in Burnout Tips

Burnout? I don’t Have Time for That!

Businessman overwhelmed by deadlines

Are you able to take time out for yourself in your daily life? Do you find your job meaningful, satisfying and challenging in a good way? Do you like your job and your work environment? Do you have time for self-care and for your loved ones?

No? Then this article is for you. Keep calm, it’s a short one.

Hey! The always-on ‘expectations’ of that digital era are killing us, right? We are so over-scheduled and overcommitted, trying to constantly be productive that we can’t seem to find a way out. There is so much social pressure to be successful, to always achieve, conquer and do more than yesterday; more than the others…Hmm, that sounds familiar, huh?

Let me ask you a few more questions!  Does it feel like it is impossible for you to slow down? Are you pushed beyond your limits, trying even harder and exhausted at the same time?

Ok, keep calm and take a deep breath. You are in the right place. We will help you to find the best strategy to make a change and burn bright, not out. But first things first – let’s see what burnout is all about.

In this article you will find useful information about what burnout really is; how does it happen, what are the warning signs and who are the most affected people.  This will help  increase your awareness so that you can easily recognize the symptoms and take care of yourself and your employees.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is becoming more and more recognizable and more and more visible. Like a spark in a forest, it burns a fire and covers ever larger areas. Burnout costs the US economy $300 trillion a year and is one of the top 4 causes of ongoing work inefficiency and absenteeism (Swinnen & Simon, 1995). At the human level, burnout could lead to mental and/or physical illness and disability (for example Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Gastrointestinal problems, etc.)

Burnout and depression may share some similar symptoms (like fatigue, sleep problems, lack of concentration) but they are actually  two distinct conditions. Depression is more general and could be endogenous and burnout is thought to be caused by chronic stress related to work or other ongoing activities such as caring for a family member or raising a family. Although tiredness and a depressive mood, as well as anxiety, may be part of the warning signs, in the latterstages of burnout they can  become disorders.

According to the WHO (1), “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is what happens when constant stress causes you to become physically and mentally exhausted and in the end – totally empty and disconnected.

The difficulty with burnout is that it develops slowly, often not recognized until  it is severe.

Interestingly The Guardian (British Newspaper) says that:

“Often the only people who don’t recognize burnout are those who are exhibiting all of the symptoms, because highly motivated, driven, high-functioning, ambitious people can have great difficulty believing they are breakable”.

How does this sound? Can you relate?

Yes, But how does it happen?  Let me show you!

To see the most common scenario, let us meet John and take a closer look at the way he went about his work. Let’s see what John was thinking:

  • I want to be successful – I want money/power/promotion and I’m ready to WORK
  • It is not working. I’m tired and frustrated but I will try even harder.
  • I’m overwhelmed. Still saying yes to everything and my list keeps getting longer.
  • I’m not doing a good job. I lose confidence and motivation. I’m experiencing some unpleasant symptoms but I cannot quit. I have to keep going.
  • I feel totally empty and I’m not able to meet my work obligations. I’m burned out.

Ok, that sounds like me. Am I the only one?

Burnout is a condition of our time. According to various researchers, it covers between 10 to 80% of the working population (2). It mainly affects ‘helping professions’ and over-ambitious people working in a corporate environment. Most vulnerable are employees who work in an environment oriented towards continuous profits and achievements, in which the workload  is too intense , with constant deadlines and a need to take responsible decisions. At the same time anyone can experience burnout, regardless of occupation, when they have elevated stress levels, long work hours and become exhausted and feel unappreciated or  not valued. Personal traits as perfectionism and a ‘need to control’ can also contribute to the condition. Surprisingly, and contrary to all that has been said so far, monotony and uniformity can also lead to burnout.

What are the warning signs?

