Are You Burned Out?
By Anne Stockdale
I really love my job. It's challenging, always changing (therefore, never boring), and people depend on me. I feel like I am positively contributing to the company I work for, which is why I work 10-hour days, five days a week, and eat lunch at my desk. And I am good at what I do. I work hard, I am open to new projects, and my boss knows she can count on me to deliver. But every now and then, I find myself sitting on the edge of my bed in the morning, with my head in my hands, struggling to find the energy to just get up and get dressed – the thought of going to work and being functional is almost overwhelming. Fortunately, these mornings are rare. And while most of us have experienced an episode like the one I've described, for the majority of us, it never goes beyond being a bit reluctant to go into work, or being a little disengaged when we're there. For some, however, these feelings can escalate into something a lot more serious: burnout.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is not stress. Most of us are under some amount of stress, positive or negative, at any given time. Indeed, positive stress can help a person be more productive and increase motivation. Burnout, on the other hand, is a gradual process whereby chronic stress leads to feelings of negativity and malaise and, ultimately, results in the loss of motivation and interest in work. A person suffering from burnout is likely to be chronically tired, feel physically and mentally run-down, have general aches and pains, have a profound dread of going to work, be mentally absent when at work, and appear to simply not care. And, if that doesn't sound serious enough, the overwhelming feelings of despair and failure a burnout sufferer feels may lead to drug or alcohol abuse, a mental or physical breakdown, or even premature death.
What Causes Burnout and Who is Likely to Develop it?
Although burnout can be exacerbated by occurrences in your personal life, it is usually related to stresses at work, such as:
Everyone is susceptible to burnout, but, in general, those who are the most at risk are those who, interestingly, make the best employees. These individuals don't hesitate to take on additional responsibilities, have high standards and perfectionist tendencies, consistently give more than 100%, and are intensely driven. Not surprisingly, burnout is common among "helping" professionals and professions that involve life or death decisions (e.g., nurses, doctors, and counselors).
How do I Know if I am Suffering From Burnout?
There are many symptoms of burnout and they vary from person to person. But, overall, the symptoms fall into three major categories:
1. Emotional/Psychological Symptoms: These symptoms do not just affect the ability to work, but can carry over into personal relationships.
2. Cognitive Symptoms: These symptoms can lead to increased absenteeism and/or decreased productivity. Healthcare professionals can begin to dehumanize their patients and become aloof and indifferent to their patients' needs.
3. Physical Symptoms
If I am Suffering From Burnout, What can I do?
Although it seems obvious, the first thing to do is admit you're suffering from burnout. The second step is identifying the cause. What, specifically, in your personal or work life is affecting your motivation and enjoyment of work? Is it the environment you're working in? Or is it the work itself? For healthcare professionals, this can be a difficult thing to admit. Regardless of whether you are able to determine the cause, you can take some common sense steps to alleviate your feelings of burnout.
The most important way to resolve burnout is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. If you start feeling overwhelmed with work or if, like me, you have a few mornings when the thought of facing work makes you want to go back to bed, then the steps above should help you avoid burn out. For example, I get past these episodes by leaving work a little early, getting out of the office for a quick break during the day, or requesting a day off. In general, I take time for myself.