Recognising Burnout

Burnout happens when you endure work-related stress for a prolonged period of time. You may experience depressed mood, loss of interest and pleasure, emotional exhaustion, and other mental and physical symptoms. Burnout can cause long-term damage to your health, as well as affect your well-being and productivity.

Luckily, burnout can be prevented and treated. Recognising burnout is the first step to recovery, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for. Workplaces and individuals can also take steps to cultivate healthy working cultures and prevent burnout from developing.

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Burnout?

While burnout isn’t a classified mental health disorder (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5), it should be taken seriously. Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress, manifesting in the body, physically and mentally.

Physical signs of burnout include:

  • High blood pressure
  • The weakened immune system, meaning you experience frequent illnesses
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Aches and pains
  • Low energy levels
  • Appetite changes
  • Physical exhaustion

Psychological and burnout symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

According to the World Health Organisation, burnout is an occupational phenomenon characterised by three main dimensions:

  • Depletion or exhaustion
  • Feeling distant from, or negative or cynical about your job
  • Reduced professional productivity

What Causes Job Burnout?

Workplace burnout happens when you experience long-term stress at work. Burnout can have many causes, relating to an individual’s own working habits and collective workplace culture.

Some of the risk factors for burnout include:

Unachievable Deadlines

Workers who have adequate time to complete their work are less likely to be burnt out than those who are often under intense time pressure.

Lack of Managerial Support

Employees who feel unsupported by management are more likely to experience burnout. Managerial support can help prevent employees from feeling overwhelmed and offer a sense of security that protects against stress.

Unclear Roles

Feeling unsure of what your role is and what is expected from you increases the chances of burnout. It’s harder to feel confident and happy with your work if you are unsure of what you are supposed to be doing. Changing demands and vagueness can both contribute to a lack of role clarity.

Unfair Practices

Individuals who are not treated fairly in the workplace are more likely to experience burnout. Unfair practices include favouring some employees over others, lack of recognition, and lack of pay.

Lack of Ownership

Individuals who have little or no control over their work are at higher risk of burnout. On the other hand, employees who have some ownership over their job role tend to have better work-related health.

Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance helps to avoid burnout, research suggests. Spending time with friends, and family, and doing things you enjoy helps to prevent the prioritisation of work over your personal life.

What Is Parental Burnout?

While burnout is usually associated with work-related stress, some people also suffer from parental burnout – a condition resulting from chronic stress caused by parenthood. Parental burnout may involve exhaustion in the parental role, changes in self, feelings of being fed up with the parental role, and emotional distancing from children. Some researchers have developed an instrument known as the parental burnout inventory that conceptualises and measures parental burnout.

What Are the Dangers of Burnout?

Burnout can be harmful to both your physical and mental health. Preventing and recovering from burnout is important to ensure overall well-being in and out of the workplace.

A systematic review of existing literature found that burnout was a significant risk factor for several physical health conditions. These include:

  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hospitalisation due to cardiovascular disorder
  • Mortality below the age of 45 years

It was also a risk factor from some psychological effects:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Use of antidepressant medications
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Absenteeism

As well as damaging your health, burnout has negative consequences for your career. The review found that burnout was associated with both job dissatisfaction and absenteeism.

recognising burnout

How Can You Prevent Burnout?

There are several steps that employers and employees can take to help prevent burnout.

Practising Good Self-Care

Practising good self-care can help to reduce stress and maintain good mental health. Self-care practices include:

  • Eating a balanced diet of regular meals
  • Maintaining healthy sleep habits
  • Taking regular exercise
  • Spending time with friends

Use relaxation Techniques

Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga are great tools for stress relief, guarding against the chronic stress that can lead to burnout.

Extensive research has found that yoga can lead to the reduction of several mental health symptoms, including stress, anxiety, depression, and musculoskeletal pain. Likewise, a study across 130 countries found that mindfulness was associated with lower stress levels and higher work engagement in both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

Promote a Healthy Workplace Environment

Employers can help safeguard the mental health and job satisfaction of their employees by promoting positive workplace cultures. A healthy work environment should involve:

  • Good communication
  • Inclusiveness
  • Fair treatment
  • Recognition and appreciation
  • Fair pay
  • Fair work hours
  • Realistic deadlines
  • Job role ownership
  • Clear pathways for mental health support

Burnout Treatment and Recovery

Experiencing burnout is tough, but with care and support, you can recover from burnout and return to your best self.

Some people can recover from burnout through rest, self-care, and attention to their work-life balance. You can pursue long-term stress relief strategies – such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and healthy sleep habits – alongside short-term techniques like deep breathing exercises. You may like to see if you can adjust the parameters of your work to alleviate time pressures or excessive workload or talk to HR about any unfair treatment you are experiencing.

If your burnout is persistent, it’s a good idea to seek professional support. Talk therapy can help you teach you coping strategies to deal with stress and anxiety while identifying causes of burnout and changes you could make. It can also help you work through feelings of hopelessness, loss of motivation, and lack of interest that can accompany burnout.

If you are working in an unhealthy work environment that isn’t going to change, you could think about changing companies or even careers. Continued stress can seriously impact your health, so don’t be afraid to prioritise yourself.

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