What is Burnout
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Recently, it has attracted abundant media attention and has now been labeled as a new mass phenomenon. Disengagement, frustration, and disinterest in anything, both inside and outside the workplace characterise burnout.
What causes burnout
Burnout is thought to be caused by either of the two following factors:
- Either: an excessive, difficult workload, and high exposure to chronic stress
- Or: prolonged and constant monotonous, or low-stimulation work.
Additionally, having unclear goals or job expectations, working in a dysfunctional team or organisation, and a lack of recognition for work performed can contribute to burnout.
10 Main Symptoms of Burnout
- Low energy/ constant exhaustion
- Lack of interest
- Lack of motivation
- Irritable/ negative/ resentful
- Feeling that your contribution goes unrecognised
- Frequent illness/ skipping work
- Headaches/ muscle pain
- Feelings of detachment
- Reduced performance
- Alienation from friends or colleagues
The Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Stress is defined as an automatic reaction to a stimulus that is perceived as threatening. While stress is not a disorder in itself, the Burnout that results from chronic stress is. Burnout is a long-lasting psychological and physical reaction to a state of chronic or prolonged stress.
Stress is a part of everyday life that everyone needs to learn to cope with. In itself, stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It acts as a motivator and ensures productivity. Without some form of stress, nothing would get done. However, it is different from burnout, in that it produces a short term, often productive reaction. In comparison, burnout is the unhealthy physical and psychological result of constant stress.
Results of Burnout
In addition to the symptoms listed above, such as lack of motivation, exhaustion and general despondency, burnout is known to lead to more serious disorders.
From a physiological perspective: consistent exposure to chronic stress leads to a compromised state of the immune system. This makes individuals far more prone to picking up illnesses.
From a psychological perspective: constant exposure to stress is neurologically damaging. This is because when someone is stressed, their brain produces certain stress chemicals. Over a long period of time, too many of these chemicals are damaging to the brain – which is mentally damaging. Depression, chronic fatigue and high blood pressure can result.
Depression: the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds. It can be brought on by burnout, and the two are closely related in terms of symptomology.
Chronic fatigue syndrome: a disorder characterised by extreme fatigue and results in an inability to function. It does not get better with rest. It is also thought to be brought on by the compromised state of the immune system which results from chronic stress.
High blood pressure: can lead to a stroke, a heart attack and a multitude of other health problems. Definitely best avoided.
The resulting health problems which stem from burnout are dire. Thankfully, there are many ways to identify and prevent it.
Dealing with burnout requires the ‘3 R’ approach
Recognise: Know and watch for the warning signs of burnout
Reverse: Tackle and undo the damage by seeking support and finding mechanisms which allow stress management
Resilience: Build your resilience to stress by working on your physical and mental health. Try to refine the ways in which you do so. Figure out what works best for you. Below are some suggestions
Dedicate time to doing enjoyable things with friends and family. Social contact is essential for combatting stress. Firstly, spending time with other people alleviates the impact of stress by providing a distraction. Secondly, being social leaves people feeling happier and fulfilled. Finally, having someone listen to what you are worried about is excellent stress relief in itself.
Exercise and eat healthily
Exercising and looking after your physical health is integral to combatting stress. Not only does it give individuals an outlet to channel their stress, but being physically healthy means that your body is more able to moderate the impact of stress.
Develop a hobby
It is important to have interests outside of work. Whether it involves joining some sort of book club, taking up a creative outlet, or gardening, ensure that you are doing something that entertains you that isn’t work.
Have a tech break
Ensure that you dedicate a certain amount of time per day to completely unplugging. No phone, no emails.
Get enough sleep
We cannot stress how important this is. Having enough sleep is integral to your mental and physical health. It is impossible to be healthy and happy without a certain amount of sleep.
Burnout is a reaction to a prolonged and constant state of stress. The impact that burnout can have on an individual’s physical and mental health is drastic. Depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and even a stroke or heart attack can stem from burnout. Ways to combat this issue include socialising, nurturing a hobby, exercising and eating healthily. Ultimately, we cannot emphasise how important it is to maintain some kind of balance in order to avoid burnout and remain healthy.