We all have days when we feel overloaded or underappreciated – when getting out of bed requires superhuman strength. However, if you regularly experience this, you may be burned out.
Burnout is a gradual process that can creep up on the best of us. It’s easy to disregard the signs at first, but the longer they are left unaddressed, the more serious the repercussions can be for your health and mental wellbeing.
Here we unpin how burnout differs from healthy levels of stress, the common signs of burnout and where to go to from here.
WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Burnout is the product of working in our non-stop society. It is an overwhelming mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that saps our power to continue with the routine of our lives. It can even leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, and cynical over time.
Burnout may derive from any area of your life. It can affect your relationships, home life, and your productivity at work.
It’s more than just feeling a little drowsy or stressed – it’s a serious, long-term condition that can have a significant impact on you.
BURNOUT VS STRESS
Burnout can easily be mistaken for stress. We tend to feel like it’s normal to be under a certain level of stress over an extended period.
In many ways, burnout is the opposite of stress. It’s not that you have too much to do, it’s that you have too little to do it with.
Think of it as the difference between a wildfire that’s gotten out of control and freezing to death on a cold night because you don’t have enough wood to burn to keep you warm.
WHY IT MATTERS
As you may have guessed, burnout is an important issue for employers and employees to pay attention to. From the employee perspective, being burned out means more than just having a harder time at your job. It can be damaging to your relationships, social life and dangerous for your mental health.
But from an employee perspective, let’s say that one healthy person can do ten units of work per day while one burned-out person can only do five. If you have twenty people on your team working all the time, the burnout that will result from that overload will leave you producing only 100 units of work each day.
But if you have a rotating schedule that allows five people at a time to take care of themselves and prevent burnout, you’ll be able to produce 150 units of work per day – far better results even with fewer people.
There are a few physical signs of burnout that many of us tend to ignore.
First of all, if you feel tired and drained most or all the time, you may be burned out. Drinking more than one or two cups of coffee a day isn’t just a sign that you’re working hard – it’s a red flag that something deeper might be wrong.
You may also notice that you get headaches or muscle pain a lot. Your immune system might drop off, leaving you more vulnerable to things like a head cold or the flu. You might also notice that you’re eating more or less than usual or that you’re sleeping more or less than you have before.
Burnout often comes with feelings of emptiness or inadequacy. You may feel like you’re a failure or doubt whether you’re capable of doing your job well. You might feel helpless, trapped, or defeated, and you may begin to feel as though you’re alone in the world, detached from everyone around you.
Aside from this general numbness, you may also start to feel a sense of bitterness or cynicism. You might feel less motivated to work on projects or less satisfied when something does get checked off the list. More and more, it might seem like your situation is hopeless, a never-ending tunnel of work with no reward.
If you or someone around you is experiencing burnout, there will also be some behavioural changes. The burned-out person might start withdrawing from responsibilities or isolating themselves. They may begin procrastinating or taking longer to finish projects that aren’t or shouldn’t be challenging.
A burned-out person may also begin taking their frustrations out on others and lashing out. They might begin showing up late, leaving early or even skipping work altogether.
Other signs to look out for is if they begin abusing alcohol, food, or drugs as a way to cope with what they’re feeling.
HOW TO MANAGE IT
If you’re feeling burned out, start by taking a step back and putting your situation in perspective.
Is your burnout chronic, something that’s been building for years with no end in sight, or is this just a difficult time because of a deadline crunch? Both are valid, but how you act on your burnout will depend on your situation.
If your situation is a more chronic case, start by setting firm boundaries with your work life. Set specific times when you answer emails so you’re not trying to juggle dozens of messages every day.
Make it a point to leave work on time and take your lunch break, even if it’s only a couple of days a week at first.
LEARN HOW TO PREVENT BURNOUT
Burnout is a serious condition that affects more and more people in our nonstop society.
It can lead to feelings of despair and cynicism as well as lowered productivity. If you think you need to learn to prevent burnout, start setting some boundaries on your work and set a new focus on self-care.