Burnout: What is it and how to know if you’re experiencing it

Life is busy. Many of us struggle to find enough hours in the day to fit in work, study, family responsibilities, our social lives, and self-care. Sometimes when these competing responsibilities get overwhelming it can result in burnout. Most frequently this is felt in the context of work, which will be the main topic of today’s instalment.

For a brief overview of burnout before we begin, please feel free to take a look at this short (4:59) video.

Headspace describes burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion”.

Burnout is usually caused by prolonged or excessive work stress, through your occupation or study. This is particularly common in the final years of school and for certain demanding professions. In addition to this, factors such as a lack of control, unclear job expectations, receiving no recognition or reward, unreasonable workloads, and work-life imbalance can contribute to burnout.

Common signs of burnout according to Headspace include:

  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Decreased productivity
  • Lowered concentration
  • A sense of feeling stuck
  • Regular procrastination
  • Worrying
  • Physiological symptoms such as exhaustion, lack of sleep, high heart rate, constipation, frequent illnesses, weight gain/loss, panic attacks, and headaches

Burnout can also lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and leave you cynical and resultful of a pursuit you previously enjoyed. Emotions may feel blunted, and you may begin to detach from the world around you.

These symptoms can come and go, and not everyone will experience the same or all the symptoms. Often burnout symptoms will increase over time, and we may not even recognize what we are experiencing until it is severely impacting on our daily functioning. While burnout may stem from work or study, it can spill into all areas of life.

Some individuals may be at greater risk of burnout. In particular, those with perfectionistic tendencies, pessimistic views of yourself and the world, and who have a need to be in control generally experience higher rates of burnout.

Burnout can often share symptoms with depression. Both can lead to a lack of energy and motivation, and feeling negative or cynical. However, negative feelings brought on by burnout tend to be directed at work of study, while remaining mostly positive about other areas of life. Depression also differs in that it often doesn’t have a specific causal event.

Importantly, the symptoms of burnout can be managed and improved. It has been recommended by Headspace that those affected by burnout consider the below:

  • Practice self-care such as mindfulness, eating healthy, exercising and sleeping well; it may be helpful to reevaluate your priorities and set boundaries to ensure you have enough time for yourself
  • Identify job stressors and triggers; you may benefit from reframing the way you look at work and strengthening your ties to the workplace by making friends
  • Speak to someone, be it friend, colleague, family member or mental health professional; connecting with loved ones and limiting contact with negative people can improve well-being
  • Take regular breaks; these can be throughout the day or for an extended period of time to recover and reset
  • Keep your manager in the loop; managers can support us within the workplace and help to manage our load
  • Look for ways the workplace can be improved for everyone; sometimes it is not our personal situation but the wider environment that should be altered, which can be agreed upon through an open discussion with colleagues

It can also be helpful to consider the “Three R” approach:

Recognize. Look out for signs of burnout.

Reverse. Counter your symptoms by seeking support and managing stress.

Resilience. Build resilience to future stress by practicing regular self-care.

While burnout can significantly affect our productivity and enjoyment at work, it is not permanent. If you are experiencing burnout, remember that little steps can be taken to improve your wellbeing and prevent burnout re-occurring in the future. Regardless, the best approach to dealing with burnout is always to prevent it from occurring in the first place. To this end, it is important to monitor your well-being and take time for self-care when needed. This will ensure you can recover and get back to your hobbies and responsibilities as soon as possible.

We hope you have found this week’s instalment insightful. Please feel free to check out the below resources that have helped to inform this article:

Wishing you a wonderful week,

TCS Team

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@nikkotations

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