Let’s state the obvious and get it out of the way: accounting talent is hard to find these days, and the resulting squeeze on existing employees seems only to get tighter in response. Crazy deadlines, long hours, and high expectations put an enormous amount of pressure on accountants in the best of times, but in recent years that pressure has ramped up to truly epic levels. In turn, the accounting profession has gotten very comfortable with the term “burnout,” and plenty of authorities have discussed burnout symptoms to help accountants identify the condition.
Tax busy season is coming up quickly, making everything that much more stressful. When the stress gets intense, most of us know by now that we need to get some balance, and that activities like getting exercise or refocusing our attention to family or hobbies can really help. But what if you aren’t even realizing you’re burned out? Believe it or not, it can happen. And when it does, your body and subconscious can respond in a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways.
Here are just some of the often hidden symptoms of burnout.
The physical symptoms of burnout often look like many other things, so they get overlooked and written off as a bad clam or allergies. But if they persist long after you’ve dismissed all the other possible causes, it might be worthwhile looking into whether burnout is your problem. As with any physical symptoms, your doctor should be your first stop.
Difficulty sleeping from time to time isn’t abnormal, but if it persists for days or weeks, it’s often a sign something else is wrong. Many times, that something is burnout. Though most of us understand that stress can cause sleeplessness, it often gets attributed to other causes, from diet to room temperature.
As symptoms go, stomach trouble is famously universal and non-specific. It could be caused by a dozen different things, and stress or burnout are sometimes last on the list of suspects. If your stomach is prone to acting up on you, the connection can be even harder to make. But for many people, unrelenting stress will manifest as stomach pain or an associated gastrointestinal condition.
Okay, everyone knows headaches can be caused by stress, so this might not seem so “hidden.” But you can be burned out without necessarily feeling stressed out, and might not make the connection. A tension headache has some specific features you can use to help identify it.
Here are the specific features of a tension headache:
Constant Pain: Unlike the occasional headache, tension headaches bring a persistent, dull ache. It's like a tight band around your head, and the discomfort can be distracting.
Bilateral Pain: Tension headaches typically affect both sides of your head. The pain is not limited to one specific area, such as Hoboken. 😃
No Throbbing: Unlike migraines, tension headaches usually don't cause throbbing pain. The discomfort is more steady.
Neck and Shoulder Tension: Tension headaches often coincide with tension in the neck and shoulders. If you find yourself with a stiff neck or tense shoulders, it might be related to your headaches.
Burnout doesn't just manifest physically; it can significantly affect your emotional well-being. Unrelenting and continuous stress can lead to symptoms not entirely unlike PTSD If you find yourself experiencing any of the following emotional symptoms, it might be time to consider whether burnout is the cause:
Cynicism and Detachment
You might start to feel detached from your work, clients, or colleagues. This can make it hard to place events in time, as often many days and interactions begin to feel like carbon copies. Cynicism can creep in, making you question the value of your efforts. If you’re Lewis Black though, this can be considered baseline.
Burnout can erode your sense of accomplishment and productivity. You may feel like you're not making a difference or achieving your goals, or that you’re constantly chasing down the next task without ever getting anything done.
Your drive and motivation may dwindle, leading to your needing to “force yourself” to get things done. Tasks that used to excite you might now feel burdensome, and ones that always felt burdensome might now seem impossible.
You might find yourself more irritable, with a shorter fuse when dealing with stressors. If you find yourself snapping at others for minor issues, or feeling as though you always wake up on the wrong side of the proverbial bed, this could be burnout raising its ugly head.
Burnout can lead to withdrawing from social interactions. You may prefer solitude over engaging with others. Groups might seem overwhelming, or conversation with more than a few participants hard to follow.
It’s true that any one of the symptoms mentioned here could indicate burnout, but if you’re experiencing two or more, there’s an even better chance that burnout is the culprit. So what should you do next?
Seek Professional Help: If you're experiencing severe symptoms, don't hesitate to consult a medical professional or therapist. They can provide guidance and support.
Talk to Your Supervisor: Open communication with your employer or supervisor is vital. Discuss your situation and explore potential solutions, such as adjustments to your workload.
Self-Care: Prioritize self-care, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Engage in relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. Yes, this fits into the category of “easier said than done,” but there’s a trick to it: start small and keep it manageable. Pretty much everyone can substitute one healthy meal a week or take one ten-minute walk per week. Build on your success.
Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Avoid overextending yourself or working excessive hours. This means turning off the work email or text. If you know you might get after-hours texts or emails, leave your phone in a drawer at home and don’t look at it when you aren’t working.
Delegate Tasks: Don't hesitate to delegate tasks when possible. If you're in a leadership position, distribute responsibilities to your team. If it’s just you, you can relieve stress by planning your workload out. Make sure you schedule realistic amounts of time to get things done. If you try to squeeze a three-hour task into 30 minutes, the inevitable failure will just cause more burnout-inducing stress.
Take Breaks: Regular breaks during the workday can help alleviate stress. Use this time to unwind and recharge — like after hours time, you should avoid anything work-oriented on your breaks. No work texts or emails.
Engage with Supportive Colleagues: Sharing your feelings with colleagues can provide a sense of community and support.
Remember, burnout is a common experience, but it’s not always clear that it’s the problem. By recognizing the hidden symptoms and taking steps to combat burnout, you can regain your physical and emotional well-being, ensuring a more fulfilling career and life.
Another way to reduce stress that leads to burnout is to automate repetitive, mundane tasks, freeing you up to pursue work that’s more rewarding and stimulating. We probably don’t need to tell you our favorite way to automate — Botkeeper. The premier automated bookkeeping solution is constantly improving and adding features like Bot Review, our new automated solution to finding exceptions. Check it out!