Burnout symptoms – how to recognize and overcome burnout at work?
July 1, 2021
Do you often feel tired after a long day at work, or maybe you need a vacation after a monthly sprint? Do you have a lack of enthusiasm for work or even life in general? These can be alarming symptoms of burnout, which is quite common as our working lives continually become more demanding and stressful.
Table of Contents:
What is burnout?
The term “burnout” was coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. He describes burnout as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
It is something much worse than mere fatigue. It makes it challenging to cope with anxiety but also with everyday tasks and the ability to meet requirements. As this state persists, the burnout person loses interest and motivation, leading them to postponing work for later and getting worse and worse results.
First signs of burnout
Worried that you may be experiencing burnout but are unsure about its signs? Here is a list of symptoms for people suffering from burnout:
- Feeling physically and emotionally depleted – physical symptoms may include headaches, abdominal pain and changes in appetite or sleep.
- Isolation – feeling overwhelmed means you may stop being sociable, and are no longer confiding to friends, family and co-workers.
- Escape fantasies – dissatisfaction with endless demands can lead to fantasizing about running away or taking a vacation alone. In extreme cases, they resort to drugs, alcohol, and food to alleviate emotional pain.
- Irritability – it is easier to lose patience with friends, co-workers and family members. Getting ready for your meeting at work, driving your kids to school, and doing homework begins to feel insurmountable, especially when they don’t go according to plan.
- Frequent illnesses – a weakened immune system makes the body more susceptible to colds, the flu and insomnia.
Burnout can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. In addition, people who experience burnout often feel that they have nothing left to give to their surroundings and are afraid of even getting out of bed every day. They may even adopt a pessimistic view of life.
How does burnout influence our life?
The adverse effects of burnout spill over into every area of life, including home and social life. Scientists agree that burnout has three main symptoms:
- Exhaustion – it brings you easy nervousness, trouble sleeping, more illness and difficulty concentrating. If left untreated, it can lead to severe physical and mental health conditions such as depression, heart disease and diabetes.
- Cynicism – in the context of burnout, also known as depersonalization, meaning a sense of alienation from the people you work with and a lack of commitment to work.
- Inefficiency – refers to a lack of faith in the ability to do a job well and a decline in achievement and productivity.
Irritation and a bad mood can lead to unnecessary conflicts by adopting a defensive attitude or facing situations with suspicion and cynicism. As a result, reactions can become aggressive or passive.
12 stages of stress
Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North outlined these 12 stages of stress:
- “Excessive drive/ambition. Common for people starting a new job or undertaking a new job.
- Pushing yourself to work harder. Often forced by the excess of ambition.
- Neglecting your own needs. You begin to give up self-care, such as sleep, exercise, and eating healthy.
- Conflict displacement. Instead of admitting that you are pushing the maximum, you blame your boss, job demands, or colleagues for your troubles.
- No time for non-work related needs. You start to distance yourself from family and friends. Invitations to social events or dates seem burdensome.
- Denial. Impatience with the environment. Instead of taking responsibility for your behavior, you blame others for seeing them as incompetent, lazy and overbearing.
- Withdrawal. You start withdrawing from family and friends. Social invitations to parties, movies and dates are starting to feel cumbersome, not enjoyable.
- Behavioral changes. People on the road to burnout can become more aggressive and lash out at loved ones for no reason.
- Depersonalization. Feeling detached from life and the ability to control it.
- Inner emptiness or anxiety. To deal with this emotion, you may start looking for emotions such as substance use, gambling, or overeating.
- Depression. Life loses its meaning, and you start to feel hopeless.
- Mental or physical collapse. It can affect your ability to cope. Mental health or medical attention may be needed.”
Burnout was included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is therefore not classified as a medical condition. However, it is defined in the ICD-11 as follows: “Burnout is a syndrome that is understood to result from chronic stress in the workplace that has not been effectively managed.”
How to recognize burnout at work?
Burnout reduces productivity and drains energy. It makes you feel more and more helpless, hopeless, cynical, resentful. An overworked or undervalued person at work is at risk of burnout.
It is also worth remembering that burnout does not have to be caused only by stressful job or excess duties. The way you look at the world, your lifestyle and your personality traits can play an equally significant role.
The signs of burnout at work are:
- Feeling little or no control over your job, making you feel powerless. It can be a lack of control over workload, hours, mission and goals, uncertainty about expectations, or opaque prospects.
- No recognition or reward for good work.
- Unclear or excessively demanding expectations.
