For the last few decades, the concept of burnout has been debated among industry professionals. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO)provided clarification by classifying burnout as a syndrome that stems from an occupational phenomenon.
Although WHO has deemed Burnout to occur from work related issues, my own beliefs and experience has been that you can also experience burnout from family, marriage or other life pressures too.
Burnout is a syndrome, not a medical diagnosis. It is most often caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the WHO. In this context, external factors, such as those from workplace dysfunction, are primarily to blame for burnout in many cases.
Burnout can affect your mental, physical and emotional state. The feelings of burnout typically occur when you’re overwhelmed at work or in your homelife, and feel as if you can no longer keep up with the rigors of your life in general. Often feeling like it's all too much.
Burnout syndrome originated in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It was first used to describe medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who felt “burned out” from their tireless work. The term later evolved to include any working professional experiencing exhaustion and an inability to cope with daily tasks.
Of course, COVID-19 has magnified burnout, especially among healthcare workers.
Indeed, a popular job website that helps people find employment, surveyed 1,500 workers across various industries last March and found burnout increased by nearly 10 percent (52 percent in 2021 compared to 43 percent before the pandemic) during COVID-19.
Stress vs. Burnout
Don’t confuse burnout with stress, though. Stress is having too much on your plate, too much work to handle, too many responsibilities, too many hours spent working.
Burnout is the opposite. You typically feel like you don’t have enough, not enough motivation, not enough energy, not enough care.
The same can be said for misinterpreting depression for burnout. Certain depression related symptoms, such as exhaustion and difficulty performing tasks, can masquerade as burnout.
In most cases, burnout is work-related and may not affect your day-to-day life outside of work.
Depression, on the other hand, impacts every aspect of your life with persistent feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness.
You may be at a higher risk of burnout if you have poor self-esteem, unrealistic expectations in the workplace or aren’t comfortable or able to cope with stressors.
You may also experience burnout at a higher rate if your job requires a heavy workload, is understaffed, has conflicts in the workplace or doesn’t reward work when there is a job well done. Burnout also occurs more frequently in inviduals participating in high level person to person interactions.
What are the 5 Burnout Stages?
Burnout isn’t a sudden onset of feelings. Instead, your thoughts, feelings and actions progress through a series of stages. The initial stages may not feel like much, but they can eventually lead to a habitual phase that makes it hard to carry out your occupational duties.
What are symptoms of burnout?
Burnout symptoms vary depending on which phase of burnout you’re in. In general, there are three symptoms to be aware of: exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment.
Exhaustion: This fatigue presents itself both mentally and physically. The energy you typically have is zapped by persistent exhaustion.
Depersonalization: This is a feeling of indifference. In other words, you start to feel numb. For example, you may become more cynical in your inner workings or lack the ability to communicate effectively with people.
Reduced personal accomplishment/performance: This tends to manifest when you feel your work is insufficient and you’re incapable of performing your work. For example, you may lose pleasure in work you previously received joy from. Your usual creativity may wane, and it can become harder to concentrate.
Symptoms may also present as physical, emotional or behavioural.
Physical symptoms include:
Emotional symptoms include:
Behavioral symptoms include:
How to recover from burnout?
At this point, burnout probably sounds stressful enough to wonder if you can ever recover from it. The good news is there are ways to bounce back and learn to enjoy your work again. For starters, you need to be honest with yourself and recognise the burnout. It will be difficult to move forward if you can’t see the problem yourself.
Talk to your boss and let them know what your current struggles are. They may suggest you take some time off to recharge. If this isn’t offered, request a personal day or two to take a step back and reassess your situation. Consider taking a vacation to truly unwind.
Before you return, find new ways to cope with your job and find a work-life balance. It’s important to prioritise self-care and schedule time for yourself.
This can be as simple as taking breaks throughout the day or going on a walk during lunchtime. In stressful moments, it may also help to practicebreathing techniques to lower your stress.
While at work, know your limitations. People in new jobs tend to say “yes” to everything, as they feel it’s necessary to showcase their value to their boss. This can be dangerous. Sooner or later, you may find yourself drowning in too many tasks.
To solve this problem, don’t be afraid to say “no”.
Knowing your limitations also includes a set work schedule. In today’s work-from-home environment, it’s easy to be flexible and work longer hours or respond to emails or texts after working hours. While answering a call at night may seem harmless, it can lead to bad habits.
If you’re struggling from burnout and are unsure of where to turn, it may be time to get some solid help from a Counsellor who has recovered twice from severe burnout.
I can help with lived experience of recovery.