Have you ever felt lost or unmotivated due to a heavy workload or too many commitments? Chances are, you’ve experienced workplace burnout.
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What is workplace burnout? Workplace burnout, or simply burnout, is a byproduct of the modern day workplace, in a time where people are urged to push themselves to the limit in order to achieve economic success. Despite not being classified as a medical condition, burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, which defines it as the following: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity”.
Burnout may manifest itself physically, causing a decrease in energy, diminished disease immunity, headaches, muscle pains, and changes in eating or sleeping habits. Emotionally, burnout may cause feelings of failure or self doubt, negativity and/or cynicism towards one’s job, difficulties concentrating, increased irritability, detachment, feelings of loneliness, and a decreased sense of satisfaction in performing a once fulfilling job. Be wary of burnout if you begin to notice that you are withdrawing from your responsibilities, isolating yourself from others, procrastinating more than usual, consuming more alcohol and/or increasing drug usage, or intentionally decreasing the amount of time you spend at work.
Such symptoms may cause burnout to be confused with stress an anxiety when, in reality, they are completely different things. Although increased stress and anxiety may be seen as symptoms of burnout, they are by no means the same affliction. Stress generally involves excessive pressure and/or stimulation causing physical and mental degradation, however, people who experience stress tend to believe that they will feel better once all their affairs are in order. In contrast, people experiencing burnout may feel empty and devoid of emotion, or emotionally blunted. Burnout causes people to feel as if there is no hope, and no exit out of their current situations. Where stress results in feelings of overstimulation due to an excessive amount of commitments or a large workload, burnout results in feelings of emptiness and a disregard for important matters.
Although there are not enough conclusive studies to be certain, probable causes of burnout include a lack of control, unclear job expectations, difficult workplace dynamics, monotonous activity, a lack of social engagement, or a lack of balance between work and personal lives. People experiencing a lack of control tend to feel helpless when it comes to matters such as schedules, commitments, assignments, or workloads. An excessive amount of such commitments could lead to overworking and stress, and potentially even burn out. Working with unclear job expectations may have similar consequences- if job parameters are unclear, it is difficult to imagine that employees may feel at ease at their workplace. Such unease may cause a reluctance to return to work, eventually leading to burnout. In addition, difficult workplace dynamics, such as an annoying colleague or micromanaging boss, may also cause a hesitance to return to work. This hesitance is damaging to mental and physical health, and may also lead to workplace burnout. Monotonous activity is a given- if you had to do the same boring job every single day, wouldn’t you want to quit too? Monotonous activity requires constant energy to remain focused on the task at hand, causing fatigue and exhaustion. A lack of social support, especially at work, causes isolation and feelings of emptiness, as well as lowers self worth and confidence. These factors, combined with fatigue caused by monotonous activity, are highly probable causes of workplace burnout as well. Finally, an imbalance in work-life relationships may cause burnout due to the fact that your job may simply take up too much of your time and energy to pursue social support or engage in other emotionally fulfilling activities, creating feelings of hopelessness and emptiness.
Burnout may make it seem like all hope is lost, that there is no way out of the current circumstance. Thankfully, this is false and all it takes is a little effort to regain control of your life. A few steps in the right direction is all it takes to redirect the stress and numbness caused by burnout and put your life back together.
One effective method of dealing with burnout is to turn to social contact. Humans are naturally social creatures who crave the presence of other people, making social contact one of nature’s best stress relievers. In order to combat burnout, take advantage of nature’s built in nerve soother and reach out to those closest to you, like your family, friends, or a partner. The person you interact with doesn’t necessarily have to be able to offer advice or instantly take the burnout away; they just have to be able to listen to you without expressing distaste, judgement, or distraction. The mere act of talking is a fantastic stress reliever in itself- that’s why talk therapy is so highly encouraged!
Another means of combating burnout is by reframing the way you view your work. In essence, it’s all about perspective. If possible, finding below the surface value in your work is hugely beneficial to fighting burnout, as this will help reinvigorate you and create a sense of purpose to continue your job. If you believe that an overload of work may be the cause of your burnout, recenter yourself. Take time off from work, go on vacation, use up some sick days, and recharge. Look for meaning and satisfaction somewhere else in your life, such as with family, in hobbies, or simply in mundane tasks. Replenishing the purpose and joy in your life is a valuable step towards regaining hope.
If you believe it to be necessary, reevaluate your lifestyle. Set boundaries for yourself and say no to commitments that you feel unprepared to take on, and yes to commitments that you are genuinely excited about. Schedule breaks away from technology, and create time in your schedule for relaxation and exercise. Go to sleep and wake up consistently at the same time every day in order to establish a healthy sleep cycle. Minimize contact with foods that can negatively affect mood, such as caffeine, processed foods, and foods with chemical preservatives or hormones. Avoid drug usage, and reduce your intake of sugar and refined carbs. Find a routine that works for you, and stick with it!
Now that you’re armed with tools to combat burnout, it’s time to get back out into the world and do great things! Stay happy, stay healthy, and keep your workplace burnout at bay!
“Burn-out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 May 2019, www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/.
“Burnout Prevention and Treatment.” HelpGuide.org, www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm#:~:text=Burnout is a state of,unable to meet constant demands.
“Know the Signs of Job Burnout.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 Nov. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642.