What does burnout resemble?
It is increasingly common to hear the word burnout among friends or colleagues. We have heard expressions such as “I’m about to have a break down”; “Today I feel burned out!”; “I quit my job because I was burned out”, among others, and we have wondered what people are trying to express or mean behind the word “burnout”.
The term “burnout” is understood as a consequence of chronic stress and is often related to disappointment, exhaustion, fatigue, over-stress, lack of passion, feeling in the wrong place, a type of suffering that can easily lead to impulsive decisions, complaining or a constant negative attitude.
Professionals on burnout
In reference to the meaning of the word “burnout”, we can find quotes from famous people such as the Dalai Lama, who says: “When dealing with those who are suffering a lot, if you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is better, for everyone’s sake, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”
Another interesting quote found is from Marissa Mayer, who was very influential in the development of Google, she mentioned, “I have a theory that burnout has to do with resentment. And you overcome it by knowing what it is that you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”
Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time commented, “Burnout occurs, not because we are trying to solve problems, but because we have been trying to solve that problem over and over again.”
It is easy for everyone to construct a definition of burnout based on his or her own experience. However, psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, who was one of the first to develop a comprehensive study of “burnout”, defined it as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by professional life, a consequence of severe stress.”
How do we know if we have burnout?
How can we know if we suffer from burnout? Burnouts manifest in different manners and there are different signs that allow us to identify them. Behavioral signs can include poor sleep, apathy, feeling isolated, and being overly reactive. Emotional signs may be constant anxiety, fear, sadness, and irritability or anger; difficulty concentrating, and over-analysis or rumination of events can exhibit Cognitive signs; and Physical signs can manifest in pain, chronic health conditions, and fatigue. Early signs of burnout are over-ambition, striving for more work, and neglect of self-care and personal needs.
All of this can lead to increased mental distance, feelings of negativism or cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy in one’s job.
What causes burnout?
There is no single “cause”, but burnout usually results from a slow accumulation of chronic, unmanageable stress. Chronic stress is the accumulation of micro-stressors, some examples are traffic jams during the commute to work, arguments with a partner, implicit bias and discrimination, unrealistic deadlines, negative comments from the boss, social media, TV news, overflowing email inbox, back-to-back Zoom meetings, insensitive comments, difficult conversations, chronic back pain, unexpected bills to pay, and many others.
Stress can be ambiguous and its meaning or what it represents may be different for each person, but stress can be defined as a “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension,” or “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilize.”
In our daily lives, we must deal with stressful and demanding situations. That is why, instead of trying to avoid stress, we must learn to find its triggers in order to better adapt and respond to stressful situations in a more proactive way.
Employers must take equal responsibility for the well-being of their employees and must address stress in the workplace. They must create an environment that reduces stress and provide their employees with tools to learn how to engage in healthier behaviors at work.
According to Harvard Business Review, there are 6 causes of burnout, or areas where you might experience imbalances such as workload (feeling overloaded), lack of control (lack of autonomy, access to resources), rewards (whether they match your amount of effort), community (how supportive the relationships around you are), fairness (receiving fair treatment), and values (similar to your leaders).
What is resilience?
We all have different coping mechanisms to deal with difficult situations or times when we have experienced burnout. As we learn more about ourselves and become more aware of how our minds and bodies respond, the positive choices we make will contribute to us developing resilience to stressful situations.
Today, we hear the word “resilience” more often. Sometimes we do not know what it stands for until we experience it. We also wonder what it means and where it applies. The impact of stress compromises health problems such as fatigue, appetite change (overeating/not eating), depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalances, insomnia, and high blood pressure, as well as other related health problems. When there is a problem, unfortunately, that is the time when we start looking for different health and wellness solutions. The acceptance of wanting to have a healthy lifestyle and live better makes us resilient and is a key factor to start thinking about self-care to improve our health and wellness.
The term “resilience” is bouncing back from stressful situations. Ideally, work towards the state of not having to “recover” from a continuous cycle of burnout. This will help to develop sustainable and proactive healthy habits. Small, specific actions add up to big results.
How can I create resilience?
Shifting our perspective to focus on what we CAN control – our mindset – can be helpful when things seem overwhelming. Practicing positive self-awareness has been shown to improve resilience. We can make small daily investments in our wellness bank, such as eating a healthy meal, prioritizing sleep, not checking work on the weekends, playing games, or meeting up with a good friend.
Focus on progress, not perfection, and give others and ourselves self-compassion along the way. If we try our best daily and start with small actions, these small investments can translate into big results. Finally, seeking support from others can be highly effective in facilitating sustainable behavior change to maintain healthy habits. These can be friends, family, co-workers, a health coach, or mental health professionals. You must realize that taking a step back, being aware of your limits is also an act of courage.
Mental Health America. (2021). 2021 Mind The Workplace Report. Alexandria, VA. Lucangeli, D. SOS Joy Wanted. Psychiatria Danubina, 2021; Vol. 33, Suppl. 11, pp 42-43.
Beth Romanski is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach founder of MyHealthyTransitions Health Coaching and Co-Host of the Wellness Warriors Radio podcast and Diplomate of the American Institute of Stress. She is an adjunct faculty member at Maryland University of Integrative Health, a leading academic institution solely dedicated to integrative health programs.
Beth understands first-hand the stress of work/life expectations and believes there’s no one-size-fits all when it comes to health. She takes an educational and empowering approach to facilitate positive habits that support holistic wellbeing and sustainable results. She believes the mindset that “being healthy doesn’t have to be hard.”