What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, social life, and work. And when it occurs at work, it’s not good for your career either.
Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overloaded, or unappreciated—when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, you may be burned out.
Burnout is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but become worse as time goes on. Think of the early symptoms as red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and actively reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll eventually burn out.
Physical signs and symptoms
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Lowered immunity
- Frequent headaches or muscle pain
- Change in appetite or sleep habits
Emotional signs and symptoms
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
- Becoming cynical and negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Behavioral signs and symptoms
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Isolating yourself from others
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking out your frustrations on others
- Tardiness in work
Causes of Burnout
Burnout often stems from your job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout, from the hardworking office worker who hasn’t had a vacation in years, to the frazzled stay-at-home mom tending to kids, housework, and an aging parent.
But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and personality traits. In fact, what you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing overwhelming stress like work or home demands.
- Lack of control over your work
- Lack of recognition
- Overly demanding work
- Monotonous work routine
- Hostile work environment
- Working too much, lacking socializing or relaxation
- Poor support system
- Taking on too many responsibilities
- Lack of sleep
- Always in control; reluctance to delegate to others
- High-achieving, Type A personality
Entering a stage of burnout where symptoms become critical and continuing as normal is often not possible — it’s the key that you seek medical intervention because burnout can hurt your heart, literally.
Burnout raises your risk for this deadly heart condition. According to a study, people who suffer from burnout have a greater risk of causing damage to the heart that can lead to a potentially deadly irregular heart rhythm.
In the new study, as published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers found a link between severe burnout — also known as vital exhaustion — and the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF, is characterized by an irregular or abnormal beating of the heart, also known as arrhythmia. AFib can cause symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. If left untreated, the condition can lead sufferers to experience blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications even when symptoms aren’t present. In fact, this is the most common type of irregular heartbeat affecting at least 2.7 million Americans.
The World Health Organization ties burnout to “chronic workplace stress” that has not been successfully managed by sufferers. Those who are burnt out often feel exhausted and demotivated at work.
Before you can treat and even prevent burnout, you need to recognize the warning signs so that you’ll know when it’s time to take action.
Fighting burnout is a simple matter of self-care. You need good ways to separate yourself from your work so that you can recharge and find balance. The following will help you accomplish this:
Disconnecting is the most important burnout strategy. You need to find time to remove yourself from your work. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout, and job-related stress can have a very real effect on your health. Protect yourself from getting overwhelmed by work.
2. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is a relaxation technique that helps you focus on the task at hand. Try a simple breathing exercise. Tune into your body and everything that you feel physically. Oftentimes, aches and pains are an accumulation of stress and anxiety. Burnout manifests in your body, so learn to pay attention to your body’s signals so that you can nip burnout in the bud.
When you’re on your own time, make the most of it. Take time to enjoy things you like to do. It’s just as important to plan out your relaxation time as it is to plan out when you work.
4. Protect Your Time
As tasks flow in and out of your inbox, it can be difficult to create space to attend to your own needs. Try to plan ahead so you can have some downtime now and then, where you can eat lunch in peace or surf the web for pleasure.
5. Get Organized
Much of the stress we experience on a daily basis doesn’t stem from having too much work; it stems from being too disorganized to handle the work effectively. When you take the time to get organized, the load feels much more manageable.
6. Be Assertive
When you’re managing your time, you must feel empowered to decline tasks that you cannot realistically handle. Whether your workload is too large or you’re being asked to do something beyond your capability, be straightforward with your co-workers. It’s impossible to meet the needs of others if you’re failing to meet your own needs, so learn to say “no.”
7. Eat Better
Your diet can affect the mood you bring to work with you every day. Make an effort to eat truly healthy foods. Have a healthy source of carbohydrates for long-lasting energy. Eat more protein and fiber to improve your digestive health, and stay hydrated to keep your mind in shape.
8. Lean On Your Support System
It’s tempting to withdraw from other people when you’re feeling stressed, but they can be powerful allies in the war against burnout. Sympathetic family and friends are capable of helping you. Spending time with people who care about you helps you to remove yourself from the stresses of work and reminds you to live a little and have fun.
If these strategies don’t work for you, then the problem might be your job. The wrong job can cause burnout in and of itself. In that case, you’ll have to decide what’s more important: your work or your health. Nothing is more important than protecting your overall health!
Burnout can get the better of you, even when you have a great passion for your work. It can often feel insurmountable. But the sense of being overwhelmed is a signal, not a long-term sentence. By understanding the symptoms and causes and implementing these strategies, you can recover and build a road map for prevention. Your brutal experience can serve as a turning point that launches you into a more sustainable career and a happier, healthier life.