How to Cope with Burnout

What is burnout?

Burnout is not considered a medical condition, but it is a “state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” [1]. Though it is usually work-related, burnout can also be associated with parenting, caretaking, or even romantic relationships [2].

Burnout usually occurs when you are feeling extremely overwhelmed and don’t feel able to meet expectations. As a result, you will find yourself losing motivation, productivity, and energy, causing you to feel hopeless and cynical. It can also cause your immunity to drop, making you more prone to illnesses, like the cold or flu [1].

Experts believe an underlying cause of burnout may be depression and that other factors, including personality traits and family life, may also make some people more prone to experiencing burnout than others [3].

Am I experiencing burnout?

All of us have bad days where we may feel overloaded and under-appreciated, but the problem occurs when this starts to become our everyday life. Burnout occurs gradually and symptoms get worse over time. Key signs include [1]:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Getting sick more often
  • Constant headaches or muscle pain
  • Changes in appetite or sleep habits
  • Feelings of failure, self-doubt, or helplessness; feeling trapped
  • Becoming a loner and detaching from those around you
  • A complete loss of motivation
  • Having an increasingly cynical or negative outlook
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Procrastinating
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope

Unlike stress, which is about having too much (too many pressures, keeping up with too many demands that take a toll mentally and physically), burnout is about having too little: feeling completely exhausted beyond the point of caring. While excess stress may feel like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is the feeling you get when you’re all dried up [1].

How do I deal with or avoid burnout?

1. (Re)Build relationships

Instead of feeling alone, reach out to those closest to you to help you cope and get your mind off any stressors. Limit contact with other negative-minded people because it can make you feel worse. Expanding your social network and meeting new colleagues at work can also act as a buffer for job-related burnout [1].

2. Take back control

Since burnout can make you feel powerless, set firm boundaries: learn how to say no, delegate tasks to others, and convey your concerns to your manager so that you can hopefully have a more manageable workload. And as always, don’t bring work home – practice work-life balance so that you can recharge at the end of each day [4].

3. Pay attention to your needs

Make enough time for restful sleep, exercise, and eating nutritious meals [4]. Remember that high-carb foods will lead to moodiness and crashes in energy. Exercise will also boost your mood. While you may turn to smoking or drinking to cope, nicotine and alcohol are actually powerful stimulants that will need to higher levels of anxiety [1].

4. Practice reframing

Relook at things and find value in your work. A change in attitude can help you find a sense of purpose. If you know you may not be able to enjoy your job, then make sure you find meaning and satisfaction in other parts of your life – hobbies, friends, or even voluntary work. Although it’s not something that is possible for everyone, a complete break or vacation can also help, allowing you to recharge and gain a new, fresh perspective [1]!


If the steps above do not work, speaking to a therapist or mental health professional can also help. Acknowledging and addressing the problem is the first step, and a therapist can offer professional guidance by helping you identify causes and explore coping methods that work best for you [4].



References:

1. Smith M, Segal J, Robinson L. Burnout Prevention and Treatment [Internet]. HelpGuide. 2020 [cited 9 September 2021]. Available from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm#
2. Burnout [Internet]. Psychology Today. 2021 [cited 9 September 2021]. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/burnout
3. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2021 [cited 9 September 2021]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
4. Raypole C. Burnout Recovery: 11 Strategies to Help You Reset [Internet]. Healthline. 2020 [cited 9 September 2021]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/burnout-recovery