- Responsible tasks require a high degree of resilience, attention and concentration, where failure can have serious consequences.
- Carrying out work that is monotonous or undemanding.
- Working in a chaotic environment or under high pressure.
- Dysfunctional work environment.
- Workplace harassment and behavior that undermines our self-esteem.
8 ways to overcome burnout
Do you recognize some of the burnout symptoms, or have you already passed the tipping point? Either way, it’s time to stop and change direction. How to overcome burnout? The following tips can help you regain your energy, focus, and feel positive.
1. Analyze why you feel burned out
For this purpose, it is good to write down situations that stress, overwhelm and exhaust you. The analysis of stress factors is the first step to becoming aware of the case and the starting point for looking for solutions.
2. Don’t overstrain yourself, and don’t expect too much of yourself
If you are suffering from burnout, your body and mind are telling you to rest. Because:
- check your commitments and limit new ones;
- think about what is contributing to your well-being;
- analyze your level of ambition and estimate your effort towards the result;
- take active breaks between projects so that your mind can regenerate;
- think about which tasks you can delegate to others, both at work and at home.
One study found that burnout sufferers can experience thinning of the anterior cortex, which is essential for cognitive function. Part of this is thinned out in the natural ageing process, but the effect is more pronounced in people who have experienced burnout.
3. Re-evaluate your priorities
- take time to think about your hopes and dreams;
- set the boundaries of work;
- take a daily (e.g. one hour) break from technology;
- stimulate the creative side of your nature;
- set aside time to relax.
4. Change your attitude to work
Whether you have a job that makes you feel stressed, rushed, monotony or unsatisfied, the most effective way to fight burnout would be to quit your job and find one you love. If this is not possible:
- try to find some value in your work;
- make friends with someone at work;
- get involved in new projects that strengthen your strengths and interests;
- take a spare battery to recharge and take advantage of various regeneration methods.
Many of us have more work than the time during the day and often take our work home. Think about what would have happened if you hadn’t done it. Wouldn’t it be more productive to have a good rest and finish the next day’s job with a fresh mind?
According to Alexandra Michel, a science writer at the Association for Psychological Science, burnout results from working too hard or too long. “Ultimately, he writes, burnout occurs when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outweigh rewards, recognition, and relaxation.”
5. Manage your emotional intelligence
It is difficult for someone on the road to burnout, and therefore unmotivated and apathetic to get excited about work and life. However, if you approach life with an open mind, acceptance and a positive attitude, you will stress less.
Proper management of your own emotions can help – learn to express fears and desires as well as assertiveness – also in avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings with people. Expectations towards the environment often lead to criticism of the behavior of others and not accepting things as they are. Instead, try to focus on the positives, appreciate what it is and enjoy it.
6. Get support and inspiration
Social interaction is a natural antidote to stress. Try to improve relations with colleagues from work where we spend many hours. It’s also worth looking for support outside of work. In addition to relying on family and friends, you can expand your circle of friends to find inspiration, new ideas and perspectives. Therefore:
- maintain good relationships with your loved ones (partner, family and friends);
- be more social with your colleagues;
- limit contacts with negative people;
- connect with a social or religious group that has a personal meaning to you;
- find new friends.
7. Make exercise a priority
While it may be the last thing you want to do when you’re burned out, exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout, but it’s also a simple mood boost. Do your best:
- exercise 30 minutes a day or break it down into 10-minute periods of activity;
- walk – a 10-minute stroll can improve your mood for two hours;
- move rhythmically – moving your arms and legs is effective for improving your mood, increasing energy, sharpening your focus and relaxing both your body and mind;
- run, swim, do martial arts, dance.
According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, psychologist and author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, general self-care is critical when faced with burnout. That is, eating well, staying hydrated, exercising and relaxing, getting enough sleep.
8. Support your mood and energy levels with a healthy diet
What you put into your body can significantly impact your mood and energy levels throughout the day. Because:
- minimize sugar and carbohydrates;
- reduce the consumption of foods that adversely affect the body (e.g. chemically preserved foods or foods containing hormones);
- eat more Omega-3 fatty acids;
- avoid nicotine and alcohol.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It is born gradually due to work overload and permanent stress. To overcome them, it is worth analyzing what stresses us, exhausts us, and reduces these factors. Preliminary analysis can already provide clues.
Reviewing your priorities, finding work-life balance, using stress relief techniques or supporting other people are all ways to fight burnout. However, just as burnout does not occur suddenly, it is also difficult to overcome it right away. So follow the above tips and be patient. The effects will undoubtedly come.