How to Know if You are “Burned Out” –And What You Can Do About it

Why worry about Burnout?

Burnout is more serious than just feeling stressed. It is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

When you are burned out, you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the demands of your work and home life. You lose the interest and motivation in your job and other activities. Your productivity and energy plummet.

Burnout is a gradual process. Left unaddressed, you become increasingly helpless,                                                                                        hopeless, cynical, and resentful—like you’ve got nothing more to give.

What is the difference between stress and Burnout?

Burnout is different from stress.

In small doses, stress has many advantages. It can help you meet daily challenges. It motivates you to reach your goals. It can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently–and can even boost memory.

There are even some health benefits of a little bit of stress. Researchers believe that some stress can help to fortify the immune system. It can improve how your heart works and protects your body from infection.

Of course, too much stress is not desirable or healthy, but still it is less disabling that Burnout. The whole flavor and experience of burnout is markedly different from stress.

Stressed people feel like there is too much going on. They may be too busy and overwhelmed, but (unlike folks who have progressed to the point of burnout), they still believe that they will feel better once they get everything under control.

In contrast, people experiencing burnout feel like there’s not enough. They experience feelings of emptiness, mental exhaustion, lack of motivation or even caring, and hopelessness. Life seems not worth living.

How to tell if you are stressed or Burned Out?

Stress and Burnout look and feel very different. Here are some signs that wll help you to distinguish if your stress has tipped over into more serious Burnout.

Signs of Stress                                             Signs of Burnout

Over engagement                                        Disengagement

Emotionally over reactive                           Blunted emotions, flat affect

Sense of urgency & hyperactivity             Feelings of helplessness & hopelessness

Loss of energy                                              Loss of motivation, ideals, hope

Leads to anxiety disorder                           Leads to detachment and depression

Primary damage is physical                       Primary damage is emotional

What causes Burnout?

Burnout can arise from a variety of factors, including working conditions, lifestyle causes, and personality traits.

Researchers into workplace induced burnout have identified several key factors that lead to burnout. These include:

  • Little or no control over your work
  • Lack of recognition for your good work
  • Overly demanding or unclear performance expectations
  • Monotonous, unchallenging work
  • Chaotic or high-pressure work environment

As to personality factors, Type A’s and perfectionists run the risk of burnout. Likewise those who have a strong need to control, often accompanied by a reluctance to delegate, are at increased risk of burnout. People who lack trust in themselves or in the world may be predisposed to burnout.

On top of that, the lifestyle choices we make can contribute to burnout. Too little sleep. Loss of work/life balance. Avoiding positive social contacts. Refusing to say no to more responsibilities, coupled with reluctance asking others for help. All of these choices can set you up for Burnout.

What are the signs and symptoms of Burnout?

  • Feeling tired and drained
  • Lowered immunity leading to more frequent illness
  • Pain, such as headaches or muscle pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, defeated, trapped
  • Detachment
  • Feeling alone and unsupported
  • Demotivated
  • Cynicism and negativity
  • Diminished satisfaction or accomplishment
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating from others
  • Procrastinating
  • Using food, alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Skipping work, coming in late, leaving early

What can you do about Burnout?

Don’t isolate. Social contact is an important way to mitigate feelings of Burnout. Share your feelings with your loved ones. Develop supportive relationships with co-workers. Look for opportunities to be with friends and build new friendships if necessary.

Talking with a psychotherapist can also be of great benefit. Your therapist knows how to listen empathically to what you are going through. She can help you to identify and express your feelings as well as to examine and change patterns of thinking that are keeping you stuck in a burned out state. She can also help you to identify concrete steps that you can take to improve your inner and outer environments to improve the conditions that have contributed to your condition.

If you believe you are heading towards burnout or are already fully in burnout, don’t suffer in silence. Take action to find support and relief now.

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