Let’s Talk… Burnout

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged periods of stress. It often involves feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of your job. The negative impacts of burnout can spill over into other areas of your life, including your relationships, physical health, and overall wellbeing.

The experience of burnout is commonly associated with stressful or high-pressure environments. For example, it can occur in healthcare, corporate, or caregiving roles. Burnout is typically caused by a combination of factors, such as:

  • Heavy workload – working long hours or having an unmanageable amount of work can contribute to feeling overwhelmed.
  • Unclear role expectations – ambiguous or frequently changing responsibilities can be confusing, and make it difficult to understand what’s expected of you.
  • Workplace stressors – this can include things specific to your job, such as tight deadlines, difficult clients, or poor relationships with coworkers, all of which contribute to stress.
  • Lack of autonomy – having little control over your work, the decisions that affect you, or the way that you do your job can be both frustrating and disempowering.
  • Poor work-life balance – allowing your work demands to intrude on your personal life, such as your ability to spend time with family or friends, can leave you feeling stressed and exhausted.
  • Lack of social support – having limited support from your coworkers, supervisors, or friends and family can contribute to feelings of isolation and burnout.

How do you know if you’re burnt out?

It’s normal to have days where you feel tired and overwhelmed. Sometimes, just getting out of bed can require a bit of determination. However, if you notice yourself feeling like this all the time, it could be a sign of burnout.

Burnout is a gradual process that often creeps up on you. Common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Sadness, anger, or irritability.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach problems.
  • Changes in sleep or appetite.
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks.
  • Loss of passion or motivation.
  • Frequently getting sick.
  • Sense of disillusionment or hopelessness.
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
  • Reduced satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
  • Withdrawing from relationships.
  • Using food, alcohol, or drugs to cope.

What’s the difference between stress and burnout?

Stress and burnout are closely related, but not the same thing. Stress is a common and often adaptive response to challenging situations. When you experience stress, you have more pressures than you can cope with, but generally feel better once you have things under control. Burnout is like the mean, older brother of stress – once it takes hold, you feel empty, exhausted, and beyond caring. Eventually, you may feel as though you have nothing left to give. And while you can usually tell when you’re under a lot of stress, you may not notice when burnout happens. Therefore, it’s important to be able to recognise and manage stress before it progresses into burnout.

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