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The vast majority of people need to work in order to support themselves. We all have bills and car payments and retirement to think about, so most of us depend on our salaries to allow us to live our lives. However, once we move into a more demanding position at work, or are forced to work under a boss who is very demanding, we run the risk of burning out. This phenomenon can happen to anyone, and can seriously affect our mental health and quality of life.

If you think you may be suffering from burnout but aren’t sure, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know about burnout, including how to prevent it and what to do if you think you have it.

What is Burnout Anyway?

The term burnout seems to have been coined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberg, in his book “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement.” In it, Freudenberg describes burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” In other words, burnout is the loss of initiative to do one’s best in relation to a particular task or role. 

Notice that in his definition, Freudenberg does not ascribe burnout solely to professional engagement and instead ties it to a general loss of “motivation or incentive”. This indicates that burnout can happen to anyone in any context, with further studies on the concept of burnout bearing this out. For example, both students and athletes at almost every level of competition have been observed to experience burnout.

What Causes Burnout?

One of the major causes of burnout is embedded right in Freudenberg’s definition of it: “especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Stated more simply, personal disappointment and dissatisfaction are usually the cause of burnout in whatever context, but how this disappointment arises can differ from individual to individual. Students who are being pressed to maintain a certain grade point average are at risk for developing burnout, especially when they either fail to reach their grade point goals, or, if successful, are unable to leverage those grades into something more tangibly rewarding, like a lucrative career. 

In a work setting, burnout can arise because an individual may begin to feel like the amount of work required by their post is not commensurate with the benefits and compensation package they get from it. This may not be defined solely in terms of salary, by the way. An employee who receives a lesser salary but maintains good relationships with their coworkers and has a manageable workload is less likely to develop burnout than a highly paid one who has to regularly render overtime in order to prevent work from piling up. 

How to Identify It

While there are no precise clinical symptoms for burnout, there are indicators for it that can be identified with a little self-examination. 

  • Do you dread heading in to work?
  • Do you yearn for the next weekend, holiday, or opportunity to file a leave of absence? 
  • While at work, do you find yourself procrastinating more than usual?
  • Have you missed deadlines or failed to deliver on tasks recently?
  • Are you feeling generally unmotivated to accomplish your tasks? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in the midst of burning out. 

Burnout can even affect us physically. The link of burnout to stress has been well-established, and stress can be measured in the body by the accumulation of stress hormones such as cortisol. Elevated levels of this stress hormone can impact basic functions such as digestion and sleep, so if you seem to have frequent gastric distress or trouble sleeping, you may be experiencing burnout.

What To Do When Burned Out

There are a number of ways you can treat burnout, and the best way to manage it is to prevent it. In the workplace, make sure you use vacation days or leave credits adequately to prevent yourself from overwork. While it may be attractive to convert these into encashable workdays instead, the long-term effects of not taking a break from work could be very damaging to your career. 

You can confer with a mental health specialist about what you’re feeling. Professionals who work at the local mental health clinic or drug rehab Phoenix residents rely on would have techniques for managing stress.

Your supervisor or manager should also be equipped to help you deal with the effects of burnout. Have an honest conversation with them and tell them what you’re experiencing. They may have tactics or tricks they use to keep burnout away, and they may also be empowered to manage your workload so that you can recover.

On the other hand, if you’ve tried raising your concerns to management about your status and they haven’t been receptive (we’ve all been there), then it might be time to seek out new employment.

Burnout is not the end of the world. Be aware of yourself and what you’re feeling, and with some self-care, you’ll be able to successfully nip it in the bud.