Many of us are feeling holiday blues. Winter is a particularly strenuous and transformative time of the year. The final quarter often seems to be the most hectic period in the workplace. December is a month of decoration and deadlines. Whether you feel the holidays bring joy, stress or both, the consensus is that this time of year is demanding. Burnout can be caused by both negative and positive aspects of life. Like a holiday work party, an enjoyable event can be as draining as a tedious project. Everyone has a different capacity for interaction with the waking world. Psychologist Dr. Borland states “Oftentimes, burnout and depression can mirror each other. However, depression is a diagnosable mental health condition, whereas burnout is not”. Burnout is most commonly caused by being overwhelmed. Seasonal depression shares the same office as burnout. Both hinder productivity in the workplace. Furthermore, they inflict harm to health. This article will define these terms and share advice so you can identify and address the holiday blues.
Seasonal depression is also known as seasonal affective disorder (the acronym for which is coincidentally SAD). It is a type of depressive disorder triggered by the changing of seasons, most commonly beginning in the fall with the progression into winter. The most common symptoms of seasonal depression are:
Psychologist Dr. Borland states that “Oftentimes, burnout and depression can mirror each other. However, depression is a diagnosable mental health condition, whereas burnout is not”.
The term ‘burnout syndrome’ was first coined in the early 1970’s. The story starts with a psychoanalyst, Herbert J. Freudenberger, who opened a free clinic in New York city to treat poor patients. During this work that brought him both meaning and joy, he overworked himself. He also noted change in his fellow physicians. From this he diagnosed himself and his colleagues with “burnout syndrome”, which is defined as a state of perpetual exhaustion sourced from a person’s job. Freudenberger stated that those with the burnout syndrome experience physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, insomnia and shortness of breath. All of which are the ways that stress manifests itself in the human body. In 2019, decades later, the World Health Organization defined burnout as an occupational phenomenon that occurs because of unmanaged, chronic workplace stress. The three criteria that classify workplace stress as burnout are flagging energy and/or exhaustion, increasingly negative feelings toward their job and/or increasingly feeling distanced from job responsibilities and workplace operations, and a downturn in professional efficacy. It is listed under the occupational hazards in the health sector on their website. To be burned out is to experience exhaustion, cynicism and hostility towards one’s work and decrease of job performance. In short, burnout is stress and exhaustion to the point of the brain and body’s executive dysfunction.
People can exhibit burnout differently. There are a variety of mental, emotional and physical symptoms. The five major signs of burnout are:
There can be additional causes for burnout as people tend to feel overwhelmed when they are met with conflicts of their various roles in life. The six general causes of burnout are:
It is both comforting and concerning to know that according to Gallup 2022 data one third of all workers are feeling burned out at work. Two-thirds of full-time workers have experienced burnout during their careers. A survey from 2020, conducted by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), found that out of 1500 respondents, 75% experienced burnout at work, and 40% said they experienced burnout specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Deloitte’s marketplace survey, 84% of millennials admit to experiencing burnout in their current position. These numbers are considerably and concerningly high. How do you battle the rising rates of burnout?
Be kind to yourself. You are a loved one, so treat yourself with compassion. It may take some effort to enforce measures that will help you, but with practice and patience improvements occur. The key to self-help is finding the balance between delight and discipline.
Here are simple strategies and habits to help you cope with dysfunction that we have coined as the Three B’s of Battling Burnout.
Make time to check in with your mind, body and spirit. You can do this by taking reasonable and times breaks. During your breaks avoid being on your phone. Do things like stretch, go for a walk, dance, sing, doodle, etc. Things that engage another part of your body, we will call this “intentional breaks”. You must also be allowing yourself “bio breaks”, to use the washroom, drink water, and eat food. However, these “bio breaks” are necessary bodily functions and are not considered part of “intentional breaks” as they serve similar, but separate purposes. They share the purpose of keeping you able to continue functioning physically and mentally. “Intentional breaks” are intended to lift and nourish your spirit, allowing you to return to your work with peace. Comparatively, “bio breaks” allow you to return to work with bodily nourishment, an empty bladder, etc.
