Career Burnout is On The Rise. Here Are The Warning Signs

Defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, burnout is on the rise. Burnout has now been added to the World Health Organisations’ (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, meaning it will become a globally recognised medical condition as of 2020. 

Between juggling childcare with demanding careers, emotional labour, and a society where even our rights to control our own bodies are under attack, women are experiencing it more than men – and at higher rates than ever before. A report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found  that 49% of women said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to 39% of men. 

Ever totally skipped a period or found that you’re experiencing mood swings or difficulty concentrating? Women surveyed also reported a greater incidence of physical and emotional symptoms than men. Your mood, digestion, sleep, sex drive, blood pressure and even your menstrual cycle can all be thrown off when you’ve reached unsustainable stress levels. Women reported headaches (41 % vs. 30 %), feeling as though they could cry (44 % vs. 15 %), and stomach upsets (32 % vs. 21 %) more often than their male counterparts. 

Interestingly, the same survey also found significant differences in stress reported by married and single women. One in three married women reported significant stress over the past month, compared to one in five single women. 

The data certainly seems to suggest that trying to ‘have it all’ is having negative consequences for women’s mental health.

So, what are the warning signs of burnout, and what can we do to address them? After working for International companies such as Google and Saatchi & Saatchi for 20 years, Cara de Lange – who is now a wellbeing mentor and coach – suffered career burnout. Her book, Softer Success, is all about redefining how we see success, and finding balance in a frantic world. 

Wellbeing mentor. Speaker. Author. Founder Softer Success; Cara de Lange

Wellbeing mentor. Speaker. Author. Founder Softer Success; Cara de Lange

She shared a few of the things she has learnt along the way with us.

What exactly is burnout, and what are the tell-tale signs?

The WHO defines burnout as a ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’ It characterises the condition with the following symptoms: 

  • Feelings of exhaustion

  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative about one’s job

  • Reduced professional efficacy 

But also signs like dizziness and headaches, inability to concentrate, feeling like you are constantly failing, weight loss, weight gain and frantically trying to stay on top of things.

Can you tell us about your own experience of career burnout?

I’ve worked for International companies such as Google and Saatchi & Saatchi for 20 years. Burnout can take months or even years to build up. I had many warning signs but ignored them. For example, I started to feel shaky when I had coffee. I felt a strange detachment from my work and was very negative. I started to suffer insomnia; I struggled with small tasks. 

At the heart of my burnout I went to see a sleep and energy expert called Dr Nerina Ramlahkhan. She told me that this burnout was a gift. I remember thinking, “how can this be a gift? I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can’t sleep, I have back and neck pain, I have had to take some time off work, I am so anxious.” But after that appointment I realised I was very hard on myself. I decided then and there to be gentler, and that was the kickstart to my recovery. 

How did you start being gentler with yourself? 

Lots of self-care, talking therapy, a healthy diet, exercise and rest got me well. Now, I make sure to check in with myself each day to assess my stress levels. At several points during the day I stop. I breathe deeply (10 deep breaths) and ask myself, “what do I really need right now?” Sometimes it is something as simple as a walk outside and some nourishing food. I also meditate every day. I start each day with a positive affirmation and visualisation.  

Can you tell us how your own experience led you to leave the corporate world and set up your business?

When I went back to work, there was this niggling feeling that I wanted to do more. I was still seeing too much stress and burnout around me and I wanted to prevent other people from it.  I started helping friends, family and some colleagues. After a couple of years I realised that this was now my life calling. I started researching and studying. I then left Google to focus solely on my company, Softer Success. 

Now, I go into companies and run ‘Prevent Burnout Find Balance’ workshops and coaching sessions, to help people find harmony in their working lives. It is by looking after yourself and being more gentle you can become more powerful and successful. I am absolutely passionate about helping people to find more balance, which is why I wrote my book, Softer Success, which helps women step away from the Superwoman ideology and look to re-define success on their own terms.  

There is so much out there right now about 'slowing down'. How do you suggest people actually do this, when the pace of life and work is getting ever more frenzied?

Take time away from your smart phone (and technology). I can’t stress it enough. Get out into nature or do a hobby you enjoy. Smart phones can help us speed up, but we need to slow back down.

Turn your phone off one hour before bed. Stop using your phone as an alarm clock – 75% of us check our smart phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up: a sure way to get the cortisol going and speeding you up before you have woken up properly. 

For more of Cara’s tips on how to slow down, Softer Success is available from Amazon or Waterstones.