When you opened your eyes this morning and realized it was a workday, how did you feel? If you were just kind of annoyed because you want five more minutes of sleep (or a few hours) that’s one thing, but for some Americans, they are overcome with a sense of dread. They can’t imagine making it through another day in their work environment, and they have emotional and physical exhaustion. They are experiencing burnout, often without even realizing it. Burnout often applies to workplace environments, but can also be related to compassion/caregiver burnout, parenting burnout, or relationship burnout among others.
Is burnout a “real thing”?
In 2019 the WHO officially recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” but not a “medical condition.” However, it’s listed in the chapter that discusses factors and reasons why a person may contact health services, even if it’s not technically an illness or medical condition, which shows just how intense burnout can feel to those who suffer from it.
The WHO describes the phenomenon as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” They go further into classifying three major components: energy depletion/exhaustion, increased mental distance, negativity, or cynicism towards your job, and/or a reduction in efficiency in getting the job done.
What does it feel like to be “burned out”?
A sociologist described the phenomenon to NPR as “a weird in-between ‘you’re not really sick, but you’re not fully capable of doing your work.’” One of the original pioneers in studying burnout, a German psychologist and psychotherapist Freudenberger, described some of the physical symptoms in the seventies, and they still apply to some people (although not everyone has physical symptoms):
Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disorders
Shortness of breath
Sometimes these symptoms manifest themselves in such a way that the victim needs actual medical attention, such as an employee passing out in the middle of a meeting, and going to the emergency room due to adrenal fatigue, as one sufferer describes in Forbes. Other more emotional symptoms may include:
Feelings of detachment/apathy towards your job or career
Anxiety or dread related to going to work
Inability to effectively complete your job while you are at work (either through poor performance or a slower work pace)
Reduction in cognitive ability, verbal and nonverbal memory, and visual and auditory attention
Other symptoms that can mimic anxiety, depression, and PTSD
Escapist behaviors such as an increase in consumption of guilty pleasures (food, shopping, substance abuse, other)
Decision paralysis, inside and outside of work
How did I get burnout, and what should I do about it?
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may be feeling confused, ashamed, or curious about what happened to get you to this point, and why. All of these reactions are normal, and mental health professionals are working to decrease negative feelings around experiencing burnout. Scientists do have an idea of what causes it, and they break it down into three main categories that make people most vulnerable to burnout:
Scientists also note that around 40 percent of victims also suffer from another mental disorder such as depression. In my personal experience, burnout even triggered an additional mental condition, PTSD.
Jessica noticed that people often fall into one of three categories: the overachiever, the people pleaser, and the creatively starved artist.
Once you’ve identified you have burnout, there are concrete steps you can take to change your situation, and to start feeling better. Jessica offers live and an at-your-own-pace digital program to help you restore your enthusiasm for work and life. If you still aren’t sure if you actually have burnout or not, set up your free consultation to get more information and start your journey towards feeling like yourself again.
Finding the source of the problem, from an emotionally abusive coworker or boss to a stressful workplace can be key to getting better. Sufferers need to clearly communicate with those around them about what they are experiencing, as some don’t even know burnout exists. Fortunately, burnout is treatable and fixable with a combination of these solutions, and a life where you wake up excited for your day is possible.
Written by Jessica Walther, CEO of Itivate