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Recognize the Signs of Burnout Before it’s Too Late

Recognize the Signs of Burnout Before it's Too Late

It seems that burnout has become somewhat of a buzzword, especially among Millennials. The dreaded global economic crisis of 2007-2008 has left people worried about losing their jobs, which has resulted in their willingness to go the extra mile. A lot of employees have agreed to work more and took a pay cut out of fear of unemployment.

Today’s workforce is highly competitive, which means that people push themselves beyond their limits, which in turn gradually leads to stress, anxiety, and burnout. Sometimes it’s hard to identify this condition, mainly because overachievers and high performers who are usually affected by it tend to work until they drop and usually shrug the first symptoms off, and carry on with the same routine until it’s too late.

What is burnout?

Contrary to popular belief, burnout can’t be reduced to the feelings of stress and exhaustion from work. It’s a much more complex and deceptive condition that leads to a complete mental and physical breakdown. People who suffer from burnout are exhausted, they lose interest in doing things that they used to enjoy, and there’s an ostensible decline in their work performance and productivity.

Apart from that, they start harboring doubts about their own competence and they become snappy and irritable, usually taking it all out on their friends and family. Burnout is the result of long-term pressure and stress, accompanied by emotional fatigue. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and drained, and if your perspective on things has become gloomy, chances are you’re headed for burnout. It’s not just a temporary feeling that will go away after you have a good night’s sleep or a long weekend.

Unfortunately, burnout causes some serious health issues, and it requires persistent, long-term treatment. A recent study has established a link between burnout and coronary heart disease, as it helps the build-up of plaque in coronary arteries, which in turn dramatically increases the risk of angina pectoris and heart attack. However, it’s not only your health that will collapse under the strain, as your personal and professional life will also suffer to a great extent. Being in the company of an irritable, frustrated, irrational, and confrontational person isn’t a walk in the park, so no wonder that relationships ultimately disintegrate under the burden of burnout.

How to spot the first symptoms of burnout?

The main problem lies in the fact that hard-working people and overachievers usually think that they are omnipotent, meaning that there’s no “I can’t” in their vocabulary. While this reflects an impressive work ethic and dedication, it’s also the reason why they fall victim to burnout without being aware of it. The symptoms of burnout can be physical, emotional, and behavioral.

  1. Physical symptoms can be mistaken for a number of various conditions, and they include frequent headaches, a weakened immune system, feeling completely exhausted and drained, and any change in appetite and sleep habits. The early stages of burnout are characterized by a lack of energy, so people are usually tired all the time. As the condition worsens, you may find yourself unable to get out of bed and perform even the most basic tasks. Insomnia is another frequent issue, and no matter how tired you are, you just can’t fall asleep. Diabetes type 2, high cholesterol, and stroke are also consequences of severe burnout.   
  2. Emotional symptoms include cynicism, a lack of positive emotions, a sense of failure, helplessness and detachment, as well as constant dissatisfaction. If you wake up in the morning feeling anxious about the day ahead of you, it is a surefire sign that you’re suffering from burnout. You might notice that you’re haunted by a constant feeling of incompetence, and although all people experience such fears from time to time, this is different, as you are under the impression that everything you do is wrong all the time. Pessimism is one of the most characteristic symptoms of burnout, as it slowly devours your common sense and turns you into a bundle of nerves which anticipates only worst-case scenarios.
  3. Behavioral symptoms include: isolating yourself from other people, drug and alcohol abuse, resorting to food, avoiding responsibilities, and skipping work. Once an eager beaver, a person with burnout becomes a slacker who uses every possible excuse not to come to work. When it comes to food, burnout ultimately leads to a loss of appetite, and subsequently, weight. As it’s almost impossible for them to cope with their demands and responsibilities, people afflicted with burnout usually turn to drugs and alcohol to help them get through the day.

It’s important to emphasize that burnout is not the same thing as stress, and although related, these two conditions have different, usually opposing symptoms. While stress will make you over-engaged, burnout leads to disengagement. Stress causes anxiety, while burnout causes depression and detachment. If you’re stressed, your emotions tend to be overreacted, while burnout makes you feel totally emotionally numb.

How to treat it?

The thing is that people suffering from burnout want to be in control of every aspect of their life and work, which is impossible. Their perfectionism turns them into workaholics, and if their hard work fails to be recognized and rewarded, they became disillusioned. The first thing that you should do if you notice that you’re on the path to burnout, is to reach out to your friends and family. Contact with other people is highly beneficial, as it gets you back on solid ground. Talking to someone close can relieve the symptoms, even though it can’t remove stressors, but it’s important for you to be heard and to tell someone what’s bothering you.

A change of lifestyle is a must, so introduce a workout regimen, and start eating healthy foods, and cut down on sugar and carbs. Still, it’s essential that you seek professional help, as burnout isn’t something that you should leave untreated. A team of experienced Sydney psychologists can help you deal with this serious condition and overcome all the challenges along the way. Some people are still reluctant to start therapy, afraid of social stigmatization. Luckily, those dark times are behind us, so don’t hesitate to do what’s best for your health. Remember that neglected burnout can have some serious consequences on your health and overall well-being.    

If you notice any of the symptoms of burnout, give yourself a break and make an appointment with your physician to rule out some other medical issues. Burnout can be successfully treated and you can have a happy and fulfilled life once again.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.