Burnout is a state of exhaustion that is work-related. Exhaustion is usually a mental or emotional condition. But it also can leave us physically exhausted.
Burnout is not a specific medical condition or mental health illness. Rather, it is more a state we are in. People who experience burnout often feel a loss of personal identity and accomplishment.
What Causes Burnout?
You probably know that people who work “long hours” are at risk of burnout. But it is more than that: Burnout usually is caused by repeated, excessive, and prolonged stress. In many cases, this stress is related to the particular type of work the person does.
For instance, firefighters confronting a massive wildfire for many weeks may become mentally exhausted. Health care workers and social workers are constantly trying to help people and can be under great stress. And factory employees may work on a fast-moving, relentless production line.
All of these people work in jobs that can create a high level of stress and risk over a prolonged period of time. Similarly, the physical and emotional toll of their work can lead to burnout.
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Lacking a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment at work
Having a sense of failure
Difficulty sleeping, change in sleep habits
Withdrawing from coworkers, family members, or friends
Feeling isolated or alone
Being unusually irritable or impatient
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Some physical symptoms can be signs of burnout. You may experience unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other unexplained health conditions. Or you may find yourself getting sick more often.
If you are constantly tired from work you could be facing burnout.
Is Burnout the Same as Stress?
No, although both can be work-related. People who are stressed usually have too many pressures being put on them—for example, too many deadlines and responsibilities. However, people under stress don’t feel hopeless. They are still engaged in their work, and may even be hyperactive. Most important, stressed people usually are confident things will get better eventually.
Burnout is different. People who experience burnout are emotionally exhausted. In addition, they may feel like they have nothing more to give and become detached from their job. They also have given up hope that things will get better.
Another key difference is that when people are under stress, they usually are aware of it. But when you are burned out, you may not be aware of it.
What are the Complications of Burnout?
The complications of burnout extend far beyond the workplace. The stress and the sense of hopelessness you feel saps your enthusiasm for life. In addition, it can affect your relationship with your family members and your friends.
Burnout also can affect you physically. The stress can take a toll on your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and other illnesses. Making it worse, burnout may make you less interested in doing the self-care that can help you stay healthy. Therefore, the condition can affect you in so many different ways, it’s important to take action quickly.
How Can You Prevent Burnout?
First, let’s talk about three things that will not help you recover from burnout:
Watching TV or sitting in front of the computer
These approaches may provide a brief distraction. But they don’t address the core needs of your mind and body. Alcohol and drugs are particularly dangerous, as they increase your risk of becoming depressed or developing other health conditions.
Instead, there are several healthy things you can do to minimize your risk of burning out. These include:
Manage your work hours. Try to avoid working evenings and weekends, and take vacations.
Be comfortable saying “No” to requests for extra work.
Take breaks from your computer and your email.
Take breaks from your phone and your social media.
If possible, make time for a hobby or craft you enjoy or want to learn.
Get enough sleep.
Another effective way to prevent burnout is to make time to spend with family members or friends. Social interaction and the support of friends provides a welcome change of pace and can help us “recharge.”
In conclusion, you should take time to just relax. This can be done in a variety of ways. For example, many people are able to “decompress” by engaging in prayer, quiet reflection, or meditation. You can also relax by taking a bath, reading a book, going for a walk in the woods, or doing gentle exercise such as yoga.
Do I Need a Prescription to Treat Burnout?
Because burnout is not a medical condition, you are not likely to need a prescription. However, you may still benefit greatly from seeking professional help.
If you are feeling burned out, or concerned you may be burning out, it is wise to seek out a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. You can also speak with your doctor about any physical symptoms you may be having.
No official endorsement by the Mental Health Connection or its membership for the information on this web site is intended or should be inferred. The materials contained on this site are made available for educational purposes only and are not meant to serve as medical advice or to replace consultation with your physician or mental health professional. Information about diagnosis and treatment that appears on this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem. You are advised to consult a qualified mental health care provider about your personal questions or concerns. The views and opinions of authors expressed on this site do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Mental Health Connection or its membership. Links to external websites are provided for convenience of reference only and are not intended as an endorsement of the organization or a warranty of any type of information on the site.