A Guide to Burnout: The Signs and Treatment

October 4, 20212:36 pm431 views
A Guide to Burnout: The Signs and Treatment
Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay

Burnout, first coined in the 1970s by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, is a term used to describe a severe stress condition that leads to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout may be caused by excessive stress, but they are actually different. Under stress, people still struggle to overcome it, but that’s not the case with burnout. It usually occurs for a long time and one might feel constantly overwhelmed and emotionally drained, it disables them to push through everyday life. As burnout continues, one begins to lose interest and motivation for whatever they do or work on.

Although burnout is most likely caused by work, its negative effects can spill over into every area of life, including personal and social life. People experiencing burnout often feel extremely unmotivated and dread getting out of bed each morning. In extreme cases, some even adopt a pessimistic outlook and feel hopeless. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to the physical body, such as you are more likely to catch illnesses like colds and flu. 

Are you experiencing burnout? With the lines between business and personal life getting blurred in the time of Covid-19, employee burnout is rampant in modern workplaces. Thus, it’s important to know how to identify and deal with this syndrome.

Signs of Burnout

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have concluded that burnout syndrome is generally considered to lie along three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced performance ability or motivation. While most of us have bad days when we feel especially unmotivated and overloaded to do work, such a feeling can be a red flag when it gets prolonged. The symptoms to burnout may be subtle, so it needs your utmost attention to identify one:

  • Physical Signs: Exhaustion and Frequent Illnesses

You feel tired and drained most of the time. You catch mild illnesses such as colds and flu more often, a sign of your decreasing immune system. You often experience headaches, stomachaches, and changes to your usual appetite and sleeping schedules.

  • Emotional Sign: Withdrawal

You often feel helpless, trapped and alone in this world. You begin developing self-doubt and decreasing satisfaction with your own work which lead to a sense that you have been a failure. You often find yourself fantasizing about quitting jobs and running away.

  • Behavioral Signs: Isolation and Irritability

You start isolating yourself from others and increasingly feel irritated by your colleagues. Skipping work or coming in late start to worry you less because you no longer feel motivated to do your work. In extreme cases, you may even find yourself reluctant to socialize with family and friends.

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Burnout does not happen overnight, it accumulates as you start neglecting the signs of your own exhaustion. Thinking seriously of the symptoms is crucial since burnout should be dealt with as early as possible. If you fail to recognize the red flags, then you might be in what Freudenberger and North outlined as the 12 phases of this stress syndrome:

  1. Compulsion to prove oneself (excessive ambition) 
  2. Working harder
  3. Neglecting own needs
  4. Displacement of conflicts and needs
  5. No longer any time for non-work-related needs
  6. Increasing denial of the problem, decreasing flexibility of thought/behavior
  7. Withdrawal, lack of direction, cynicism
  8. Behavioral changes/psychological reactions
  9. Depersonalization
  10. Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
  11. Increasing feeling of meaningless and lack of interest
  12. Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening

Overcoming burnout

If you find yourself experiencing burnout, the one thing you should definitely not do is push yourself through the same routine that puts you in the current situation. Forcing yourself to keep going, or the fake it until you make it mentality, will only worsen the damage of burnout. Use this as the opportunity to explore and figure out a new lifestyle and daily routine that works best for both your work and health.

  • Ask for help

When getting burnout, it is hard to get yourself back on track on your own. Everything has lost its meaning and every way you turn, the world seems to turn bleak. This is why you should reach out to those closest to you for help. The person you talk to does not have to be able to fix your burnout, but at least you get your thoughts out of your system.

  • Build a new relationship with work

This could mean quitting your job altogether and finding a new one that you actually love doing. However, changing careers or jobs can be difficult or even impossible for some people. If this is the case, it is best to reframe the way you look at your work. You can start by trying to find some meaning or value in what you are doing. It is best to focus only on what you love to do in your workplace, even if it is simply chatting with your colleagues, and try to regain your balance back at work. 

  • Set your priorities straight

You don’t live to work, you work for a living. Thus, your well-being should be on the top priority. Take care of yourself first before even thinking about getting back to work. Develop a routine where you can have a time to enjoy your hobbies at least once a week. You can also start scheduling weekly exercise to gain back your health and also fix your diet.

The key to keep burnout away is to be mindful of your work-life balance. One of ways to do that is by increasing your productivity at work because once you reduce the time you spend for work, it means you will have more time to do something else that you actually enjoy and love. For practical and actionable tips and tricks on productivity, you can head to our productivity series by clicking here.

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