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Work-place Burnout is Real. Here's How You Can Cope

The World Health Organization, finally, recognized work-place burnout as mental health in 2019. But, what exactly is burnout? What is it’s signs and symptoms? And, how can it be prevented and treated?

What is burnout?

Although it may be a more recent term, burnout was first coined by Herbert Freudenberger in his 1974 book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger’s original definition was, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Since then, Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter have expanded on this definition. “Burnout is a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”

As a result, burnout causes you to feel stressed. When not addressed, this can make you less productive and have feelings like hopelessness and resentfulness. Even worse, it can lead to the following signs and symptoms.

Emotional signs of burnout.

  • Loss of motivation

  • Alienation and isolation

  • Feeling like a failure

  • Becoming more cynical

  • Feeling trapped

  • Depression

Behavioral signs of burnout.

  • Procrastination

  • Withdraw from responsibilities

  • Absenteeism

  • Irritability

  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope

Physical signs of burnout.

  • Feeling tired

  • Frequent headaches and/or muscle pain

  • Lower immunity

  • Heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes

  • Insomnia

  • Loss of appetite

Are you suffering from burnout?

If the signs listed above aren’t helpful, GMA states that there are “four questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are suffering from burnout.”

“Rate yourself on each question using a number one through four, with one being never, two sometimes, three often and four always. Then total your points from all four questions.

1. How often are you tired and lacking energy to go to work in the morning?

2. How often do you feel physically drained, like your batteries are dead?

3. How often is your thinking process sluggish or your concentration impaired?

4. How often do you feel emotionally detached from co-workers (or customers) and unable to be sensitive to their needs?

If you scored less than nine, you are not suffering from burnout.

If you scored between a 10 and 12, you are on the verge of burnout.

If you scored between a 13 and a 16, you are suffering full-on burnout.”

How to handle burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout, then you need to take action. Here are the best places to start:

  • Discuss your feelings with your supervisor to see what options are available. If you’re burned out because of your daily commute or finding childcare, see if you can have a flexible schedule or work from home occasionally. If you are unaware of expectations, then ask for more clarity. Or, ask for different responsibilities.

  • Set boundaries on what it’s time to work and when you’re not working. For example, make it a rule that you do not respond to work email when eating dinner with your family.

  • Practice mindfulness and other relaxing activities like yoga.

  • Find a release, such as exercising or doing a hobby that you enjoy.

  • Take a break from technology.

  • Get plenty of sleep.

  • Seek support from co-workers, friends, family, and mental health providers.

  • When all else fails, quit your job and find one that won’t burn you out.

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