It's official: burnout is an epidemic. Learn about the signs, symptoms, and solutions.

In our world, exhaustion has become a status symbol. Millions of people experiencing on a daily basis profound shame around “scarcity” and “earning the right to play & rest”. These people are us, our family, friends and colleagues; simply put, burnout is a real, concrete threat to millions. The World Health Organization defines burnout in lyrical terms: “a state of vital exhaustion” in their International Classification of Disease (ICD) handbook. Burnout, the handbook continues, is characterized “not a single event but a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental and physical health.”

Burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.
— Mayo Clinic

Sound familiar?

It might, as a recent survey found that more than 50% of U.S. workers describe experiencing unusually high levels of stress. A similar study across the pond showed that “526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016-2017, and that 12.5 million working days were lost as a result over that period.”

Experts also suggest that entire companies and teams are susceptible to burnout, stress that over-rides sharing and shared values, often leaving individuals trapped in the blame game.

“Blame is indicative of the problem in the first place: there can be an atmosphere and a system which is supportive of collaboration, sharing out the stress of the team and creating a sense of shared purpose and healthy interaction – or there can be one that leads to blame and people reaching a point where they can’t carry on.”
— Robyn Vesey, Guardian interview, May 2018.

But, everyone has stressful days at work, right? So, how do you know if you are suffering from burnout?

Let’s dig into this a little deeper. There are risk factors that might lead a person to be more susceptible to burnout, such as: high workload without adequate personal time, feel that you have little or no control over your work, and your work doesn’t end when you get home; for example: working multiple overtime shifts, all hours work and being on-call for several days in a row. Those in helping professions such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, client-facing workers are especially prone to burnout.

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Possible Causes of Burnout

How many of these do you identify with your current job?

Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.

Unclear job expectations. If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.

Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.

Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.

Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

While burnout isn’t a bone fide medical diagnosis (yet), it does lead to some pretty scary consequences including:

  • Excessive stress

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Sadness, anger or irritability

  • Alcohol or substance misuse

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Vulnerability to illnesses

What signs should you look for?

Everyone experiences stress and work-related burnout differently, but here are some typical ways it shows up in people:

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  • Reduced efficiency and energy

  • Lowered levels of motivation

  • Increased errors

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Irritability

  • Increased frustration

  • Suspiciousness

  • More time spent working with less being accomplished

What can you do if you think you’re experiencing burnout?

Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope. If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services. Pro tip: Coaching can help you work through challenging situations and overcome mental barriers to improve all aspects of your life, including work!

Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait.

Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.

Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress thanks to lovely chemicals called endorphins. It can also take your mind off work. Who hasn’t felt better after spending some time on the treadmill, in the pool, or walking on their favorite trail?

Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.

Bottom Line: You only get one life and one body.

It’s normal to feel like your job is overwhelming and taking over your life. Remember: you always have a choice.

Ask yourself: What will it cost me to ignore this burnout issue? What price – in emotional, physical, and mental health - am I willing to pay to stay in this job? What are my options?

The world needs that special gift that only you have. The world needs you, in full health and strong mind. We need you, all of you.

Or, in the words of Steven Pressfield, you’re “…a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Gives us what you’ve got.”

So keep on, keeping on, and make taking care of yourself a priority. We’re all cheering for you!

Additional Resources

Individual Interventions for Burnout, American Psychiatric Association

Burnout Response, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health

Burnout Patient Information, Mayo Clinic