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'You're more irritable.' The 5 symptoms of burnout you shouldn't ignore when working from home.

Right now we're all feeling it.

The tiredness, the stress, the lack of concentration and the shared continual feeling of 'mehh'

For those of us who are fortunate to work from home right now, the knock-on effects from the pandemic and recent lockdowns has left some of us feeling burnt out and stressed as we try to work in the same way we did before. 

"People are trying to work from home whilst also looking after children, potentially doing home schooling. So we've all of a sudden got a lot of distractions. And our minds and bodies are trying to cope with so much," registered psychologist and associate professor at the Australian College of Applied Psychology, Vikki Knott, told Mamamia. 

"We're constantly on alert, we're looking at the [daily case] numbers, we're watching the border closures. And we're just sort of in this state of stress. And so that doesn't really help our mental health."

Watch: Small things you can do to combat burnout. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

Working from home has also seen the lines between our work and personal life blur, particularly for parents who are also looking after children. 

"I think a lot of people that are managing homeschooling or looking after children are feeling guilty because they're not always at the desk. And so they might be inclined to spend longer periods of the day attending to a work situation. So there's no time for rest and relaxation."

Thankfully, Knott says there are signs we can look out for to tell if we're becoming burnt out and things we can do to improve our mental health if we are. 

Here's what you need to know.  

The 5 symptoms of burnout you shouldn't ignore.

1. You're more irritable. 

First up, Knott says a main symptom to look out for is irritability. 

"You may be snapping at others or just being more cynical about the world and having a negative kind of attitude," she explained. 

2. You're not sleeping well.

Trouble sleeping is another sign you shouldn't ignore. 

If you're experiencing burnout, Knott says you might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night worrying about things to do with work or other tasks you have on your plate. 

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3. You're struggling to concentrate.

Speaking of work, you might find yourself struggling to concentrate on basic tasks. 

Not only is it easy to get distracted working from home, but Knott says, "we're also getting caught up in our thoughts, including worries about the future, which is perfectly understandable". 

4. You're not as productive as usual. 

You also might not be as productive as you used to be, even though you may feel like you're working really hard. 

"Even though we may be at the computer for 12 hours a day, people might find all of a sudden they just sort of sitting there staring at the computer and think 'what was I doing?'"

5. You're making mistakes at work. 

Lastly, you might find yourself making more errors at work as you struggle to keep your mind on track and focus on what you're doing. 

So, what can you do if you're felling burnt out?

If you're feeling burnt out it's important not to shove these feelings under the rug and move on. 

According to Knott these feelings have the potential to worsen and could lead to an episode of derepression. 

"This is where we might start feeling a sense of hopelessness or a sense of worthlessness and might be seeing the world or themselves in the future quite negatively," she explained. 

"And once we're kind of in that mental state, then things can decline from there, so we might find we start becoming very tearful, we might notice we're crying when we watch an advertisement on the TV. Anything that you notice that is quite different to your usual behaviour." 

If you're experiencing this, the best thing you can do is seek support from family, friends or health professionals.

Meanwhile, if you're feeling burnt out, there are things you can do to improve your mental health and reduce stress. 

1. Keep your workday as a structured as possible.

Lockdown has thrown everyone's schedule into disarray, especially if you're working from home. 

But Knott says keeping your workday as structured as possible and setting boundaries around work and personal time is one way to mitigate burnout. 

"If you started work at 9am [before COVID], start work at 9am. If you tended to hang out with your mates and have a coffee around 10:30am, have a coffee, go and sit on your balcony, enjoy the sun on your skin, just take a break."

"[Also] clock off at a reasonable time, so that you've got time to spend quality time with your family or your loved ones. Or if you're living alone, you've got time to prepare a healthy meal and have some downtime." 

Going to bed on time is also important. So as Knott pointed out, those 3am Netflix sessions should probably stop.  

2. Acknowledge when you're not feeling so great.  

"When we're feeling bad, we want to avoid those negative feelings and will tend to do things like watching Netflix to escape," says Knott. 

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Instead, she recommends we acknowledge those feelings and then respond to them by seeking help or by doing things we love to boost our mood. 

"That could be enjoying cooking your favourite meal or ringing up your friends and having a chat... because one of the classic symptoms when we get depressed is that we find it really hard to engage in those activities we used to find really enjoyable, so schedule them into your diary."

3. Try to focus on what you're doing when you're doing it. 

This is easier said than done. But Knott suggests trying to orient your attention to where you want it to be. 

If you feel distracted, take a moment to stop and focus on your breathing in order to purposefully bring yourself out of your head and into the present moment. 

4. Practice mindful exercises.

Last but not least, Knott recommends having a go at mindful exercises. She even shared one you can do at your desk. 

"You start by gently breathing in, noticing your breath as it's coming in, filling up your lungs. Then notice what your mind is saying today. Is it is it noisy? Is it critical? And just noticing and acknowledging those thoughts, not sort of judging them as being good or bad." 

"Then explicitly notice five things in the room that you can see. And then notice four things in the room that you can hear, three things that you can feel, two things you can smell and then one you can taste." 

Knott says this will help train your brain to come back into the present moment and not get caught up in your thoughts. 

Feeling overwhelmed by all your tasks? Here's how five successful women organise their days to be more productive and mitigate burnout. Post continues after podcast.

How can you prevent burnout in the first place?

Yep, there are ways to prevent feeling stressed and burnt out at work before it even begins. 

Knott says the most important thing is to be assertive about work boundaries and focus on the things you can control. 

"There's so many stressors in our environment at the moment. If we can, try to think about the things that we can control and try to do something about those in the here and now. And those things that we can't control, unfortunately, we need to find a way to put them to one side." 

"Other basic things like maintaining good sleep, hygiene, eating well, exercising, staying connected with others, trying to bring in as many of those other supports as we can. When we do that, we tend to cope with stress better."

Workplaces also have a role to play. 

"A study came out in the Journal of Applied Psychology which looked at what we need to be doing to build a psychosocial safety climate. And that involves support from management, executive prioritisation of psychological health versus a focus on productivity, lots of open communication and reducing the demand... so not expecting people who are homeschooling and doing various other things to still be producing the same they were pre-pandemic."

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But the main thing we need to be doing right now is simply looking out for yourself and one another. 

"It's just really important to focus on looking after yourself. It's a bit like when you're on a plane and the crew are going through the safety instructions and they say, 'if you have others with you make sure you look after yourself and then help those around you'. Particularly for those mums and dads out there, who've probably got a lot on their plate, keeping themselves happy, healthy and resilient is going to help those around you. 

"As a community, we can all support each other, and get through this."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Kid's Helpline is also available on 1800 551 800.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia. 

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