Burnout is a term that’s often thrown around casually, but what does it really feel like? It’s more than just being tired or stressed; it’s a complex emotional state that can have serious implications for your mental and physical health.
Burnout can manifest as a sense of emotional exhaustion, where even the smallest tasks feel overwhelming. It’s often accompanied by a feeling of detachment or cynicism towards one’s work or responsibilities, leading to reduced efficacy and productivity. Physically, you may experience symptoms like headaches, digestive issues, or sleep disturbances. Mentally, it can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and a decline in cognitive functions like memory and attention.
The cumulative effect of these symptoms can be debilitating, affecting not just your professional life but also your personal relationships and overall well-being.
Understanding the basics
Burnout is a psychological syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. It’s characterised by three main dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment. According to a 2016 study, burnout can lead to a range of health issues, including depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease.
The emotional toll
When you’re burnt out, you may feel emotionally drained, detached, and increasingly cynical. This emotional exhaustion can make even small tasks seem overwhelming. You may also experience a lack of empathy and find it difficult to connect with others.
Moreover, burnout can lead to a decrease in work performance, affecting not only your professional life but also your personal relationships. A study found that burnout can even alter how you perceive time, making days seem longer and more monotonous.
Burnout doesn’t just affect your emotional well-being; it also has physical repercussions. Symptoms can include headaches, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances. In severe cases, it can lead to more serious health problems like hypertension and heart disease.
Burnout can compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. The physical symptoms often create a vicious cycle, exacerbating the emotional toll and making it even harder to recover. Over time, this can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like excessive drinking or reliance on medication. It’s crucial to recognise these physical symptoms as warning signs and seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Ignoring the physical aspects of burnout can have long-term consequences, potentially leading to chronic conditions that require ongoing medical attention.
If you’re experiencing burnout, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Therapists and counsellors can provide coping strategies tailored to your specific needs. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet can help mitigate the symptoms.
Employers can also play a role in preventing burnout by fostering a supportive work environment and offering resources like mental health days or employee assistance programmes. Peer support groups can be another valuable resource, offering a safe space to share experiences and learn from others who have faced similar challenges. It’s important to remember that recovery from burnout is a process that takes time and effort.
Consistent self-care and professional guidance can help you regain your emotional and physical health, allowing you to return to your responsibilities with renewed energy and focus.
Prevention is better than cure
While treating burnout is essential, prevention is even more critical. Employers should focus on creating a supportive work environment that prioritises employee well-being. This can include flexible work hours, mental health days, and regular check-ins to assess stress levels.
Understanding what burnout feels like is the first step in addressing it. By recognising the signs early on, you can take proactive measures to prevent it from escalating into a more severe issue.
Sophia Evergreen is a certified mental health counsellor specialising in workplace stress and burnout.