Definition of Burnout
We all experience some level of stress or anxiety from time to time. It’s not a bad thing; in fact, it’s a necessary part of being human. But burnout is a mental state of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and uninterested in or unable to carry out one’s duties.
Burnout is not just "in your head." It can be similar to PTSD and lead to more persistent health problems further down the road. The symptoms of burnout include cynicism or generalized irritability, feeling overwhelmed or that effort is worthless a lack of interest in work or other duties, and exhaustion. Physical symptoms, such as headaches or backaches, and a decreased sense of enjoyment in activities that were once enjoyable may also be present.
Job burnout is a common form of the condition, but one can also experience it in other areas of life like parenting, activities, and other relationship. Caregiver burnout, parental burnout, and emotional burnout are also on the rise. We are also seeing many forms of burnout in healthcare with physician burnout being at an all-time high post-pandemic.
Signs of Burnout
People who experience burnout often have several of the same factors in common, such as a high workload, a lack of autonomy, a negative attitude towards the job, a negative attitude towards co-workers and/or management, and problems coping with stress.
There also may be some situational factors, such as a hierarchical, formal structure, long hours, a highly demanding boss, and a job that doesn’t fit your personality or interests.
The condition can also be caused by non-job situations, such as being a caregiver for a loved one or managing your family’s life. Regardless of the reason, symptoms can manifest in physical, emotional, and behavioral signs.
Some physical symptoms are temporary, while others are long-term. Physical signs can include:
- Feeling tired and drained
- Lowered immunity, resulting in increased illnesses
- Frequent headaches
- Changes in appetite
- Poor sleep habits and sleep conditions, such as insomnia
- Poor concentration
There are many emotional signs that you may experience.
- A sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feelings of depression, anxiousness, and defeat
- Feelings of detachment from the world
- Loss of motivation
- Increased negative outlook about the world
- Decreased joy and satisfaction in life and accomplishments
Behavioral signs include:
- Isolating oneself from others
- Procrastinating on necessary tasks
- Taking one’s frustration out on others
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Skipping out on work or other responsibilities
Difference Between Burnout and Stress
While both stress and burnout are types of mental exhaustion, they are very different and have different causes.
Stress is caused by short-term pressure and pressure your mind can handle. For example, when you have a high workload at work but know that you have a break coming up soon and that you can take a break or work fewer hours while you’re on vacation.
Burnout, on the other hand, is caused by long-term pressure. This is the pressure that comes from various factors, such as a high workload, feeling like your job doesn’t fit who you are, negative co-workers, negative attitude towards your job and co-workers, and problems coping with stress.
Tips for Preventing Burnout in the Workplace
The hardest but most important step is to say something to your manager about how you are feeling. Many companies are aware of burnout, and they want to prevent losing valuable employees.
Once your manager is aware of your condition, they may be able to connect you to helpful resources like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or mental health benefits. They can also adjust your workload to give you time to heal.
Work with a therapist who can provide advice and guidance on how to work through any issues you might be facing. To recover, it’s important to take care of yourself.
Make breaks part of your routine and try to take them from time to time. Take vacations when you can. If you need to take a break from a particularly frustrating job, try looking for other work that is more suited to your interests or personality.
Try doing volunteer work or finding activities you enjoy outside of work.
Make sure to look after your physical health as well. It might be necessary to take some days off from your work so you can take care of yourself better.
How to Overcome Burnout
Treatment requires a holistic approach where you prioritize your mental and physical health. While burnout is not an official medical diagnosis, it is recognized by the World Health Organization as an occupational phenomenon that can seriously impact your quality of life. There are numerous steps you can take toward treating it.
- Track your stress levels, using stress trackers
- Get to know what triggers your stress and figure out how to avoid these triggers
- Use a journal to emotionally decompress each day
- Work with a trained therapist or integrative psychiatrist
- Consider alternative treatments like ketamine or TMS
- Build a support network
- Enjoy the feel-good hormones produced by regular exercise
- Advocate for yourself, and say no to tasks you can’t handle
- Set boundaries
- Learn stress management techniques, such as meditation
- Do things you enjoy
- Follow a healthy diet
Recovery isn’t going to happen overnight. First, you need to admit there is a problem, which can be challenging in a world that rewards overwork. Then, you need to take a break from work or the responsibilities that trigger your condition if possible.
After that, you need to reflect on your well-being, make positive changes, and explore how to change your life to prevent a relapse.
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