One should note that people with neurodivergence may need to also schedule reminders for their “bio breaks”. It is common for neurodivergent people to struggle with internal regulation and forget to do such necessary things as go to the bathroom or drink water until it becomes urgent.
Set alarms to enforce these breaks and remember to try and keep track of “intentional breaks” to avoid slacking, which will eventually lead to being more overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out.
Setting boundaries is important for all relationships; interpersonal and intrapersonal (meaning with other people and with yourself. Setting boundaries with others may look like setting specific office hours that you are reachable. With yourself a boundary may be to limit your screen time or eat healthy. A boundary for both you and others may involve not overcommitting; for yourself, don’t agree to things that will be to your own detriment, for others, communicate honestly and openly about what you can and cannot be capable of managing currently. Boundaries are somewhat like rules but with the purpose of maintaining mental peace. To avoid burning your candle from both ends, set and respect boundaries.
Remember being a child and the joy of bouncing up and down? Bouncing has a variety of benefits for children and adults alike. It has become common knowledge that exercise can help with depression. A gym membership is expensive (but a wise investment if you can commit to going). Also, many people may not have the physical ability for strenuous exercise or feel it leaves them more tired. Yoga requires time to be put aside to immerse (but it is highly recommended). When you have too much to do to go and sweat but need to engage your body… try bouncing! You can do this with an exercise ball, your bed, or even in a regular chair by flexing your glute muscles to move your body. To have the ability to be able to move and bounce
Whether the level of support you need is reaching out to a friend or seeing a therapist, don’t hesitate to seek it. If you don’t want to or can’t go to another person for help, seek written words of wisdom. There are many sources online with handouts for therapy programs like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which has been proven to be effective for improving emotional regulation. Please, for your own safety, don’t go to chatrooms for comradery of the unstable. Seek trusted help, professional help, or published help.
Keep in mind that you must help others to the capacity that you are capable of. One cannot pour from an empty cup. This being considered, a reliable and mutual alliance can make all the difference in life. As sung by Bill Withers, we all need somebody to lean on.
The causes for individuals’ seasonal depression and needs to remedy vary so first and foremost the best thing to do is ask these questions respectively: How are you? Do you want to talk about it? That must be frustrating, is there anything I can do? Take notice of the questions order. First, greet and access the state of your fellow human. Then, inquire into their state respectfully. Lastly, validate their emotions and provide support. Before providing solutions or help, it is a fruitful courtesy to acknowledge another’s struggle.
The last step of providing support is following up appropriately after application. This step is optional as in some cases it may be metaphorically kicking up dirt that has settled. The act of following up appropriately refers to the way in which the conversation is had and how sensitive the situation in question was. Ask personal questions privately, don’t expose or embarrass your trusting friend that has confided in you. This rule of confidentiality is of course subject to being broken under the circumstance a person may be dangerous to themselves or others, and professional intervention is required. Following up can help by congratulating perseverance or reevaluating a situation from a different time.
For some people the concept of body doubling works wonders to get work done. After you have identified a shared struggle with someone to complete a task, ask if they are interested in working in individual collaboration. This is essentially babysitting each other. Set aside time to work together with your friend or coworker and keep each other focused on their task. Remind each other to take “intentional breaks” and “bio breaks”. Bounce ideas or questions off each other but remain mutually accountable to reaching completion of work.
Burnout and seasonal depression are widespread, especially in the workplace. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and drained, you’re not alone. The most important thing to remember when coping with it is to show compassion to yourself and others. It is important to be reasonable by remaining honest with yourself and others about your current capabilities and state of being. Acknowledging shortcomings, limitations and grievances is the first step to addressing, solving and surpassing them. Some ways you can help yourself are by using our Three B’s of Battling Burnout (breaks, boundaries and bouncing) and seeking support. Help others by caring to check in and providing support. Coping with stress utilizes both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Keep on keeping on.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text Hello to 741741