Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion and by chronic negative responses to stressful conditions. While not considered a mental illness, burnout can be considered a mental health issue. Burnout is more likely when people:
Expect too much of themselves
Never feel that the work they are doing is good enough
Feel inadequate or incompetent
Feel unappreciated for their efforts
Have unreasonable demands placed upon them
Take on more than they can handle
Because it can be chronic in nature, affecting both the health and performance of someone in all aspects of their lives, prevention strategies are considered the most effective approach for addressing burnout.
Recognize signs and symptoms
The majority of people experiencing burnout will continue to do their normal routine. Being aware of changes in attitudes and energy can help with early identification. People may not realize that they are dealing with burnout and may instead believe that they are just struggling to keep up during stressful times. Stress, however, is usually experienced as feeling anxious and having a sense of urgency while burnout is more commonly experienced as helplessness, hopelessness or apathy.
One may not be aware of the negative impacts on their performance that this can have, such as increased errors or lower productivity. Others may attribute the changes to a poor attitude or loss of motivation. The negative effects of burnout can increase significantly before anyone recognizes or addresses the problem and unaddressed burnout can increase the chance of developing clinical depression or other serious conditions. Some of the signs and symptoms that an employee experiencing burnout may exhibit include:
Reduced efficiency and energy
Lowered levels of motivation
More time spent working with less being accomplished
Severe burnout can also result in:
Self-medication with alcohol and other substances
Sarcasm and negativity
Left unaddressed, burnout may result in a number of outcomes including:
Poor physical health
Increased risk of accidents
Relationship breakdown with others
The lies we tell ourselves
Some people who have recovered from burnout share what they called “the lies we told ourselves” related to denying the signs of burnout, even when loved ones pointed it out to them. These included:
I am fine
It is your nagging at me that is stressful
I love my studies/job
I am happy to take more on
I am just tired
You don’t understand, no one else can do this
People are depending on me
I really want to be helpful
I will be fine once this is done
This too will pass
I need to get back to the top of my game
I’ll take a vacation and then be okay
If people just let me do my work, I would be fine
It’s not me, it is everyone and everything else
Most actually believed these statements to be true and to a certain extent, many of them were. The “lie” was in denying that their current situation was damaging their health and well-being and that changes were necessary. This denial eventually led to burnout.
Provide clear expectations for yourself.
Make sure you have the necessary resources and skills to meet expectations.