel less alone, but it also puts them in a position to help you going forward.

“Finding a trusted, sympathetic person to speak with is one of the quickest ways to relieve pressure when you’re feeling burnt out,” Kramer explains. “If you are concerned about issues at work, for example, can you speak with a line manager or wellbeing officer?” 

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.