How to Stop Work Stress From Turning Into Burnout

3 minute read

Have you ever been so emotionally exhausted at work that the mere thought of typing up one more report or sending one more e-mail makes you want to scream? Yes, we’ve all been there every now and again. But if that “can’t go on” feeling becomes more of an everyday thing, that’s probably work burnout—a chronic state of job stress that can tank your performance at work as well as your emotional wellbeing.

According to the latest Gallup survey on the topic, full-time American workers are at their posts 47 hours a week, on average, with 18 percent of respondents saying they work at least 60 hours per week. Many of us are under a lot of pressure, in other words.

But burnout, which is defined by the feeling that you can’t cope with your workload and the frustration that comes with that, doesn’t have to be just something you put up with. (Or quit your job over—because who can do that?) A recent Australian study found that it might be avoidable or reversible with exercise (which definitely explains why going for a run or taking a CrossFit class feels so darn good after a terrible day at the office.)

In the study, inactive men and women either participated in a four-week cardio or weight-training exercise plan (with a minimum of three 30 min sessions per week), or continued to not work out, like normal.

Before and after those four weeks, researchers used three different tests, including the Perceived Stress Scale, to figure out whether the participants’ moods shifted.

The results? Not only did those on the fitness plan feel more accomplished about what they had gotten done after those four weeks, but they also had less mental distress, emotional exhaustion, and perceived stress. (In the control group, not much changed.)

“Exercise has potential to be an effective burnout intervention,” researchers from the University of New England in Australia wrote in the paper. “Organizations wishing to proactively reduce burnout can do so by encouraging their employees to access regular exercise programs,” they concluded. (So bosses, take note: Researchers even suggest that knowing this information could help save companies money, as they say the global burnout costs over $300 billion each year.)

And if you’re feeling down about your job or are in a constant state of tension every time you move your mouse, consider incorporating more cardio or weights into your fitness routine. Although the study was small—only 49 volunteers participated—the benefits to your work could be real (not to mention, you’ll also reap all the other health benefits you get when breaking a sweat).

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