Applied Psychology

Burnout: Symptoms and Overcoming it

Nov 08, 2023 | By Saranne Durham

Burnout is a reality many people face. It may be related to their job or studies and can be exacerbated by other life commitments. At first, the symptoms and impact might be contained in a workplace environment, and therefore seem manageable. However, as burnout deepens it will cause a negative impact across all areas of life.  

What is Burnout?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burnout is a syndrome and is regarded as an occupational phenomenon. This means that while it is not a medical condition it is one of the reasons why people seek medical attention. As well as what can negatively impact wellbeing

3 Characteristics of Burnout

  1. Lack of energy or feelings of exhaustion.
  2. Cynical or negative feelings in relation to one’s job or increased mental distance from it. 
  3. Decreased professional efficacy. 

Burnout is the result of chronic work-related stress that is unsuccessfully managed. Thus, it is specifically related to occupation and not other areas of life. 

“Burnout is exhaustion caused by continuously feeling inundated at work.”

Types of Burnout

There are three types of burnout. The first is overload burnout. This is when you are continuously swamped and working harder and harder. Often, it’s rooted in the need to have a successful career. The second type is under-challenged burnout. It happens when someone is not challenged enough in their work environment or they feel underappreciated. The third type of burnout is neglect burnout. It’s usually closely linked to imposter syndrome – where you constantly doubt your skills and achievements. Effectively, resulting in feeling helpless and believing that you’re unable to adequately fulfil your job requirements. 

5 Causes of Burnout

Burnout happens when work stress is unable to be managed successfully. There are several reasons why people burnout, these are: 

  1. Unmanageable workload. 
  2. Confusion regarding work responsibilities. 
  3. Lack of support and poor communication from management. 
  4. Enormous deadline pressure. 
  5. Unfair treatment. 

Common Burnout Symptoms

The result of being burnt out is a drop in productivity and efficiency at work. Physically it causes a depleted energy level. Burnout will eventually lead to being more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu. Mentally and emotionally, it can result in feelings of hopelessness, cynicism, resentment, avoidance, and demotivation. Unfortunately, burnout symptoms aren’t contained within a workplace environment. This means that it can have a negative ripple effect at home and socially too. 

How to Overcome Burnout

While many advise that one of the best strategies to help burnout go away is to quit, it’s often the least viable option. Additionally, your job may be something that you’re passionate about and you might not want to quit. Thus, rather than walk away, working to change the situation could be a better way forward. 

Simply deciding to “get over” burnout isn’t enough. There are practical steps that need to be taken so that you can recover from burnout. And thereby, move forward into a happier and more workable space.  

1. Reframe the Situation

Reframing your situation is a good place to start. Remember why you wanted to work in this field and why this particular job originally appealed to you. Burnout can cause someone to become hyper-focused on the negative aspects of their job. In doing so, the job’s frustration and stress are escalated. By reframing things, you adjust the perspective of the situation in your mind. This places you in a better head-space to tackle things and find viable long-term solutions. 

2. Adjusting the Environment

Part of being able to recover is to find, acknowledge and address the external factors that have led to feeling burnt out. This requires you to look at your external work environment and how you navigate that environment. It’s helpful to remember that it’s quite likely that you’re not the only one feeling burnt out. Therefore, addressing some of the factors that are exacerbating burnout with a manager, often is about the first person speaking out not being the only one with a challenge.  

Things to consider ahead of talking to your manager about adjusting your working environment could be: 

  • Mitigating unnecessary challenges in your work day or work environment.  
  • What you need to work more effectively and efficiently. 
  • Management’s expectations of your responsibilities, performance, and job requirements. 
  • Where you may need to show up differently, such as delegating better or negotiating deadlines upfront. 

3. Address Unmet Needs through Self-care

Next, it’s good to prioritise self-care. Self-care isn’t a decadency that’s nice to fit in when you can. Experts advise that it’s a fundamental step towards better ensuring all-round well-being. Furthermore, it has been shown to assist in buffering against stress. Real self-care isn’t about taking a long bubble bath. It’s about turning towards oneself and focusing on what one requires to address an unmet need. Often being overwhelmed and tumultuous emotions are linked to an unmet need that’s essential to our wellbeing. Thus, meeting this need can decrease stress levels and thereby assist in relieving burnout.  

An important part of self-care is establishing boundaries. This might mean setting out what times you’re available to talk or message colleagues about work. For some, it may mean creating a better social life, while others might need to slow down their social whirlwind. 

4. Ask for Help

In order to ask for help, you’ll need to admit to yourself that you’re burnt out. Then lean into your network for support. To do this requires honest conversations that can make you feel vulnerable. However, by not talking to those you’re closest to, like your boss, family, and friends, no one can assist you. Part of recovering from burning out is asking for assistance to decrease stressors across your life. For example, asking for help with fetching kids or making dinner. 

One of the most effective ways to speed up recovery from burnout is to work with an expert. Such as a therapist, counsellor, or life coach. Some people find it helpful to join a support group. Seeking external support isn’t a defeatist decision. Rather it’s the first step towards understanding your behaviours, personal patterns, and individual triggers. It’s therefore a decisive move towards better burnout recovery and buffering against possible reoccurrences of it. 

Many people suffer from it, and recovering from burnout can be difficult. However, it is possible and by implementing these three steps you can start down the road to recovery.

Understanding Burnout through the Lens of Compassion

Understand burnout as both a clinical and an occupational disease and look at factors that lead to burnout. Wanting to understand burnout and build skills to prevent and manage burnout? Register for the SACAP Global workshop here.

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