As we near closer to the end of a year that has been challenging for so many, it's no surprise that a lot of us are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and totally burnt out. Although this is a topic we have already talked about here, we think it's a conversation worth having again. So many people are reporting experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout without realising what it actually is.
So, 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. 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, work, and social life. 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, however, 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 of burnout:
Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses.
Frequent headaches or muscle pain.
Change in appetite or sleep habits.
Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:
Sense of failure and self-doubt.
Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
Loss of motivation.
Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
Behavioural signs and symptoms of burnout:
Withdrawing from responsibilities.
Isolating yourself from others.
Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.
Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
Taking out your frustrations on others.
Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.
The difference between stress and burnout
Stress involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.
Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. While you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.
Causes of burnout
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 mum tending to kids and housework. Other factors can also 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 as work or home demands.
Work-related causes of burnout:
Feeling like you have little or no control over your work.
Lack of recognition or reward for good work.
Unclear or overly demanding job expectations.
Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging.
Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.
Lifestyle causes of burnout:
Working too much, without enough time for socializing or relaxing.
Lack of close, supportive relationships.
Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others.
Not getting enough sleep.
Personality traits can contribute to burnout:
Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough.
Pessimistic view of yourself and the world.
The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others.
High-achieving, Type A personality.
Dealing with burnout
Whether you recognise the warning signs of impending burnout or you’re already past the breaking point, trying to push through the exhaustion and continuing as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage. Now is the time to pause and change direction by learning how you can help yourself overcome burnout and feel healthy and positive again.
The following tips for preventing or dealing with burnout can help you cope with symptoms and regain your energy, focus, and sense of well-being:
Listen to your body and take time to rest and recharge.
Build on your resilience to stress by taking care of your health and well-being.
Turn to loved ones for support and connection.
Reframe the way you look at work and challenge negative thinking patterns.
Re-evaluate your priorities and set boundaries to protect yourself from high stress.
Make mental down time, self-care and physical rest a non-negotiable.
Make your physical health a priority by exercising and nourishing your body.
Seek professional help when you feel you need it.
If you feel like you may be experiencing burnout and need help and support, we are here for you. Our counsellors can work with you to prevent, manage and overcome burnout, helping you to feel happy and healthy again.
Parts of this article were written by authors Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson