What is Burnout?
Burnout is the result of prolonged and excessive stress, leading to a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It is a common problem among professionals, particularly those who work in high-pressure environments. Increasingly, burnout is being felt by high school and college students as well. Burnout can impact anyone, from children and teens to older adults. It leaves a person feeling emotionally drained, overwhelmed, and unable to meet their many demands. The stress from burnout can lead to a lack of motivation, reduced productivity, hopelessness, resentment, and even increased alcohol and substance use. If ongoing, it can spiral into various physical and mental health problems.
Burnout is different from too much stress. It is characterized by feeling empty, mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring due to prolonged and unrelenting stress. It can be challenging to notice burnout as it happens slowly.
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Causes of Burnout
Burnout can be caused by overwork and undervaluation in the workplace, but it can also affect anyone who feels overburdened and exhausted, including stay-at-home parents and caregivers. While work and responsibilities contribute to burnout, lifestyle also plays a significant role in causing overwhelming stress. How you spend your leisure time and your outlook on the world can be as impactful as work or home demands. Having certain personality traits can also contribute to burnout. “Type A” personalities, perfectionism, people who need to be in control, a reluctance to delegate, and those with a pessimistic worldview may find themselves experiencing burnout more than their peers who don’t possess these traits. Lifestyle causes that can lead to burnout include:
Working too much without enough time for socializing or relaxing
Lack of close, supportive relationships
Taking on too many responsibilities without enough help from others
Not getting enough sleep
Professional pressure can come from workplace culture. Many workplaces have a culture of overwork and presenteeism, where employees feel compelled to work long hours and respond to emails and other work-related tasks outside of typical working hours. This can lead to a work-life imbalance, which can contribute to burnout. Common workplace factors include:
Little control over schedule or workload
Unchallenging or monotonous work
Unclear expectations from management
Poor work culture
Lack of work-life balance
High engagement with work
Lack of recognition or reward for work
Burnout is a significant issue in the workplace for BIPAL (Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Asian, Latine) and Queer people. One study found that BIPAL people were more likely to experience burnout than their white colleagues. Individuals from underrepresented groups often face additional stressors and challenges in the workplace, such as discrimination, microaggressions, and the burden of representation.
Another factor that can contribute to burnout in marginalized groups is masking. Masking is downplaying or hiding one's cultural, ethnic, or gender identity in the workplace to fit in with the dominant culture. This can be a significant source of stress and contribute to feelings of inauthenticity and exhaustion.
It is essential that workplaces recognize the impact of high-pressure environments on mental health and take steps to support their employees' well-being. This can include providing access to mental health services, promoting work-life balance, and creating a culture that values employee well-being. It also means creating a more inclusive workplace culture, which can effectively reduce the risk of burnout among marginalized employees. By addressing the sources of burnout, we can create healthier and more sustainable working environments for all professionals.
Burnout for Students
Student burnout is a growing concern in today's academic environment. It is a type of burnout that stems from a combination of academic pressures, lack of balance, and constant stress. This pressure can begin from an early age. It can be heavily influenced by expectations from peers, parents and caregivers, and society for students to perform at their best at all times. Academic pressure can significantly impact mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and attempts in severe cases.
Symptoms include physical and emotional exhaustion, a loss of motivation and creativity, and decreased academic performance. Students may experience burnout due to the intense demands of their studies, isolation from their social lives, and a lack of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated burnout among college students due to increased isolation, financial pressures, and uncertainty. Addressing student burnout requires a comprehensive approach that includes academic and home support, self-care, and balancing academic and personal life.
Stigma is associated with negative attitudes, beliefs, and societal stereotypes. People experiencing mental health issues often find themselves on the receiving end of societal stigma. This, in turn, can lead to self-stigma. This is when an individual internalizes society's negative beliefs and begins to judge themselves and their conditions. Self-stigma can cause feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and diminished self-worth.
Self-stigma and burnout can be intertwined. When a person experiences burnout, they may feel like they have failed or cannot handle their job or responsibilities. This can lead to self-stigmatization. Self-stigma can worsen burnout by causing you to avoid seeking help or support because you feel ashamed or believe you should be able to handle everything on your own. This can lead to a cycle of isolation and self-criticism that perpetuates burnout.
It's important to recognize seeking help or support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Individuals can take steps toward regaining a sense of well-being by seeking support.
One of the best ways to address burnout is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. This might seem easier said than done, especially if you are currently struggling. It’s important to learn the warning signs and take action immediately. Failing to stop burnout once you’re over your head can cause further emotional and physical damage to your body. To cope, try The “Three R” approach:
Recognize the signs of burnout
Reverse the damage by seeking support and managing stress
Build Resilience by taking care of your physical and emotional health
You can also try these tips to help mitigate burnout and break free from the pressures in your life:
Tip #1: Turn to others
It can be hard to take action and care for yourself when feeling burnout. However, you can take positive steps to deal with stress, including reaching out to others. Social contact is an effective stress reliever, and confiding in someone can help bring calm. Connecting with friends and loved ones, being social with coworkers, limiting contact with negative people, joining a group or cause, and helping others can all broaden your social circle and reduce stress.
Tip #2: Reframe your relationship with work
To combat job burnout, it's best to find a job you love, but if that's not possible, try to find value and balance in your current position. Make friends at work and take time off if needed. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy. Additionally, if you constantly feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of your job, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide you with strategies and tools to help you manage stress.
Tip #3: Re-evaluate your priorities
If you’re already feeling the effects of burnout, it may be time to reflect on what is truly important to you and set boundaries by learning to say "no" to requests on your time. Disconnect from technology daily, nourish your creative side, and set aside time to relax so that you can unwind from the pressure. Getting enough sleep is also important. Making time for self-care can be the difference between burnout and balance.
Tip #4: Incorporate more exercise
Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout. Aim for 30 minutes of daily exercise or break it into shorter bursts. Rhythmic exercise can lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax the mind and body. Focus on your body sensations during exercise for maximum stress relief. If vigorous exercise is unavailable, start with something manageable like walking outdoors or 10 minutes of stretching at home.
Tip #5: Maintain a healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy diet can help enhance your mood and energy levels. Minimize your sugar and refined carbs intake, which can lead to mood crashes. Reducing caffeine can also help, especially if you refrain from drinking closer to bedtime, to improve sleep. Keep a food journal to see how different foods affect your mood, and avoid eating these food items to minimize stress. Cut back on drinking alcohol and consider quitting smoking. Both habits can contribute significantly to increased anxiety and leave you with elevated burnout effects.