What is Burnout? How to Spot and Treat It

Woman Experiencing Burnout

What is Burnout? How to Spot and Treat It

People’s work environments have become more demanding than ever. Managing your work-life balance can easily take a toll on your mental health as more people are becoming exhausted from the high demands of today’s society. Some people experience prolonged periods of exhaustion known as burnout. Burnout has been a term used since the 1970s to describe feelings of severe stress, and today it’s known as a real syndrome with symptoms, causes, and treatments, affecting countless people worldwide.

What Is Burnout?

Since its introduction in the 1970s, the idea of burnout has been studied by independent psychologists to describe a condition of high-stress individuals having to adapt to constantly demanding work environments. In 2019, the World Health Organization labeled the term burnout as a syndrome that stems from these workplace environments. Although not classified as a medical diagnosis, burnout is typically caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Because of this, burnout can affect your physical, emotional, and mental states.

Burnout can easily be confused with stress due to their similar symptoms but are, in fact, two completely different sensations. Stress is related to high-energy scenarios, such as having too much on one’s plate or too many hours spent working, but burnout it’s known to be the opposite. Burnout is not having enough energy, motivation, and care to do the tasks at hand. It’s often related to poor self-esteem and unrealistic expectations and typically revolves around a negative mindset toward the workplace in general. One key note to take in is that burnout can also appear similar to depression. Depression is a condition that impacts every aspect of life, while burnout is often associated with work, even while it can produce depression-related symptoms.

The Symptoms and Treatments For Burnout

Burnout appears in multiple stages – as stress continues to build over time in the workplace, there are symptoms associated with this syndrome that typically develop over time. These symptoms include:

  • Physical Fatigue: Fatigue can easily set in and increase over time, making it more difficult to enjoy hobbies, sleep, and can make you be less active.
  • Apathy/Dissatisfaction: Mentally, burnout can create a feeling of apathy in relation to work, causing overall dissatisfaction with your career and work output.
  • Tension Headaches: Another common side effect, tension headaches, can arise from increased levels of stress.
  • Changes in Diet/Sleep Patterns: Most often seen with people who have burnout, diet, and sleep changes can occur more frequently, including eating more frequently, sleeping at different times of the day, or avoiding a healthy diet.
  • Self-Doubt/Withdrawal: Because of chronic fatigue stress, high demands from workplaces can also develop feelings of self-doubt, causing emotional withdrawal from activities and engagements with other activities.

Recognizing you have burnout is the first step toward finding treatment. Seeing a therapist is considered a great first step towards tackling burnout and getting you back on track. By learning from your therapist, you can take steps to care for your physical and mental health through regular check-ins, small breaks, and practicing mindfulness to combat burnout for good.

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April is the founder of Prestige Mental Health and is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC) who is qualified to practice primary care and psychiatry. She is passionate about providing quality, compassionate, and comprehensive mental health services to children, adolescents, and adults. April specializes in psychiatric illnesses including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD/trauma, bipolar, and schizophrenia.