Avoid burning out in your first job

Tuesday 24 September 2019
It’s natural to want to succeed at work – but you shouldn’t sacrifice your health to do so. Here are four expert stress management tips.
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The NHS defines burnout as a stress-related psychological illness, where you feel exhausted, physically unwell, and lack enthusiasm and motivation. But burnout isn’t only linked to high-pressure jobs, it also applies to those where feel unstimulated or unchallenged.

In 2017, Georga Cottle changed job so she could shorten her commute, retraining herself as a social media manager – but the ‘always on’ culture of the role was overwhelming. “I went from having a job in an office to having a job at home, and the boundaries for a work/life balance blurred. I was responsible for other people’s social media accounts, so felt I had to be accessible 24/7. It wasn't until I started seeing my GP that I realised I was actually on the brink of burnout. It started with headaches, blurred vision and anxiety on a regular basis, and I gradually started to experience temporary episodes of paralysis where my body would literally shut down.”

Her research into the cause of her symptoms enabled her to make lifestyle changes to improve her health, and eventually set up her business, Wellness HQ. After speaking with Georga Cottle, we’ve got some tips to help you make sure you don’t burn out in your first job.

1. Identify it early

It’s easy to become overwhelmed at work, especially in your first role, if you get given or take on too much work and feel unable to ask for help with your workload. From your studies and any previous stressful situations you’ve experienced, pay attention to new feelings of anxiety, dwindling appetite, and sleeping pattern changes. These are just some of the indicators that you’re feeling stressed at work, so take a few moments in the evening to reflect on your day; if you notice a particular reflection causes you to have a feeling of panic or anxiety, you can begin to identify what’s triggering your stress and ask for help with your workload.

2. Don't overcommit yourself

“Entering the workforce is a stressful time with steep learning curves,” says Janine Woodcock, leadership coach and author of The Power of Choices. “New hires naturally try to prove their value through hard work, but it’s important to remember that you’re learning a new job, while also learning your own limits. If you pay attention to the first without the second, you’re setting yourself up for burnout at some point.

Even though you want to impress and please your manager, don’t take on more work that you can manage. Especially in the first few months, pace yourself slowly to accommodate any mistakes you may make while the work is still new. As you become used to the processes, platforms, and people, you can accept more responsibilities if you feel able.

3. Look after yourself

"Your attentions and energy rhythms are unique to you. It’s this understanding – and my own experience with serious, career halting burnout – that prompted me to accept that my energy is finite, something to manage and nourish, not just something to use up,” says Woodcock.

Try to not take work home or check your emails on evenings or weekends, and avoid working through lunch and staying late. Wherever possible, eat a healthy diet, minimise caffeine in the afternoon to sleep better in the evening and avoid staying up late; these steps will help ensure that you’re feeling your best. Engaging with your friends, socialising, and exercise will help you to physically exert your stresses.

4. Talk it over

If you feel able to, talk to your manager about how you’re feeling. If you leave it until you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, you run the risk of digging yourself into a hard-to-escape hole. Talking through your feelings and workload with your manager means you can get help to plug the holes in the boat, whether that’s through shifting your priorities, or redistributing some of your workload to your colleagues. Your manager can reinforce any of your stronger areas, and is there to help you succeed.

If you avoid identifying and making lifestyle adjustments to alleviate stress, you can burn out. Burnout is the extreme end of the scale – it is physical exhaustion, in the sense that your body is purposefully shutting down to force you to recover. Suggest taking some time off, rest, and visit your doctor. Then, when you feel able, slowly start to accept the work you feel able to manage. Don’t just rush back in after a period of time off, as you’ll just find yourself in the same situation again.

If you’re feeling not quite like yourself, take a moment to use our personal wellbeing checklist, or read our article about talking about mental health at work. Or you may find this NHS mood self-assessment questionnaire useful.

Image: Unsplash