Burnout has been a hot topic in the news and social media as of late because the World Health Organization has classified burnout as a mental health syndrome. So what exactly is burnout? Is it just experiencing a lot of stress or is it something more? Keep reading to learn more about how you can recognize, prevent, and combat burnout.
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What is Burnout?
Burnout is generally seen as a work-related syndrome that has three main symptoms (though there are more as shown below): exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy.
I experienced burnout for the first time in my career in early 2018. Not only was I going through a breakup, but I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my career trajectory and my position at my job. I was working weird hours (though that was my own fault), had been passed over for promotions multiple times, and generally felt like I was going nowhere fast. I was constantly frustrated, annoyed, and couldn’t wait until my days off. I realized fairly quickly that I was burning out.
What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Burnout?
Burnout has many different signs and symptoms that cover a spectrum of physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being. Burnout out is a slow process and you may not realize that you might already be there. Check out the signs of burnout below and see how many you’ve been experiencing.
Physical Signs of Burnout
- Feeling exhausted and drained
- Headaches and muscle pain
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Frequent illness
Emotional Signs of Burnout
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Loss of motivation
- Cynical and negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
- Feelings of loneliness and detachment
- Feelings of helplessness and defeat
Behavioral Signs of Burnout
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Unhealthy coping methods using food, alcohol or drugs
- Changing work patterns – skipping, coming in late, leaving early
- Taking out frustrations on others
What Causes Burnout?
There are many things that can cause burnout such as care-taking or school, but is most often related to work. Some of the causes work-related causes of burnout can include lack of recognition for good work (check), working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment (double check), and feeling like you have little or no control over your work or work environment (triple check).
Some lifestyle-related causes of burnout can include not getting enough sleep, taking on too many responsibilities, or not close, supportive relationships (click here for a great post on relationships).
Lastly, some personality-related causes of burnout can include pessimism, needing or wanting to be a high-achiever, and the need to be in control.
What Do I Do if I Think I’m Experiencing Burnout?
Recognizing that you may be experiencing burnout is the first step to combating and overcoming it. Keep reading to learn more about some burnout recovery strategies.
Individual-Centered Burn Out Recovery Strategies
Individual-Centered burnout recovery strategies are ones that focus on you – such as lifestyle changes that you can incorporate.
Daily Self-Care Practice
Self-care means something different to everyone. For some, it might mean having a glass of wine with dinner every night. For others, it might mean reading your favorite book before you go to bed. What ever self-care might mean to you, turn it into a daily practice. Find one thing that you love to do and try to find time for it every day. For some ideas on self-care, check out this post I wrote about 10 of my favorite ways to practice self-care.
Life Coaching and/or Therapy
Going to therapy or getting life coaching (or both) can be a great way to combat burnout. Both life coaching and therapy can help you get clear on your thoughts and feelings, set measurable goals, and empower you to reach those goals. Life coaching, in particular, helped me with understanding what I wanted out of my career, which was more autonomy, a sense of achievement, and having something that was my own. Hence, this blog came to be.
Create A Better Work-Life Balance
Like self-care, creating a good work-life balance is different for everyone. However, creating a good work-life balance is all about making sure that you have not only the time to do all the things that you want in work and in life, but the mental and emotional space to be present in all the things that you do. I wrote a blog post last year about creating a good work-life balance. If you need some ideas on how to get started, check it out here.
Begin a Burnout or Heartsong Journal
A burnout journal is all about celebrating you and your accomplishments. Similarly, a Heartsong journal is all about you and the things that you love. In your burnout (or heartsong) journal list all of your accomplishments, tape or glue those notes that you’ve received from clients or co-workers about how you made a difference in their lives. I have sections of my Heartsong journal called LOVE NOTES and they are just all the amazing things that people have said about me. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you’ve accomplished many things and helped many people.
Situation-Centered Burnout Recovery Strategies
Situation-centered burnout recovery strategies are focus on what you can do to change the environment that you are in or how you relate to that environment.
Finding Supportive Individuals At Work
Having a least one supportive person that you can go to at work can make a world of difference. Think about the people that you may have one or two things in common with and try to strike up a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a deep one, but knowing that you can talk casually about something that isn’t work for a few minutes can take off some of the overwhelm that you’re feeling. Maybe after awhile, you will feel more comfortable with going to this person (or people) about more than just the tv show or sock collection that you have in common.
Take A Vacation
During the time period that I was burned out, I scheduled a vacation every month. Sometimes it was for a week, sometimes it was just for a few days. But, knowing that I had a set time that I could rest and recharge, even if I didn’t go anywhere, was a welcome break from the exhaustion that I was constantly feeling.
During the height of my burnout phase, I started looking for a new job. Because I felt I wasn’t growing in my current job, I wanted to find something else where I could utilize the skills that I had and learn new ones. While I didn’t leave the organization I was with, I did change positions (though it wasn’t until a year later). This change in position allowed me to spend more time with my family, have more time for school, and in an environment with less pressure. Though it does not fully utilize my skillset and has not given me a change to learn anything new as of yet, just having less pressure is a relief.
Job crafting is a way that you take to alter your tasks, relationships, and how you actually perceive your job. One way that you can begin job crafting is making a pro/con list of things that you like about your job and things that you dislike about your job. Another way to begin job crafting is thinking about how to seek more challenges, which research indicates can decrease burnout. If you’d like to learn more about job crafting, check out this free printable workbook that I’ve created to help jump-start your job crafting process.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How did you know and what do you do to combat it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. To read more about burnout check out Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.
Briana Hollis is a licensed social worker and self-care coach. She earned her Master of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University in 2014 and her Master of Education from Tiffin University in 2019. She has spent the last 5 years working in crisis intervention. Her passion for serving others is the heart of this site. She started Learning To Be Free to assist others in bringing freedom to their lives.