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Burnout

Last Updated: February 16, 2024

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Understanding burnout, A comprehensive guide on its causes, symptoms, prevention, management and recovery methods. Essential reading for a balanced life. 

What is Burnout? 

Burnout is excessive and prolonged mental, physical and emotional stress. It can be the cause of feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, drained, constantly exhausted, and unable to keep up with life's constant demands. It can even trigger other mental health issues and physical health problems. 

Burnout prevents a person from feeling productive, happy and fulfilled and can impact one’s home, job, and social life.

Long-term burnout can weaken the immune system, making one more susceptible to catching illnesses like colds or flu. 

Implementing practices that help combat burnout is vital to prevent further physical and mental health symptoms and chronic burnout.

Three Types of Burnout

Psychologists have determined that there are three different types of burnout. Identifying which form of burnout one suffers from can help determine the most beneficial course of action when treating it. 

Overload Burnout 

Overload burnout is when people continue to work to the point of exhaustion. A person suffering from this type of burnout convinces themselves they are chasing success and that working harder and harder will accomplish this. This comes at the cost of their health and impacts their personal life.

Under-Challenged Burnout 

Under-challenged burnout occurs when people don’t feel appreciated or useful. They are usually bored, feel like they lack opportunities, and have no passion or enjoyment for what they are involved in. They often cope by disengaging and avoiding responsibilities, distancing themselves from work or family, and increasing cynicism.

Neglect Burnout 

Neglect burnout stems from feeling helpless and incapable of dealing with responsibilities. Neglect burnout is similar to imposter syndrome, which makes people doubt their skills, talents and accomplishments and fear being exposed for their incapability's. Coping mechanisms can include being passive and unmotivated.    

Causes of Burnout 

Though burnout is primarily attributed to work-related stress, other factors can contribute to the likelihood of experiencing burnout. These include:

  • personal responsibilities

  • lifestyle

  • personality

  • mindset

People who are in a care-providing role, whether it be for a family member, children or at their job, have an increased risk of experiencing burnout through Human Giver Syndrome. Additionally, caring for physical and emotional health during spare time can impact how one copes with work and personal life stressors. 

Job Burnout 

The World Health Organization says burnout “....is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Various situations can cause chronic workplace stress or job burnout. 

Some examples of job burnout include working in a chaotic, unorganized and high-pressure environment, lack of clarity of job expectations, overly demanding positions with too many tasks, feelings of little or no control over work, no recognition or praise, or doing work that’s repetitive and boring. 

Lifestyle Causes of Burnout 

Lifestyle choices can affect the ability to handle everyday stress and job stressors. Habits like working too much without taking time to rest, relax and socialize, not having or prioritizing close and supportive relationships, poor sleep habits, and not prioritizing self-care can all contribute to burnout.

Human Giver Syndrome

In the book 'Burnout' by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, they define something called “Human Giver Syndrome” that affects women due to the micro-stressors that women experience.

It is based on the social assumption that women should give all their time, energy and resources to help and care for others. These inequalities exist in childcare, caring for family members, and housekeeping. 

The expectation that it is selfish for a woman to use her resources and time on herself creates pressure on women, which leads to many women suffering in silence from burnout.

Personality Traits Contributing to Burnout 

Certain personality traits or mindsets can contribute to burnout. These include:

  • being a perfectionist who believes nothing they do is good enough

  • being pessimistic towards oneself or the world

  • needing to feel in control

  • an inability to delegate and assign tasks to others

  • being a Type A personality who is a high achiever

Physical and Mental Symptoms of Burnout

American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger defines burnout as “becoming exhausted by excessive demands on energy, strength or resources.” 

The symptoms of burnout can include both mental and physical symptoms. Chronic stress and burnout can harm physical and mental health, affecting work, everyday tasks, health conditions, and overall well-being.

Though burnout can be a gradual process, it is crucial to understand the symptoms of burnout to implement measures to alleviate symptoms so they don’t progress into more chronic physical burnout symptoms or illnesses. 

Exhaustion

Constantly feeling exhausted, emotionally and mentally is a huge indicator of burnout. Some people may even experience a feeling of dread, feeling low, or no matter how much they sleep, they still feel exhausted. This can impact work and the ability to function daily and can manifest in physical pain and digestive gut issues. 

Social Alienation 

Being cynic and socially isolating from friends and family and feeling numb about daily activities are signs of burnout. This can result in harboring frustration towards friends, work, colleagues or family.

Poor Mental Health 

Anxiety disorders and depression are major signs of burnout. A sense of failure and self-doubt, feeling helpless, defeated or trapped, feeling alone and detached, lacking motivation, and a decreased sense of satisfaction and accomplishment can all indicate burnout.

Reduced Performance

An inability to perform daily tasks makes it harder to be creative, concentrate and deal with responsibilities. This becomes a cyclical problem leading to more stress and burnout. If a person feels tired too often, this can be a sign of burnout.

