Burnout – How to Avoid It, and How to Treat It!

What is burnout?

Two good definitions of burnout are:

  • “A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson.
  • “A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” – Herbert J. Freudenberger.

So we can say that burnout is related to feelings of disillusionment combined with complete exhaustion, and it is usually related to work. 

Who’s at risk of burnout?

Symptoms include: feeling negative or critical about work, dreading going to work and counting down the time until you can leave, having low energy and being uninterested at work, feeling tired or drained most of the time, having trouble sleeping, being absent from work frequently, feeling unmotivated, having feelings of emptiness, suffering with physical pain such as backache, headaches or other illnesses, being irritable and getting annoyed by colleagues or clients, feeling that your job is meaningless or pointless or that your work goes unnoticed, blaming others for your mistakes, or feeling that you want to quit or change roles. 

Difference between burnout and stress

Stress is caused by the feeling that things are ‘too much’ for you to handle – and when stressed you usually feel that once you can get everything under control you’ll feel better. Burnout is caused by the feeling that things are ‘not enough’ – you feel exhausted, empty, unmotivated and beyond caring, and you feel that there is no hope for the situation to improve. 

What causes burnout?

Burnout often stems from work, but it can happen to anyone who feels overworked and undervalued. Lack of control over one’s work is a common cause of burnout, along with when your personal values don’t align with those of your company or role. 

How to avoid burnout 

One way is to work with a purpose, rather than just working to pay the bills. Think about the impact and importance of your job. How does what you do help to improve the lives of others? Is there a way you could add more meaning to what you do? If you think you’re in the wrong role or career, develop a strategy to plan for a career that’s better for you. 

Another tip is to analyze your job so you can understand exactly what your role entails. This should help you to prioritize tasks that you need to do, and to cut out or delegate less important things. If you are being given more tasks than you can handle, discuss it with your boss, explaining that excessive work is leading you to burnout. 

A simple thing you can do is to give to others or to help them with something. Giving makes you feel good, so even if it’s something small it can really re-energize you. 

There are lots of other things you can do to alleviate stress, such as regular exercise, spending time in nature, having fun with friends, and getting the right amount of sleep. Read more here: http://comfootzone.co.uk/7-natural-ways-to-relieve-stress/.

How to treat burnout 

Are you already suffering with burnout? Are there things you can do to feel better? Yes! Recovery won’t be quick but it is possible. Firstly you need to identify the cause. Think about any negativity you feel towards your role and why. Once you have identified the cause, you can find ways to manage or eliminate that source of stress or unhappiness. You may find it helpful to keep a journal, and to record in it the times each day you feel stressed and why. 

Secondly, you need to think about your needs, and focus on your health and wellbeing. As mentioned above, that includes exercising and getting enough sleep. It may be necessary to take a break – go away somewhere and unplug from work. 

Take some time to think about your personal goals and values. Think about what gives your work meaning, try to figure out what’s important to you, and if anything is missing from your job or life. Try to incorporate your goals and values into your job. This might mean changing some things, or simply changing the way you look at things. 

Try not to take on anything new while you recover, and try to develop a positive mindset. Try to start each day with positive thoughts, and at the end of the day, try to think of something good that happened that day.