Feeling the Burn(out)
Jul 05, 2018 12:00AM
By Kelsey Casselbury
It’s normal to feel stressed out occasionally when work, social, and family responsibilities seem endless. When that stress turns into something more insidious, it can signal burnout—a feeling of being completely drained, lacking interest in anything or anyone. Dr. Herbert Freudenberger coined the term in the 1970s by comparing the condition to a burned-out house: The outer shell is intact, but inside, there’s total destruction.
It’s not a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it can’t be treated with a pill. It does have a significant health effect, though, such as increasing your risk for heart disease. If you’re on the verge of burning out, either personally or professionally, how can you get that spark back?
What is Burnout?
Burnout often affects high-achieving people, but it’s a gradual process. It lasts beyond just a time-consuming project that has you working late into the night or on an imminent deadline and instead occurs when the balance of demands and stressors aren’t equal to rewards, recognition,
and relaxation provided. The symptoms are barely noticeable at first, but continue to increase until they’re a significant problem. (Worried that you’re experiencing burnout? Check out the chart of symptoms).
Overcoming the Condition
So, what can you do if you notice that you’re on the road to burnout, either at work or in your home life? First, you need to talk it out. Open up to a good friend or seek the ear of a licensed counselor. This doesn’t make you weak, nor are you burdening anyone with your problems—they’re not there to fix anything, they’re just there to listen. Investing in your close relationships and seeking out new connections, such as making a friend at the office, can improve burnout symptoms, too.
Additionally, take regular breaks. Get out of the office at lunchtime, even if it’s just
for a 20-minute stroll around the block, and set boundaries when it comes to taking work home with you (Hear that? Turn the email off!) Go on mini-getaways, when you can. Contrary to what you might think, the two-week vacation isn’t a cure for burnout; you’ll be more desperate than
ever when you return. Instead, try to schedule a number of three- and four-day weekends that allow for regular time to decompress and reward yourself.
Finally, find an activity that rejuvenates you. It seems counterintuitive to add more to your schedule, but fitting something in that’s meaningful to you actually can make you feel better on a day-to-day basis. It might mean taking piano lessons, cooking creative dinner every night or fitting in longer runs after work—it’s all about what brings the spark back into your life.
Tell-Tale Signs of Burnout
If you notice any of these symptoms regularly, you might be at risk of physical and emotional burnout.
Chronic fatigue and insomnia. You feel emotionally drained every day, and as tired as you are, you can’t fall or stay asleep.
Forgetfulness and lack of concentration. Your work might start piling up on your desk, and it’s impossible to remember anything if it’s not on a sticky note on your computer monitor.
Chest pain, heart palpitations, and headaches, among other physical symptoms. You might also feel shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or gastrointestinal pain, or experience more illness.
Anxiety, depression, and anger. You could feel tense and irritable, and when it gets serious, experience outbursts. Depression is common; first as a mild sadness, and then later as serious
feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
Pessimism and detachment. The glass is always half-empty (or entirely empty). You start to isolate yourself from friends or coworkers, and you start removing yourself emotionally and physically from responsibilities, such as calling in sick or ignoring emails.
Decreased productivity or poor performance. You might continue to work long hours, but you’re not getting much done. Your boss or coworkers start noticing that you’re slipping.