We often use the term ‘burnout,’ and its variations, in a very casual manner. After a long and stressful day at work, a hectic few months of event planning, or a tiresome weekend spent visiting family, for example, we may admit to feeling ‘spent’ or ‘burned out.’ This however, does not capture the true essence of burnout. While many still consider it an ambiguous or abstract concept, much like anxiety and depression, burnout is actually a recognized condition which is characterized by a combination of specific symptoms. In this post, we hope to demystify some of the uncertainty surrounding burnout and provide a clear explanation of this very real phenomenon.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion that often puts your self-worth and competence at work into question. It often leaves individuals feeling apathetic, futile, and chronically anxious. Burnout is usually job-related but not necessarily. For example, caregiver burnout occurs specifically when an individual becomes depleted after caring for others over the long term. If you feel you may be experiencing some of the emotions associated with burnout and are concerned about your risk, we encourage you to read on and learn more about it.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout: we have provided an extensive list of emotions and opinions that are shared by individuals one the verge of or in the middle of a burnout, from our clinical experience, and based on what the literature provides.
- You feel that every day is a bad day
- You feel anxiety or dread about going to work
- You feel physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted seemingly all the time
- You feel under-appreciated, overworked, or both at your job
- You feel overwhelmed by all of your commitments – in and outside of work
- You feel you have too many responsibilities
- You are uncertain about what your job role is or what you’re supposed to be doing at work
- You are concerned about your job security
- You resent your work and things associated with it; your boss or colleagues for example
- You care less about the quality of your work, your productivity, and your outputs
- You are beginning to experience tension in your work and personal relationships
- You are cynical and hyper-critical at work
- You are increasingly impatient and irritable with your colleagues, clients, or friends and family
- You have noticed a significant dip in your productivity
- You are consistently low on energy and never ‘feel like working’
- You procrastinate and avoid work tasks – you are highly unmotivated and distracted
- You feel little to no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction from your accomplishments
- You have experienced changes in your sleeping and eating habits
- You are experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, pain in the neck and back, digestive symptoms, or other physical complaints
Unclear job roles: feeling uncertain about your work duties or what it is you are supposed to be doing on the job could lead to much stress and ultimately burnout.
No control or influence: feeling powerless over the conditions that affect your job such as your working hours, important decisions, and your work duties.
Unhealthy work environment: if your workplace dynamics are dysfunctional in that you have poor relationships with your colleagues, you do not agree with the company culture, or you feel constantly pressured by your boss, your stress level will rise significantly.
Not a good fit: if you are working somewhere that does not compliment your personal values, skills, or interests you will inevitably begin to resent your job and feel the emotional toll of a job mismatch. Even if your job pays well, it should still be somewhat in line with your individual needs and skills or you may begin to resent it which can lead to further problems.
Poor social relations/ support: feeling isolated at work can increase stress and lead to loneliness, low self-esteem, and a diminished sense of purpose. This extends to personal relationships as well. A lack of social support is a troublesome sign that could accelerate one’s descent into burnout.
Over and under stimulation: if your job is too hectic and chaotic, or alternatively dull and repetitive, you may experience difficulties. With a constantly demanding job, you will need to be ‘on,’ energetic, and focused at all times which is exhausting, and with a tedious job, energy can likewise be drained from a lack of stimulation. Both extremes are not ideal working conditions.
Perfectionism and workaholism: if you dedicate too much of yourself and your life to your job, you may experience damaging imbalances in your work and personal life, which can cause you to burn out more quickly. It is of course admirable to take pride in one’s work and be committed to it, but focusing on minute details, feeling chronically unsatisfied with your performance, or making it your sole priority, can have adverse effects on your physical and emotional health.
We hope this post has helped you clarify some of the uncertainty surrounding burnout. If you believe you or someone close to you may be at risk of burning out, take a step back and consider speaking with someone who could help reverse the damaging cycle before it worsens. We can help you.