Learn what causes burnout, the signs to look out for and how to recover
At times we can all feel under pressure at work – deadlines, demanding clients, difficult colleagues.
When the demands are greater than you feel you can manage, control or cope with, you are likely to feel stressed.
If this goes on for an extended period (think months or years) then burnout may not be too far away.
This page provides an overview of what burnout is, why it occurs, symptoms and signs to look for and some pointers on burnout recovery.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of complete mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. It can occur if you experience work-related stress for a long time.
Its symptoms are characterised into three dimensions:
complete physical and emotional exhaustion;
negative feelings or cynicism about your job or workplace; and
reduced job performance.
The three dimensions of burnout
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (1) included Burnout in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) calling it an "occupational syndrome".
What causes burnout?
Burnout is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when all coping strategies someone has tried have failed and they become worn out (physically, mentally, and emotionally).
What’s interesting is that not everyone who works in a highly demanding role burns out.
Whilst exhaustion (a natural consequence of intense physical, mental, or emotional demand/strain) is a component, according to research (2) Burnout only results when factors known to support workplace wellbeing are low or lacking.
Workplace factors known to reduce the likelihood of burnout
In other words, it’s due to an imbalance.
When job demands (let's call them drainers) are high but protective or supportive resources (what might be called sustainers) are low, workers check-in to Burnout Hotel, a place to recover from exhaustion and futility.
The burnout equation
What are the symptoms of burnout?
Researchers have created burnout audits, called inventories, as a means to identify when someone is suffering from burnout.
The statements below are curated from the Maslach and Oldenburg inventories.
You talk and/or think negatively about the organisation, culture and colleagues
You no longer care about your work or clients
You are no longer interested in your colleagues' lives
Your work no longer interests you
You find your job dull
You are tired before you arrive at work
You feel emotionally drained after work
You are worn out at the end of each work day
You feel constantly under pressure
You have no energy for anything outside of work
You are taking longer to get started and/or do things
You are unable to problem solve or make decisions
You cannot concentrate
You are just going through the motions
You are impatient or irritable with co-workers/clients
You feel useless
If you can tick most of these, then you may be struggling with work-related stress and on your way to Burnout Hotel. A few of these may also indicate another health condition such as depression.
ACTION! Whether you can tick some or all of the above statements - it's time speak to your manager, GP or EAP provider
When I burned out, I had a sense that things were not right. I had not been my life-loving self for some time. I was permanently tired, and everything felt effort-some.
I was going through the motions, witnessing but not engaging, feeling more and more distanced from my role, colleagues, and life in general.
Nothing held meaning and all felt worthless, including me.
Burnout does not go away by itself
Thanks to the resilience of the human body, burnout doesn’t happen overnight. We burn out when we have nothing left (physically, mentally, or emotionally) to deal with the demands of our role.
This means that as soon as you recognise you are no longer coping, it is important to ask for support and not soldier on believing things will come right. The sooner you do, the sooner you recover.
Stress hormones circulating in the blood long term will impact every part of your body and can lead to serious mental and/or physical health issues.
How to recover from burnout
When I work with someone who has burned out or is close to doing so, the first thing I tell them is that recovery is like burning out, it takes a long time.
It cannot be achieved in a fortnight.
Burnout recovery requires rest and rediscovery
Your body is worn out so you must take things easy for awhile. And this means at least a month, not a fortnight off or a long weekend!
You will have made space in your life to cope with the extra demands at work. To do so, you will have let go of activities that you felt were unnecessary but that actually sustained you.
Just as a mobile phone needs recharging, we need these aspects in our lives. They energise and support us.
Activities that restore and sustain us
During your recovery, it is important to re-find and re-establish the parts of your life that you let go of and make a pledge to never let go of them again.
Without them, you are likely to burnout again.
Ready to end burnout?
I've been there and I know how hard it is to admit that things aren't right but everyone wants you fit for work.
If you recognise yourself in this article then it's time to make some changes. I can support you in making them.
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