In this modern day and age, everything needs to be done quickly and efficiently. Deadlines must be met, boundaries pushed, in order to achieve all your goals. That kind of pressure can often take its toll on both physical and mental health.
What is burnout syndrome?
Even though the highest percentage of people suffering from burnout syndrome can be found among medical professionals, it affects people employed in various industries, and even students.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently recognized burnout as a serious condition, instead of defining in only in terms of exhaustion. Therefore, the newest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and characterizes it by three dimensions:
How can you recognize it?
The important thing to remember is that burnout isn’t something that just “appears” all of a sudden. It is a gradual process that can easily sneak up on you before you even realize it. Each of the three dimensions of burnout has its own set of symptoms:
Some of the symptoms of exhaustion (both physical and emotional) include chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and impaired concentration and attention, chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, anger.
Some of the symptoms of cynicism and detachment include loss of enjoyment, pessimism and isolation.
Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment include feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability and lack of productivity and poor performance.
Difference between stress and burnout
It is important to emphasize the difference between stress and burnout – since they both come with overlapping symptoms, they might be difficult to differentiate. The table below shows a comparison between the two.
Why does burnout happen?
- Some of the work-related causes of burnout are:
- Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
- Lack of recognition or reward for good work
- Unclear or overly demanding job expectations
- Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging
- Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment
Okay, I’ve got it – now, how do I deal with it?
There are a number of steps you can take:
Share your concerns with your superior, try to find a solution that will enable you to reach your goals in a way that doesn’t stress you out. Also, reach out to your co-workers, friends, family – problems are always easier dealt with when you have support.
Take care of your physical health – exercise, try out some relaxing techniques (yoga, meditation), and get enough sleep. There is a strong link between physical and mental health, so taking care of one thing will help you in taking care of the other.
As far as your mental health is concerned, there is also a number of techniques you can try. These techniques aren’t tied to burnout syndrome specifically, so you might find them helpful in other instances as well.
For example, mindfulness refers to “being in the moment”. Being mindful is being aware of your current thoughts and experiences in the present moment. Mindfulness is a technique used in treating symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress etc. It was also shown to be an effective tool in fighting against rumination and worrying.
One of the exercises designed to achieve mindfulness look like this: sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor or a cushion. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the movements of the abdomen when breathing in an out. Do not try to control your breathing, just be aware of it. As you do this, different thoughts will run through your head – that’s all right! Let those thoughts pass by, whatever they may be about, and just focus on your breathing.
In another type of exercise, you focus your attention on different parts of your body, starting from your face and head, to your shoulders etc. Working your way down your body, you should just try to focus on feeling those body parts in the present moment.
A recommended duration period for beginners is approximately 10 minutes. As you practice more often, the easier it will become to keep your attention focused.
As you may have noticed earlier in this article, the symptoms are various in their nature, and overlap with symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and different somatic conditions. If you feel as if you’re not making any progress in your treatment of burnout syndrome, I would like to strongly advise you to seek the help of a professional. Because of the overlapping symptoms, it could be very easy to mistake one for another. Schools of therapy belonging to the third wave of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, use mindfulness as one of their main tools in the therapy process.
One of the things you need to keep in mind is that you don’t need to have all of the above-mentioned symptoms to have burnout syndrome. It is important to take a step back and re-evaluate yourself: Check on your emotions – do you feel empty, unfulfilled and not motivated at work? Is it difficult for you to perform everyday tasks? What is your relationship with other people, do you feel detached from others? If so, you should take the time to take care of yourself. If, as an employer, some of your employees come to mind while reading this, help them, give them the space they need to heal and, trust me, that extension of hand will be greatly appreciated.
- Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 52, 397-422.