Lots of people are feeling it at work these days: Exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, frustration, worry. It could stem from the demands of working at a tech startup, keeping long hours with high expectations and lots of uncertainty. Teachers, dealing with the seemingly constant shifts between in-person and classroom learning, are feeling it, too. Often, it hits workers in a healthcare setting as they deal with the demands and extra patient loads created by the pandemic.

The problem is often referred to as “burnout,” and it’s affecting more and more people now. A recent study of teachers showed nearly a quarter were experiencing burnout. Another study estimated that one in three physicians is experiencing burnout, making healthcare one of the professions most susceptible to the condition.

The problem can be even more pronounced these days, with all the upheavals we experience in daily life from the pandemic, politics and the economy. In many professions, including healthcare, the competition for trained workers is fierce. That can leave positions unfilled and increase the workload for everyone, building stress.

“It’s important for employers in every kind of business to be acutely aware of burnout on the job, and to help workers and managers spot burnout and address the problem,” said Dr. Richard Briones, chief medical officer at Good Samaritan Hospital. “At Good Samaritan, for example, we check in with our doctors, nurses and other caregivers to see how they’re doing, and we offer programs to help them deal with the stresses that go with healthcare.”

Burnout itself is not a disease or diagnosis, but a term describing the results of chronic exposure to job stress. The term was first used in the 1970s, and now is generally associated with three symptoms: emotional exhaustion; cynicism and depersonalization; and reduced professional efficacy and personal accomplishment.

Anyone can experience burnout, and it can lead to serious physical effects as well as emotional ones. Burnout can increase already high stress levels, and stress is associated with a number of potentially serious conditions, from cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and stroke to depression.

While there isn’t a formal diagnosis for burnout, there are many signs that you may be experiencing it, including:

  • Lack of sleep or insomnia
  • Feeling tired or exhausted all the time
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Reduced enthusiasm for your job
  • Difficulty focusing on your work or doing your job
  • Irritability or impatience with colleagues or customers/clients
  • Becoming cynical or critical about your job

It’s not only the job that can contribute to burnout. People also can make the situation worse if they set their work expectations too high for themselves, or by being so focused on work that they neglect their own needs or personal and social lives.

There are a few things that may help you deal with burnout:

  • Take time for yourself. Do something you enjoy, spend more time with your family, and restore some work/life balance.
  • Get support. Talk to your colleagues, family and friends and get their advice and help. If your company offers support programs, or has an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of those.
  • Another important way to take time for yourself, exercise is a great way to reduce and relieve stress as well as improve your overall health.
  • Consider ways to relax. Some people find that meditation, a yoga class or just curling up with a good book can go a long way in combating burnout.

It’s also important to talk to your manager or supervisor about specific on-the-job issues that contribute to burnout, and see how they can be changed.

“It can be hard these days to avoid stress on the job, especially in healthcare where stress is part of the everyday routine,” Briones said. “That’s why it’s so important to take steps to take care of yourself and to take advantage of programs your employer offers to combat burnout.”