Signals differ, but in general, you can watch carefully for these three types of symptoms (3):

Exhaustion– You may feel prolonged chronic fatigue on a physical, mental and emotional level and/or a sense of dread about work. A common thought process at this point is “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep going like this.” That could eventually lead  to the point where you can’t seem to focus no matter how hard you try. You might notice yourself performing tasks in a non-logical order, becoming forgetful, or getting stuck on simple tasks.

Alienation– If you’re feeling more detached and alienated than usual, you may become irritable, cynical, or frustrated with people. Getting out of bed and going to work becomes a chore, then  worse, it becomes a stressful, anxiety-filled situation that you can’t bring yourself to face. You may find yourself cancelling plans simply because you don’t have the energy . 

Reduced performance– You may worry that you will make a mistake if things don’t get better soon. You may begin doubting the meaning of your work. “What’s the use, my work doesn’t really serve a purpose anyway.” You may experience a lack of motivation and concentration, reduced attention and memory resulting in low efficiency.

What can I do about it?

First of all, it is good to assess your condition through a diagnostic test. You can find one in our mobile app.

Secondly – focus on what depends on you. While  some factors that contribute to feeling burned out are beyond your control, there are steps that you can take to renew yourself and make a change. Here are four steps towards self-care:

Recognise the condition

Watch for symptoms. Keep track of how your level of fatigue varies over the days and whether it depends on specific stressors or is constant. In the same way, consciously pay attention to whether you manage to cover your work obligations (whether you remain focused, motivated, productive) and how connected you feel to the work, colleagues and/or clients. If you notice weak manifestations, be self-reflective in the future. If the symptoms worsen, ignoring them and forcing yourself to walk through them will not help a lot, right? SHARE – Talking to a good listener relieves stress and calms the nervous system. Speaking out aloud in front of someone is the first step to awareness and change. The person you are talking to does not have to be able to solve your problem. Being open to others does not mean being a burden.

Take care of yourself

Take a break.  Use this time to take care of your physical and emotional health. Think about the most important issues that need to be addressed but were never urgent enough. This could be related to your health (for example: do some prophylactic check-ups),  to your habits (try to change some unhealthy habits related to sleep, exercise, diet) or to your needs (think about what is lacking in your everyday life and try to include it e.g. time for some social activity or forgotten hobby)Don’t forget to admit and consciously address any personal or work-related conflict (e.g.In this moment my needs are in conflict with those of the organization. What can I actively do about it?)

Set short-term goals

Start with specific things that correspond to your personality and are pleasant, desirable and easy to achieve. Take one step at a time. You can use SMART as an acronym (4) to help you set goals that are:

  • Specific– target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable– quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable– specify who will do it.
  • Realistic– state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related– specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Do not forget- while hard to go through, burnout can be a catalyst for making the tough decisions that you tend to avoid in your everyday life.  So, when your body and mind are “speaking”, try to listen  and start asking yourself some questions. Give yourself the opportunity to start now with 5-minutes  to self-reflect. Find a comfortable place and have a conversation with yourself. You can find examples below:

Do I feel engaged, dedicated, and committed to my job? Do I feel joy and enthusiasm? Or am I exhausted, distant, clinical, and not involved? Why is that so? Do I need a change?  Is it something in my profession, in my specific occupation, working conditions and environment, or is it  connected to the other aspects of my life and personality? What of this depends on me? What is within my power to change? What can I do to feel better?

You will find yourself at a crossroad and there will be two path options. The first one is called “neglect“ and leads to burnout and the second one is called “taking care of” and if you burn bright, it will make you shine. Which path will you choose?

Portrait of Marina Kuncheva

Marina Kuncheva

Clinical Psychologist

Bibliography references:

  1. WHO
  2. John Elflein. Share of adults affected by high stress U.S. 2012-2017.
  3. Michael P. LeiterChristina Maslach. Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship with Work. John Wiley & Sons, 11.01.2011 г.
  4. Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review70(11): 35–36)
  5. Christina MaslachMichael P. Leiter The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. John Wiley & Sons, 2.07.2008