Are you or a loved one suffering from burnout? Yes, this opening was deliberately intended to sound like a commercial for some hard-to-pronounce drug. Jokes aside, burnout is an important issue that a simple pill cannot solve. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized ‘burnout’ as an ‘occupational phenomenon.’ In a Gallup study of around 7,500 full time workers, 23% described that they were often in “burnout mode,” while 44% stated that they “sometimes” were. So, what exactly is burnout and what can be done about it?
What is burnout anyway?
Burnout is a form of stress that makes one feel physically, mentally, and even emotionally exhausted. While this stress is often attributed to feelings of discontentment in one’s occupation, it can more generally be attributed to feelings of unrealized expectations either internally or externally derived.
Everyone feels stress from time-to-time, but experiencing burnout is a sensation more profound. Burnout can lead one to feel exhausted all the time. Automatic tasks like responding to emails become laborious and work that you could complete in an afternoon now seems to stretch out over a period of days. When you are experiencing burnout, you may feel like a battery with a warped capacitor that can neither reach a state of complete charge nor hold its energy for very long. It is as if your tolerance for work and other day-to-day tasks has decreased and you are more sensitive to even minor inconveniences. Feelings of burnout in one part of your life (let’s say work) can spill over and seemingly spoil other parts like leisure time, social and familial relationships.
Okay, so I’m feeling a little burned out, but is it really that bad?
As mentioned above, burnout is a form of stress; prolonged stress can exacerbate health and contribute to physical aches, feelings of fatigue, anxiety, depression, and many other unpleasant ailments. Another insidious side effect of burnout is that it can stir feelings of apathy about one’s wellbeing, which could lead to the indulgence of destructive behaviors (like excessive drinking) or neglect of self-care (like depriving oneself of sleep, personal hygiene, or a nutritious diet).
Geez, okay! So, what can I do about burnout?
Awareness of how you feel and coming to an understanding of why you feel this way is the first step in combatting burnout. By recognizing the stressors in your life, determining how they are affecting you and why you are feeling this way can help you figure out the steps forward.
One reason many people feel burnout is because they struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Even during the pandemic when many of us have more time on our hands, work still seems to consume a lot of our physical and mental energy, when we do not define clear limits as to where our office ends and our personal lives begin. Renegotiating our relationship with work may be necessary to assuage our stress. For example, do you often complete unfinished business on your off-hours? This practice can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction in both your home and work life. Establishing clear boundaries for work, reevaluating tasks (can you delegate more?), and rethinking policies (can you shift your hours in the office?) are small steps that can greatly improve your relationship with work.
Another reason we may feel burnout is because we do not give our internal batteries enough leisure time to re-charge. And, no, sleep does not count as recharging. Adequate sleep is absolutely necessary to sustain a good quality of life, but it does not grant us mental relaxation in the way that we need to combat burnout. Unstructured time to pursue ‘leisure’ in the form of designated breaks during the day, free time over the weekend, or a long vacation can help stave off or mitigate the effects of burnout.
Burnout is more than just feeling tired, unmotivated, or uninterested in one’s work; it’s feeling like things are bad and may not get better. If you feel this way, then, perhaps you should seriously consider that burnout is the cause of your stress and take steps to address burnout before you feel too overcome to help yourself.
Even if we are not ‘burned out,’ we should still consider taking the time to address our work stressors and figure out how to maintain a healthy work-life relationship that won’t drain us in the long term.
Best of luck to you on your journey!