What is burnout?
The main symptom of burnout is total exhaustion.
It is the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Unchecked excessive and prolonged stress can lead to a state of emotional, physical and mental fatigue called “burnout”. It is a gradual process that creeps up on you very slowly.
The symptoms may be subtle at first. It is like little red flags that pop up along the way. If you are aware of what they are and pay attention to it, you can avoid burnout; if you don’t – it gets worse, and you suffer burnout. It is a sign that something needs to change.
- Loss of energy
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Loss of confidence
The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, and it is now officially a recognized mental health concern.
Signs of burnout can include insomnia, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, apathy, irritability, anxiety and getting sick more often.
What is the difference between burnout and stress?
Stress is a strong contributor to burnout. High volumes of stress over a long period can lead to exhaustion, cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death.
Characterized by over-engagement
Emotions are over-reactive
Produces urgency and hyperactivity
Loss of energy
Leads to anxiety disorders
Primary damage is physical
May kill you prematurely
Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are blunted
Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is emotional
May make life seem not worth living
What are the causes of burnout?
”Work – Lifestyle – Personality traits”
Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued can get burnout – from moms with babies, workers who neglect to take leave and people in old age. It is not only caused by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Your lifestyle and personality traits can also lead you to develop burnout.
Helpguide.org classify causes of burnout as follows:
Work-related causes of burnout
- Unmanageable workload. Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
- Lack of communication and support from a manager.
- Lack of recognition or reward for good work
- Lack of role clarity. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations
- Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging
- Unreasonable time pressure. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.
- Unfair treatment.
Lifestyle causes of burnout
- Working too much, without enough time for socializing or relaxing
- Lack of close, supportive relationships
- Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
- Not getting enough sleep
Personality traits can contribute to burnout
- Perfectionist tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
- Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
- The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
- High-achieving, Type A personality
How do you prevent and recover from burnout?
You need to know:
- Burnout doesn’t go away on its own
- Burnout gets worse unless you address the underlying issues causing it
- Recovery from burnout is a slow journey
What to do?
Identify why you’ve experienced burnout.
Something needs to change if you suffer from burnout. What is it?
Re-evaluate your priorities. Rethink your hopes, goals, and dreams. What makes you happy? How can you slow down and reintroduce things that you enjoy and relax you back into your life?
To practice self-care doesn’t mean to treat yourself to a coffee break or pedicure once in a while. It means to leave work daily at a reasonable hour to enjoy time with your family. Permit yourself to take time off. Plan vacations or weekends away 3-6 months ahead to get away from work. If you take a break, turn your phone off. Learn to say no. It is necessary to set healthy boundaries between work and your personal life.
Self-care also includes making sure you get enough sleep, exercise at least three times per week and eat a healthy diet. Limit your intake of refined foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Avoid nicotine.
Practice a hobby – something that has nothing to do with work. To be creative is inspiring and is a powerful antidote to burnout. It can change an ordinary day into something you look forward to.
Reach out to people around you
It is essential to share with people in your life how you are doing. You might feel not to burden them with your problems, but sharing how one feels create a deeper bond between people. Make time to engage socially with work colleagues too.
If you take a break at work, don’t revert to your smartphone, which only isolates you more. It is healthier if you engage with the people around you and build friendships. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or get you through a rough day.
Limit your time with negative people.
Falling into a negative frame of mind is easy. Practice positive thinking. Joining a good cause is an excellent way to get involved with something that inspires you outside of work.
Find new friends.
If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.
Find a new way to look at your work
If you hate your job, consider quitting and finding a new one that you like is the obvious solution. But in South Africa, it is not feasible to leave a job you don’t want anymore with its high unemployment rate. Most of us have to work to pay the bills.
Try to find some value in your work.
For example, focus on how your role helps others, for example, or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job you enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your career can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work.
Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave of absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery. During this time – do not be tempted to answer work-related calls. Time out means time out. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking your email.
Note: The easiest way to deal with burnout is to rest. If burnout has left you completely unable to function, you could be eligible for medical leave.
You can chat to an online counsellor on our helpline: LIVE CHAT.
It is a text-based chat and you may remain anonymous.