What is Burnout?
As America’s Great Resignation continues, more media outlets are pointing to “burnout” as a source of worker dissatisfaction. This term is more than just a buzzword. It’s a very real syndrome resulting from chronic stress in the workplace.
While evening news anchors debate the severity of overworked employees’ symptoms, the World Health Organization has officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis. The WHO only recognizes this condition among professionals; however, its symptoms can manifest in all areas of your life.
There’s an important line to be drawn between run-of-the-mill stress and a diagnosable problem. While stress may abate after a quick vacation or restful weekend, burnout is more insidious. It is characterized by unending exhaustion and a constant state of overwhelm. People with this condition feel hopeless and stuck. While those who are stressed may actually perform better and work harder, people who are burnt out feel unmotivated, apathetic, and unable to put in any effort.
Burnout can affect people from many different backgrounds, including:
- college students,
- doctors and nurses,
- stay-at-home parents,
- people with demanding careers, and
- artists, musicians, or creative professionals.
Signs of Burnout
No matter which career or calling you have, the indicators of this condition remain the same.
The stage is set when you are treated unfairly at work, receive an unmanageable workload, or lack support from management. This lays the groundwork for chronic stress.
Symptoms begin with fatigue, negativity, and poor job performance. As your emotional state worsens, you may begin to notice the following signs of burnout.
- Feeling so overwhelmed by tasks that you can’t even start them.
- Becoming moodier and more irritable, especially when asked to take on new assignments.
- Losing motivation to try at work.
- Struggling to put forth any real effort.
- Experiencing incredible fatigue that isn’t fixed by sleeping in.
- Feeling more distant from your job.
- Missing deadlines or producing subpar work.
- Emotionally disconnecting from your co-workers, patients, or family members.
- Withdrawing from your friends and family.
- Making more mistakes than usual.
- Struggling to concentrate or be creative.
- Fantasizing about quitting your job.
- Feeling more negative and cynical.
- Using drugs and alcohol excessively in an attempt to cope.
A Note About Substance Use Disorder
This last point is particularly important. At Recovery Without Walls, we often work with career professionals who turned to alcohol or drug use as a result of burnout. While these substances may seem to help in the moment, they actually create more problems.
Some people use stimulants in an attempt to meet deadlines and increase their focus. This is especially common among young adults with access to Adderall and other prescription drugs. However, the increased anxiety and hyperactivity that come with stimulant use negatively impact one’s physical and mental health in the long run.
Others use depressants to unwind after a long shift. Unfortunately, alcohol and other depressant drugs can worsen the low mood associated with burnout. They also contribute to an increase in sleep disturbances and suicidal thoughts.
If you have become dependent on addictive substances, help is available. Recovery Without Walls offers proven outpatient programs for career professionals.
Are You Burned Out? Take the Quiz.
Psychologists measure burnout through evidence-based assessments. The Maslach Burnout Inventory, or MBI, is an evaluation that takes just ten minutes to complete. The MBI’s questions analyze five dimensions of this disorder: depersonalization, cynicism, professional efficacy, personal accomplishment, and emotional exhaustion.
Various forms of the MBI are available for people from different professions, including educators, medical personnel, and those working in human services.
While you will need to visit a clinical professional to take the MBI, we’d like to share a few sample items from this assessment. If you resonate with the below, we recommend seeking treatment.
- Working with people all day is very stressful for me.
- When it comes to my work, I feel frustrated.
- I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.
- I feel as though my colleagues blame me for their problems.
- I worry that my work has emotionally hardened me.
- I feel tired from the moment I wake up in the morning.
- I have the feeling that I work too hard.
How to Recover from Burnout
While burnout is an exhausting, demoralizing experience, we have good news. It is treatable! There are steps you can take to alleviate stress and create a life you’re excited to live.
Setting boundaries at work. A clear work/life balance is paramount for those suffering from burnout. Talk to your boss about how much work you can handle. Let them know that when you’re out of the office, you won’t be reading emails or doing any assignments. Setting these boundaries can provide much-needed relief from round-the-clock stress.
Finding opportunities for improvement. If you’re frustrated with certain time-consuming tasks, set aside time to re-evaluate them. Is there a way to automate a monthly report or learn a new technique from your manager? Instead of ruminating on what bothers you about your position, look for chances to make it better.
Highlighting your accomplishments. While it may seem silly to want a “good job” after every assignment, research shows it majorly contributes to worker satisfaction. Don’t let your wins fly under the radar. Instead, mention them to upper management and co-workers. You may be surprised by the positive feedback you receive.
Getting a new job. If you realize that your workplace is toxic, don’t be afraid to seek other opportunities. Sometimes, finding a new position or trying out a different company can be an instant cure for overwhelm and chronic stress.
Addressing problematic substance use. If your approach to stress management includes drug or alcohol use, you should make every effort to quit. Seek professional addiction treatment if you need help with prescription drug misuse, binge drinking, or the use of illicit substances.
Recovery Without Walls is an outpatient treatment center in Mill Valley, California. We specialize in helping professionals to overcome burnout, substance use disorder, and co-occurring mental health conditions. To learn more about our credentialed clinical team and our unique approach to treatment, contact us today.