When does stress become burnout?

If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. Burnout is far more than feeling blue or having a bad day. It is a chronic state of being out of sync with your job, feeling exhausted or emotionally drained and is accompanied by depersonalisation, manifesting as cynicism and negativity, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.  The unhappiness and detachment that burnout causes can threaten your job, your relationships, and your health. But by recognizing the earliest warning signs, you can take steps to prevent burnout.

Emotional symptoms may include

·     Loss of enthusiasm

·     Irritability

·     Resentment

·     Low mood

·     Apathy

·     Feelings of guilt, failure and blame

Behavioural changes may include

·     Work avoidance/ lateness

·     Deterioration in interpersonal conduct

·     Inflexible behaviour

·     Acting out (typically alcohol/ drugs)

Physical symptoms can include

·     Tiredness

·     Sleep disturbance

·     Lowered immunity

·     Headache or muscle pain

In the workplace, burnout is the biggest occupational hazard of the 21stcentury with almost half of employees experiencing anxiety or burnout in their current job. So why are so many people experiencing these difficulties?  There are several factors that can lead to burnout including: your job, your lifestyle, personality traits and thinking styles. For example, if you are working in a job with a heavy workload and little recognition or have a busy lifestyle with little time for self-care or you are a perfectionist, then you are more at risk of developing burnout.

Strategies to prevent burnout

The effects of these stressors can be devastating, however, small changes in the right places can be transformative. In order to put helpful strategies into place it is essential to firstly recognise that you may have burnout.  Take a step back and see yourself objectively.  It may be that you need to care for yourself.

If the cause of burnout is work, then it may help to share your concerns with colleagues which may help you recognise that you are not alone and that there is help available. Talking to your manager to see what changes could be made to make your work-life balance better may also help reduce stress at work.    It might also be helpful to reassess your personal goals.  Burnout can occur when your work is out of sync with your values or when it’s not contributing to long term goals.

There are also things you can do at work to help buffer you from burnout such as developing friendships at work, team coffee breaks, taking a break from screen time including mobile phones, taking a walk and engaging in some quick and simple relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and mindfulness.  These strategies can be extremely powerful in helping reduce stress at work.

Focusing on your health and well-being is also pivotal in reducing symptoms of burnout.  Getting plenty of exercise can help boost your mood, reduce stress and improve your overall health.  Making sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.  These might sound obvious but often busy people ignore their most basic needs, instead caring for others and their responsibilities far more than they take care of themselves.

If you feel that your symptoms are affecting your life significantly and you need help coping, there are many treatments that can help, and talking to one of our professionally trained psychologists can be a good idea.

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