Burnout Symptoms and Treatment

People who are struggling to cope with workplace stress may place themselves at a high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave people feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with the demands of life.

Burnout may be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms as well. If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for an individual to function well in their daily life.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a relatively new phrase, first coined by Herbert Freudenberger in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, published in 1974. He first defined burnout as “the extinction of drive or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to yield the desired results.”

Burnout is a reaction to long-term or repeated job stress that has three basic dimensions: weariness, cynicism (lack of affiliation with the job), and emotions of diminished professional skill.

Simply put, you’re showing indications of burnout if you’re weary, starting to dislike your job, and feeling less capable at work. The stress that causes burnout can come from a variety of sources.

The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stress from your overall lifestyle can add to this stress. Personality traits and thought patterns, such as perfectionism and pessimism, can contribute as well.

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. And if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don’t gain any satisfaction from what you’re doing, it can take a serious toll on your life.

Signs and Symptoms

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:

Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.

Physical symptoms:

Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches stomachaches, or intestinal issues.

Emotional exhaustion:

Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.

Reduced performance:

Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

It shares some similar symptoms to mental health conditions such as depression. Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work.

Depression symptoms may also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms, as well as thoughts of suicide.

Risk Factor

A high-stress job doesn’t always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not be any ill effects. But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.

The 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44 percent of physicians experience burnout.

Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.

Of course, it’s not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry, at every level, are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:

Unreasonable time pressure

Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.

Lack of communication and support from a manager 

Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.

Lack of role clarity 

Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.

Unmanageable workload 

When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.

Unfair treatment 

Employees who feel they are being treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment by a co-worker.

Prevention and Treatment

Although the term “burnout” suggests it may be a permanent condition, it’s reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.

Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.

In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.

It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.

A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won’t be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout and you’re having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.

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