What is burnout? Here are the best ways to avoid it

We've all heard of it, but many see burnout as an adjective: a way to describe the way we feel when exhaustion finally catches up on us. Few recognise that burnout is a noun. Burnout a diagnosable state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion. It is brought on by long-lasting or repeated stress.

Burnout is an extremely common disorder that often goes undiagnosed. If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from burnout, have a look at these common causes and symptoms:

What causes burnout?

The following situations can cause us to experience burnout:

  • When work or home life feels out of control.
  • When we are not in control of how work is being carried out in our career.
  • When we are asked to complete tasks at work that conflict with our sense of self.
  • When work goals are not met.
  • When we receive little or no support at work.

What does burnout look like?

If you or someone you know is burnt out, the following symptoms are common:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling useless
  • Feeling cynical about one’s work
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Painful headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Binge drinking
  • Drug use
  • Binge eating

There are also signs you can identify that might mean burnout is looming. Many people about to experience burnout will begin to dread going into work. They will feel anxious at the thought of facing work colleagues and peers every day. There might also be a feeling that a certain work task or goal will be impossible to achieve.

Burnout is not simply a result of working long and strenuous hours. There is a difference between ordinary stress and burnout, but the two are easily confused. If you experience some of the above symptoms for a short period or about a specific project only, it is more likely to be stress rather than burnout. However, you should keep an eye on these feelings and experiences before they develop into something less manageable.

How to deal:

Even though some working environments are considered more grinding than others (think careers such as medicine or law), absolutely anyone can experience burnout. If you recognise the symptoms and traits listed above in yourself or others, take these steps to treat burnout:

  • Take stock of your work life and reevaluate it if necessary.
  • Find an alternative sense of purpose, such as your place and value within your family or friend group. This can help you combat burnout symptoms.
  • Take some time to yourself and regain some autonomy.  
  • Set boundaries and learn to say ‘no’. Burnout can occur when we have been stretched too far so learning what is important and getting our priorities straight is crucial.
  • Learn to calmly communicate your needs. This is an empowering way to fight burnout as you are regaining control after a period of feeling powerless.

As always, if these symptoms feel overwhelming you should always visit your GP or another qualified practitioner. You must also share how you feel with your friends and family. If you can think of any other ways to alleviate stress and burnout symptoms, share below!

Source: Psychology today Ireland

Anna Murray is an Irish student mum to one little girl.

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