Burnout is something that can affect anybody in any line of work. It can be a debilitating feeling that stretches beyond the confines of one’s workspace and affects many aspects of a person’s day, including their motivation, mood, and even outlook on the world around them.
Identifying and knowing how to avoid burnout, as well as how to overcome burnout when it does occur, can help you learn to balance your own personal and professional life in a healthy and productive way while still maintaining your health, hygiene, and sense of identity — both inside and outside of the workplace.
What Does Burnout Mean?
The definition of burnout isn’t one single thing, and each person may experience it slightly differently. However, burnout as a whole is where a person feels overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed from overworking themselves in a particular area, most commonly in their workplace. Burnout can even occur around one’s hobbies if they are putting too much energy and focus into it, or have set unreasonably high expectations for what they can accomplish. This may include hobbies such as writing, creating video content on YouTube, or other intensive or creative ventures.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout itself can take a long time to develop and is the result of working long hours without enough time to oneself in the evening to rest, working too many days in a row without a proper weekend to engage in self-care, or even after regularly scheduled days if they workdays are becoming more intense (such as retail workers around the holiday season or medical professionals dealing with the flu season and continuous influx of COVID-19 cases). The prolonged exposure to the stress and expectation in the workplace without adequate time for a person to rest both their body and mind or take care of their own emotional and social needs in terms of self-care, can all lead a person towards burnout.
Burnout can also occur as the result of a lack of feeling of control in one’s work environment, or a lacking in a feeling of accomplishment for one’s efforts. If a workplace does not imbue a person with a sense of self-worth as a result of their action, or a person feels that their work and effort are not being recognized, burnout can set in and compromise one’s ability and desire to continue putting in the effort over long days and weeks. Burnout can also manifest as a result of unrealistic expectations. A work-life imbalance creating difficulties outside of the workplace, or even a lack of social support when a person is not on the clock, can create the feeling that they are working all of the time, leading towards feelings of isolation and burnout. While work can often introduce stress in many different ways, stress can feel like a person is taking on too much, whereas burnout can set in and leave a person with a feeling of emptiness around their work or accomplishments.
What Does Burnout Feel Like?
Burnout is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, stress, and a loss of motivation to accomplish one’s tasks in the workplace or even engage in activities outside of the workplace. It is both physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion and can lead to a lack of focus both inside and outside of one’s profession. Burnout can cause a person to work less efficiently, whether they are working in a warehouse or on the front lines as a first responder. For first responders, this exhaustion can compromise one’s ability to move quickly when needed, or even impair judgment, creating a more dangerous atmosphere that may complicate already difficult events.
Burnout can also be felt in a lack of motivation to continue doing one’s work and can introduce doubt into one’s abilities in the workplace and their overall self-worth. Learning to fight burnout can help each person better take care of their health, as well as improve their sense of worth and motivation — ultimately leading to a return to a higher quality of work and feelings of self-fulfillment.
Identifying Symptoms of Burnout
Knowing how to fight burnout means first being able to recognize burnout in oneself or others, whether they are family members, friends, or especially coworkers. Those who have reached burnout may find themselves self-alienating at all hours of the day, living a more isolated lifestyle as a result of their mental and physical exhaustion. Aches, pains, and headaches may also all be present, creating a persistent feeling of discomfort. Changes in one’s sleep schedule may also be common, as well as inconsistent or irregular eating habits as a person may begin to skip meals or eat only what is quickest rather than what is healthiest. Their exhaustion may also cause procrastination of their other responsibilities, or a persistent sense of failure even when addressing these responsibilities.
Learning how to fix burnout also means addressing the emotional state of a person. Burnout can cause a person to become more irritable or cynical to the surrounding people, or less empathetic. Those suffering from burnout may also lose a filter on their language; their mental exhaustion may cause them to speak the first things coming to mind, out of frustration or irritability. This can be exceptionally difficult if a person is working in a position of service, such as healthcare workers or first responders. Burnout can often coincide with feelings of compassion fatigue, creating a situation where a person has little motivation to serve others and little energy to take care of themselves, even leading to a person leave a particular career path due to the effects of this exhaustion, stress, and fatigue.
How To Recover From Burnout
Identifying the related feelings and effects is just the first step in learning how to treat burnout. The mental and physical exhaustion may make it difficult for a person to have the energy to take care of themselves, or feelings of isolation may create a situation where a person has little desire to get out outside of work. However, it is incredibly important that a person give themselves time away from the workplace and the expectations and responsibilities it entails. Taking a vacation, or even time off with no other plans other than to just rest, are essential in beginning the path of how to deal with burnout. During this time, escaping the expectations and responsibilities also means detaching yourself from your work phone, so you cannot be contacted to cover a shift or otherwise come back to the workplace before the scheduled time.
It’s Time for a Break
This time of rest and relaxation is important to allow a person the time they need to take care of their own needs, even during the most hectic of times. Allowing time and encouragement for self-care, even in simple forms such as setting up a movie day where a person can focus only on enjoying their time.
Focusing on one’s diet and physical health is also important. Keeping a healthy, consistent diet causes a person to simply feel better about themselves as well, both in their bodies as well as in their emotional state. By eating healthy, consistent meals, a person can begin the path towards realizing their self-worth and regain much of the lost energy and motivation that may have occurred due to the effects of burnout.
Tackling Burnout at Work
Addressing burnout while in the professional field may also involve reaching out to other coworkers or family members. Coworkers may be able to relate to the difficult physical and emotional demands of the job, and having a person who understands and can help be a social and emotional outlet can be very comforting. This approach can also lead to small pockets or communities of people within a company creating a support network for each other, due to the difficult nature of their jobs, creating a circle of support both inside and outside of the workplace.
Lastly, it is important to create boundaries between one’s work life and personal life. While many people may have friends that are also coworkers, having a group of friends outside of the workplace, or in entirely different occupational fields, can give a person a break from the work talk or atmosphere and instead allow them to only focus on their interpersonal relationships. Having dedicated times where a person cannot be reached can also be important, by turning off one’s phone when they are not on the clock or are not on-call for their work. These boundaries can stay in place and give a person a dedicated time to regularly take a break and focus only on themselves, in an effort to stave off the effects of burnout.