Have you ever felt like you just didn’t have enough motivation to do anything? Do you feel like your drive to do things has just burnt out? Do you suspect you might be experiencing some depression-like symptoms?
The work and relationships you were actively involved in before, now seem so bothersome, and you can’t motivate yourself to do anything. You believe you’re getting plenty of rest, but you never feel quite rested, and you’re constantly tired… If you feel these symptoms, you may be experiencing burnout.
What is “Burnout”?
Burnout (or sometimes referred to as “blow out”) is a persistent state of lethargy with a loss of mental and physical energy. It is not the name of an official psychiatric diagnosis, but a type of stress reaction that occurs as a result of stress. There are many well-respected people who used to work hard, but lost their motivation only to be forced to leave their jobs as if they have “lost fire”. Initially, experts believed burnout was more common amongst workers in the service sector, such as medical care and education. However, in today’s world where many people are under excessive stress, people in a wide range of occupations (not just in the service sector), are at risk of becoming burnt out.
Symptoms of a Burnout
One of the main symptoms of burnout (or blow out) is “emotional exhaustion”. Emotional exhaustion is a state of weariness caused by stressful interpersonal relationships, being too busy, or by the gap between one’s ideals and reality. This symptom is also linked to other manifestations of burnout, such as “depersonalization”, a disconnected or detached sense of feeling from one’s self and emotional acts, or “diminished personal accomplishments”, the lost sense of fulfillment and competence.
How is it Different from Depression?
Burnout is sometimes considered to be a form of depression because the symptoms of depressed mood and lethargy manifest in a similar way to depression. However, there is a lot of controversy about equating burnout with depression, as burnout has been studied primarily in the field of psychology, while depression has been studied primarily in the field of medicine.
While the cause of depression can be all kinds of stresses in life, burnouts most likely occur due to workplace stress. Recent studies have established a checklist of items to measure the level of burnout in the workplace. If you can relate to many items on the list below, you are at a higher risk becoming burnt out.
|1. I feel run down and drained of physical or emotional energy|
|2. I have negative thoughts about my job|
|3. Perhaps I am harder and less sympathetic with people than they deserve|
|4. I am easily irritated by small problems, my co-workers, or team|
|5. I feel misunderstood or unappreciated by my co-workers|
|6. I feel like I have no one to talk to|
|7. I feel like I am achieving less than I should|
|8. I am under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed|
|9. I am not getting what I want out of my job|
|10. I feel like I am in the wrong organization or the wrong profession|
|11. I am frustrated with parts of my job|
|12. Organizational politics or bureaucracy blocks my ability to do a good job|
|13. There is more work to do than I practically have the ability to do|
|14. I do not have time to do a good quality job on things I find important|
|15. I do not have time to plan as much as I would like to|
Susceptible Characteristics for Burnouts
Burnout is often referred to as a “disease that strikes people who have a sense of purpose and idealism.” People tend to be at a higher risk of burnout if they are dedicated to their work and are attentive to their surroundings. In particular, people with a strong sense of perfectionism and responsibility possess a higher risk of burning out because of the mental stress experienced when faced with a different reality.
To prevent becoming burnt out, it is important to separate ourselves from our duties and obligations. Although in the midst of constant daily stress, it is no easy task to maintain a healthy mindset through personal efforts alone.
How to Prevent Burnouts
Burnout is not just about personal qualities; environmental factors are also deeply related to the phenomenon. Overbearing amounts of work, one-sided communication from the higher-ups, and tasking underqualified workers are all environmental issues that increase the risk of burnouts as well as a variety of stress-related illnesses. To prevent burnouts, we need to re-evaluate our work environment and look for ways to improve.
For example, it’s helpful to ask these questions in the workplace:
- Are my personal workload and emotional burdens overbearing?
- Is the work appropriate for my qualifications?
- Is there interactive communication taking place on both ends?
Constant review and improvements of the above points are an effective way to prevent burnouts.
When You Find Yourself Burnt Out
So what can we do to regain our energy again when we actually fall into a burnout?
The first step is to notice the problems we face. People who are prone to burnout tend to strive for perfection. This makes it difficult for them to recognize their problems. To get an accurate picture of the condition, it’s helpful to seek advice from family, close friends, and supervisors. After we understand our situation, we need to take time away from the source of our stress to question our values. For example, if work is the reason for burnout, a leave of absence or a short separation from work can be the best way to recover.
Not an End, But a New Beginning
According to one study, of the 20 people who recovered from burnout due to a leave of absence, only one returned to the same job. The other 19 people chose to leave their previous careers and rediscover their value in a new environment. It takes courage to change your lifestyle, but taking a step toward a new environment without fear may be the key to avoiding a repeat of burnout. In that sense, being burnt out is not a dead end with nowhere to turn, but rather a starting point for a new career.
No Need to Give 100%
In general, people with good work ethics and attention to detail are considered “excellent” and “respectable”. However, in the real world, no one is perfect all the time. No matter how good a person is considered to be, they can’t always do 100%. Some days may be 80%, whereas some days may be 45%, and that’s okay!
There will also be moments of happiness within these days that aren’t our best. Even if our day’s efforts end up around 30%, there will still be times where family, friends, and hobbies will fulfill us. Try to avoid getting caught up in your ideals. Allowing imperfections and maintaining a relaxed state will help avoid burnouts.
Irie, M. (2017). Burnout and Depression. Journal of Health Science, 39, 41-47. doi: 10.15017/1800858
Kubo, M. (2007). Burnout – Stress in Human Service Jobs. The Japanese Journal of Labour Studies, 49(1), 54-64.
Mind Tools Content Team (n.d.). Burnout Self-Test: – Are You at Risk? Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_08.htm