Are you familiar with the busyness paradox? It’s a paradox that has become part of our DNA and leads us to love the idea of always being busy doing something. We often confuse being busy with confirming that we’re doing things the right way… but this can lead to the infamous burnout.
Let’s get some clarity here. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the demands placed on you. The more stress you experience, the more you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take a certain job in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and sucks away your energy, leaving you increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing left to give.
As we take on more work and responsibility, work longer hours and face higher stress levels, our minds and bodies pay the price. Burnout is a real consequence of our busy lives.
Burnout syndrome has serious consequences on both our physical and mental health.
When we feel burned out, we become exhausted and lose all the joy we once had in our work. Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overworked or unappreciated; dragging ourselves out of bed sometimes requires the determination of Hercules. Feeling this way every day, however, can mean you’re burned out.
But what are the main symptoms of burnout?
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
- Lowered immune function.
- Frequent headaches or muscle aches.
- Change in appetite or sleep patterns.
- Sense of failure and insecurity.
- Feeling powerless, trapped and defeated.
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
- Loss of motivation.
- Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
- Escape from responsibility.
- Isolation from others.
- Procrastination, taking longer to get things done.
- Use of food, drugs or alcohol to cope with shortcomings.
- Taking out frustrations on others.
There is a difference between exhaustion following a long day at work and the perpetual fatigue of burnout.
As Dr. Christina Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, explains, burnout is «A psychological syndrome that emerges as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors at work».
More than just an increase in stress, burnout causes overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
Burnout is a total loss of motivation and energy with no sign of relief. And, while it was once only used to refer to the consequences of extreme stresses faced by health care workers, police officers, firefighters and those dealing with trauma and human services, today, workplace burnout affects everyone.
There are three types of burnout
Burnout is not caused solely by a stressful job or too much responsibility. Other factors, including lifestyle and personality traits, can contribute to burnout. In fact, your personal life and how you look at the world can play an equally crucial role in causing stress.
- Personal burnout is caused by excessive negative inner dialogue, neurosis, and perfectionism. In other words, when you set extremely high standards for yourself or believe that nothing you do is good enough.
- Interpersonal burnout is caused by difficult relationships with others at work or at home. For example, an aggressive or unwelcoming boss or co-worker can exacerbate the stress you already feel at work to the point of exhaustion.
- Organizational burnout is caused by poor organization, extreme demands and unrealistic deadlines that make you feel like you’ve missed the mark and that your job is in jeopardy.
The first step in combating burnout is understanding the factors that contribute to it: the people, processes, and personality traits that can push you over the edge. Without addressing each of these factors, you will always be at risk for burnout.
Addressing burnout requires the “Three R’s” approach:
- Recognize. Pay attention to the warning signs of burnout.
- Reverse. Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress.
- Resilience. Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health.
The following tips for preventing or coping with burnout can help you cope with the symptoms and regain energy, focus, and a sense of well-being.
Reach out to other people. Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress, and talking face-to-face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm the nervous system and relieve stress. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your stressors; he or she just has to be a good listener, someone who will listen carefully without being distracting or judgmental.
Reformulate the way you look at work. Whether you have a job that leaves you feeling drained or one that is monotonous and unsatisfying, the most effective way to combat job burnout is to quit and find one that you enjoy instead. Of course, for many of us, changing jobs or careers is far from a practical solution – we’re just grateful to have a job that pays the bills. Whatever your situation is, there are still steps you can take to improve your state of mind.
Re-evaluate your priorities. Take some time to think about your goals and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect and heal.
Exercise. Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more a day or break it up into short 10-minute activity sessions. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
Eliminate junk food from your eating plan. That’s right, no comfort food. Food has a huge impact on energy levels and stress management.