Note: This is a repost of an article from May 2019. I’m sharing it again because this is an important topic and something that I even need to remind myself of time and time again.
Feeling burned out at work is something that many of us will feel at one point or another. Our society forces us to work, mostly in jobs that mean nothing to us, for long hours, low pay, and mediocre benefits. It’s no wonder that people’s mental health can begin to decline in those circumstances.
According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is defined as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
For years, burnout has been something that people have been experiencing with little support. Hopefully, that will change, however, as the World Health Organization now recognizes burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis.
In their International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the WHO has added this definition of burnout:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
Having burnout become an official international diagnosis doesn’t mean that employers will start offering leave time or mental health days, however, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms of burnout yourself, and know how to practice self-care to lessen the effects.
How to Recognize Burnout
Experiencing job-related burnout can manifest in a variety of symptoms, but here are a few to be on the lookout for:
- becoming increasingly angry or cynical
- dreading going in to work so much that it starts to physically make you feel sick
- substance abuse to help you cope with a hard day, such as drinking too much when you get off work
- feeling disillusioned or unsatisfied with your job
- finding it harder and harder to concentrate
- the thought of work or going into work causing you a great deal of stress or anxiety
Here’s an example of what to look out for from my own personal experience. I use to work in a mountain resort and spa. I worked there for years and enjoyed it, as I worked with amazing people, most of whom I’m still close friends with today. Over time, however, I started to lose interest in everything I was doing while on the clock. I was constantly stressed out, to the point where I would get terrible headaches or stomach-aches just at the thought of going into work. I stepped down from my leadership position to see if that would help, but I still felt the same cynicism and lack of interest. Then I realized, with the help of friends, that I was experiencing burnout.
I quit my job and started doing something new. Even though I wasn’t making as much money, I was a hundred times happier. I’ve started to realize that whenever I start making myself sick with anxiety at the very thought of going into work, or when I reach the point when I cannot say anything nice about my job, I need to be mindful of the symptoms of burnout, and take care of myself. It’s also usually a sign that I need to look for a new job.
The symptoms of burnout are going to be different for everyone. You know yourself better than anyone else, so trust your instincts on this.
How to Combat Burnout Symptoms
The obvious answer to combatting burnout would be to find a new job. However, not everyone has that ability, especially in cities where the job market is terrible.
Here is some advice to help you manage the stress that burnout causes:
- Talk to your supervisor or manager about how you’re feeling. They’re not going to fire you if you tell them that you’re unhappy. Hiring and training new employees costs a lot of money. Perhaps there’s a way you can transition to a role that would be more fun for you, or you can take on some added responsibilities that will make you more interested in what you’re doing.
- Use your resources. Many companies, especially large ones, offer some form of employee counseling or help hotline. Don’t be afraid to utilize these resources! They’re almost always confidential.
- Find a way to truly relax outside of work. One of the reasons burnout happens is that we feel as though our jobs are taking over our whole lives. It can certainly feel that way. To prevent this from happening, make sure that you’re setting aside time for a relaxing activity or something that makes you feel happy. This could be anything, from meditation to hiking to playing your favorite video game. Prioritize fun and relaxation.
Burnout is a very serious problem in our society, and I’m glad that the World Health Organization sees it that way.
Please get help if you’re feeling the symptoms of burnout. You don’t have to feel miserable. None of us deserve that.