What is Burnout
Burnout is a state of all-encompassing exhaustion that results from prolonged, consistent stress. Originally applied only to those in helping professions (nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, etc.), the term is now used for anyone experiencing the fallout from overworking. When we feel overwhelmed, undervalued, or emotionally drained, we may be unable to keep up with demands. Burnout is often associated with working professionals. It can also happen to students, caregivers, and anyone else who is self-sacrificing at unsustainable rate.
Types of Burnout
Overload Burnout (aka Frenetic Burnout)
People who suffer from overload burnout often place extreme value on accomplishments and success. The excessive pursuit of these goals is at the expense of time, wellness, and personal life.
This type of burnout occurs when people feel under-stimulated, underappreciated, and underwhelmed. When learning opportunities are limited, we may feel a lack of passion or indifference. We may avoid responsibilities/work and develop pessimistic views about it.
Neglect Burnout (aka Worn Out Burnout)
When we feel that our contributions go unacknowledged, we may experience neglect burnout. This also happens when we feel ineffectual, or incompetent. We may become passive and unmotivated or feel that we can’t keep up with the demands of our role.
What Are the Symptoms of Burnout?
- Frequently feeling exhausted and drained
- Body pain/headaches
- Changes to eating and sleeping habits
- Feeling down or hopeless
- Feeling detached
- Lack of motivation
- Sense of failure
- Increasingly cynical outlook
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Using substances (food, drugs, alcohol) to cope
- Lashing out at others
How to Recover from Burnout
We can take the Three R’s approach when dealing with burnout: Recognize, reverse, resilience.
Recognize the Signs of Burnout
Some signs of burnout to watch for are:
- Feeling annoyed or frustrated with coworkers/classmates/family members
- Dreading going to work/school/doing house-related tasks
- Worrying excessively about work/school/tasks during downtime
- Feeling incapable or ineffective at completing the required task
- Increased colds/flu, muscle tension, stomach problems
Reverse the Effects
Connect with Others
Social connection can help lessen the negative impact that burnout has on overall health. For working professionals, this includes having strong social ties at work. When we have meaningful engagement with coworkers, we feel valued, secure, and supported. Under these conditions, we are likely to be happier and more productive.
It’s important that we maintain a support network outside of work and responsibilities, too. Having people to talk to when things get rough is invaluable. Speaking with an empathetic loved one gives us a safe space to vent, seek advice, or ask for help. Aside from venting, spending time with loved ones can provided much needed fun and comfort. We can even speak with a therapist if we are struggling significantly or would like further guidance.
Establishing limits for what we will participate in helps safeguard our energy. Setting boundaries to recover from burnout may include:
- Not checking work emails after work ends, or on the weekend
- Not cleaning up after older children/partners (and ensuring there are rules in place that require everyone to pitch in equally)
- Not overextending ourselves, such as agreeing to help someone study if we don’t have the time
- Taking breaks when we feel tired or overworked
Taking care of mental and physical health increases our likelihood of bouncing back. Ideally, we should seek work and activities that fuel us and don’t cause burnout. However, this isn’t realistic for everyone. We have bills to pay, children to raise, degrees to obtain, and other factors that require us to persist. To build resilience:
Engage in Downtime
Do activities without the aim of a specific product or outcome. Downtime requires no mental demand and has no deadline. Activities may include napping, watching television, doodling, etc.
Don’t Neglect Needs
When we’re feeling low, it can be easy to forego doing things that keep us physically and emotionally healthy. But neglecting our needs only worsens burnout.
- Get adequate exercise. Exercise boosts mood and may help control the physical pain associated with burnout. Pick something enjoyable and easy to stick with.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can alter mood and mental ability for the worse.
- Practice relaxation. Meditate, garden, do yoga, go for a walk, or whatever else allows the mind to relax.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Limit alcohol and drugs. They may provide temporary relief but can negatively impact well-being long term.
We may believe that constantly feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is simply what adulthood is. This isn’t accurate and shouldn’t be normalized. No amount of success or security is worth the deterioration of our mental health. Learn to recognize the symptoms of burnout, so an effective recovery strategy can be created early on.