What is burnout? I have a story to share, and I promise there is a point to it.
Once upon a time, I started working full-time at my very first job after graduating from college. During my first few weeks, I recall feeling nervous and scared, yet excited for the opportunity and starting a new chapter in my life. After a few months went by, my confidence grew, and I was feeling more at home in my role. I loved being around like-minded individuals who had just as much passion for their work as I did. I took advantage of the creativity and freedom the job provided, and I was feeling like I was a part of something I truly cared about.
Fast forward to a year later, and my attitude had shifted. I went from feeling inspired to dreading each day of work. I felt chronically sad, anxious, and overwhelmed with every task. I remember very vividly trying to avoid my colleagues so that I didn’t have to make conversation or be asked to take on another project. Many moments had I become emotional on my drives home, and I eventually fell into a gray numbness all the time. I wasn’t feeling like myself. At some point, I remember noticing my shift in mood and feeling so confused as to why I had changed.
A Presentation Was Enlightening
Soon after, my organization had a speaker come in to talk about work fatigue and burnout. It was then that it all set in…. I had become so burnt out from my work that it was significantly impacting my mental health. At first, I was nervous to admit to my colleagues that I felt this way, but I am glad I eventually spoke up about my experience. Over some time, and with new awareness, I was able to seek support to work on the feelings I was having. I was able to feel more confident in finding my needs and expressing them as well as actually holding myself accountable to do the proper self-care that I needed.
The reason for me sharing this experience is because burnout was something that I had never heard of before– or if I did, I had no idea what it actually meant. I was never informed on how intense burnout could feel or how to prevent it. Through my time as a professional, I am finding that this feeling of burnout is way more common than I originally thought. I want to be transparent about my experience so others can feel some comfort if they are experiencing something similar. Burnout does not have to last forever. We are human beings, and we are complex, so it makes sense why burnout is something we experience from time to time. However, there are ways we can try to help ourselves out of burnout by exploring what it looks like, how burnout develops, and what we can do to prevent it or help it when it comes.
Let’s look at some information. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been appropriately managed. Anyone can experience burnout, but it is most commonly experienced in full-time adult employees. However, people also can experience these feelings as a student, a volunteer, a parent, or even from experiencing stressful life events (global pandemics included). In a study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees, 2/3 of full-time workers have experienced burnout on the job. That is a pretty significant amount of people, which makes it clear that this matter deserves much more attention!
Let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of burnout.
- Reduced performance
- Productivity and performance anxiety
- Low mood or sadness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of creativity
- Negative attitudes towards one’s coworkers, peers, family members, job, school, etc.
- Low commitment to the role
- Loss of purpose
- Quickness to anger, frustration, or irritability
- Emotional numbness
- Easily overwhelmed
- Generalized aches
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Difficulty sleeping and/or a disrupted sleep cycle
- Increased susceptibility to colds and flu
- Muscle tension
So, what creates burnout?
Well, the answer is different for everyone, but here are some common themes:
- Feeling overloaded. It is important to keep in mind that everyone has a different workload threshold. The key is one’s own perception on their workload and how that is impacting their levels of stress.
- Lack of control or autonomy with your schedule or tasks at work.
- Not feeling valued or appreciated. This can also occur when there is no benefit or gratitude for one’s efforts.
- Being treated unfairly.
- Lack of community or support.
- Conflicting values.
What can help burnout or prevent it?
- Understand your own needs, and respect them. Everyone’s needs are unique, and it is important to listen and honor them. They are important and there for a reason.
- Discuss expectations, and set healthy boundaries. Advocate for yourself, and voice your needs. Make sure your needs are being heard and respected by others.
- Refill your cup. Take your breaks. Find what self-care activities let you relax and recharge. Some examples include: going for a walk, watching a favorite movie, playing with animals, talking with friends, and cooking a favorite dish. Don’t underestimate the power of taking care of your survival needs like eating, sleeping, and drinking enough!
- Expand your support systems, and utilize them. Confide in your family and friends. Increase your relationships with colleagues, and reciprocate support within the workplace community.
- Reassess your values, and make sure they match your employer’s and the company’s mission.
- Seek professional help. Talk to your human resources representative. Start therapy, or reach out to your current therapist.
Experiencing burnout can make life feel so much more stressful. You’re not alone going through that experience, and there is hope that things can get better. In order to help these feelings, it is important to be proactive and become more aware of our own needs and triggers for burnout. Regularly utilizing means of support can make a significant impact in your healing. Burnout is hard, and it is okay to ask for help. Your mental health matters!
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.