Frequent Illnesses

Being run-down, loss of appetite, lack of sleep and exhaustion can have physical effects such as a weakened immune system. A side effect of this is the susceptibility to getting sick more often. 

Burnout also puts the body under stress, which raises cortisol levels. Cortisol triggers the fight or flight response, which is good when there is an actual threat, but when constantly raised, it causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to worse, more dangerous diseases, metabolic conditions and illnesses. 

Insomnia

Burnout can also cause insomnia, where one might feel exhausted but unable to sleep. A lack of sleep harms health and mood, and the inability to sleep even when tired can be frustrating.

​​Diagnosis of Burnout

Diagnosing burnout is not straightforward as there is no single test for it. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that can help healthcare professionals make a diagnosis.

Typically, healthcare professionals use either a self-assessment questionnaire or a clinical interview to diagnose burnout. The self-assessment questionnaire is based on a set of standardized questions that assess the presence and severity of burnout symptoms.

One widely recognized tool is the Maslach Burnout Inventory which consists of three subscales to evaluate;

  • emotional exhaustion

  • depersonalization

  • and personal accomplishment

Other assessment scales include the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory and the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory. These measures assess the severity of burnout symptoms and provide valuable insights into the extent of the condition.

Apart from these standardized tools, a mental health professional also relies on a thorough medical examination, including a physical and psychological evaluation to rule out other potential diagnoses or physiological causes of exhaustion. 

Since burnout is typically related to work settings, clinicians also take into account the patient's occupational history, job demands, work environment, and job-related stressors. 

Dealing with Burnout

Burnout awareness is crucial to help deal with and manage the symptoms of burnout. Many small practices can be implemented, though they take conscious implementation. Here are some ways to overcome burnout or prevent burnout.

Communication

If the environment, whether at work or home, is causing burnout, having a conversation with someone who can provide support to create a healthier environment with improved boundaries to protect mental and physical health will help.

Even being able to talk about burnout and stressors with a close friend can have profound effects on the nervous system and alleviate stress.

Engaging with co-workers, reaching out to a community group, hanging out with friends and prioritizing time spent around positive people are other ways to both prevent and recover from burnout.

Further Support

If burnout manifests mentally, such as feeling unmotivated, anxious, overwhelmed, or experiencing brain fog or depression, seeking help from a mental health practitioner is highly recommended. If burnout is manifesting in a physical way such as illness or pain, reaching out to qualified healthcare professionals is important.

Sleep

Sleep has a profound effect on mental health and physical health. Lack of sleep has impacts on mood, motivation, and memory. It is crucial to prioritize getting enough sleep. 

Relaxing Activities

Relaxing activities have benefits for well-being. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, being creative, and spending time in nature all have the positive benefits of relieving stress and allowing the body to release tension. 

It is also important to do activities that bring joy. This allows the body to exist in a state of relaxation and feel more motivated when returning to daily responsibilities.

Mindfulness

Meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing can help identify certain feelings and work through feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Breathing is a powerful tool that can help people to cope with burnout symptoms and reducing overwhelming stress.

Exercise

A minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate to strenuous exercise has positive benefits on mental and physical health, which combats burnout symptoms and helps with sleep, focus and motivation. 

Healthy Diet

Changes to diet can positively impact energy levels and mood. These include minimizing refined sugar consumption, increasing omega-3-rich foods such as fish, nuts and seeds, and limiting alcohol intake.

Supplements which focus on stress relief include; magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha and Lion's mane.

Burnout is a complex issue which manifests in a variety of different ways which has dire and long-lasting consequences.

Though removing stress exposure is nearly impossible, it is important to be aware of the common causes, signs, symptoms and strategies for both prevention and management of burnout.

References 

Burnout: Symptoms and Signs

Immune System Meaning, Function, Cell, Supplement, Boosting

Burnout Prevention and Treatment - HelpGuide.org 

Workplace Stress: Psychological Stress at Work and Mental Health

Motivation: Psychology, Definition, Meaning, Example, Type

Stress Management: How to Reduce Toxic Stress

I’m not Good Enough – How Patriarchy Blindness Contributes to Burnout in Women 

Master Self-Care: Simple Steps for a Healthier, Happier You

Physical Health Wiki

What is Anxiety - Risks, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Boundaries Meaning, in Adult Children, in Relationships

Brain Fog: What is it, the Symptoms and How to Clear Brain Fog

Burnout an "Occupational Phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases 

What is Tai Chi - Learn the Amazing Benefits

The 7 Scary Health Effects of Burnout and What to Do About It

Occupational Burnout - Wikipedia

Sleep Music, Healing, Sleep, For Anxiety, Sleep Better

Deep Breathing Techniques - An Introduction

Disclaimer 

The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.