We’ve all been there – feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and lacking purpose. This phenomenon is often referred to as burnout, which is a form of exhaustion characterized by excessive and prolonged stress. While burnout is often associated with one’s workplace and related job stress, it can occur in any environment such as within the family system or in others social roles where demands are present. Regardless of the type, cause, or symptoms of you burnout, there are ways to not only prevent burnout but also treat it once it has begun.
There are three primary types of burnout, each caused by different scenarios and factors. Overload is a common form of burnout in which people work harder to achieve success, often neglecting other areas of life in the process. This might look like someone consistently working late hours and skipping family dinner time or other hobbies and pursuits they enjoy. Ultimately, this is unsustainable, and these individuals will no longer be able to perform at that level -especially when other self-care practices and support systems are suffering as a result.The opposite of overload burnout might be under challenged burnout in which people are bored, unfulfilled, and unstimulated in their current roles, so they lack motivation and drive. This is often due to no opportunity for learning new skills, growth, or fostering meaningful connections.Lastly, neglect burnout stems from environments lacking structure, direction, or guidance which often results in people feeling under appreciated and unsupported. This can lead to learned helplessness where individuals are not confident in their abilities, so they exhibit passivity in the face of challenges and may even stop trying altogether.
Symptoms of burnout can manifest in a variety of ways. Some symptoms are behavioral such as procrastinating, low productivity, and having an inconsistent sleep schedule. Other symptoms are physical such as headaches, low immunity, and exhaustion. Overall, many individuals report experiencing depression symptoms, overwhelm, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, and not feeling useful.
Stages of burnout include the honeymoon phase, onset of stress, chronic stress, burnout, and finally habitual burnout. The honeymoon phase, much like in romantic relationships, is about starting something new with excitement, optimism, and boundless energy. When someone starts a new job, they may expect challenges to arise and may feel not only motivated to confront them but also satisfied once they complete their assigned task having learned something new. Overtime, however, stress may start to take over as the excitement of new challenges wears off and fatigue sets in. Stress becomes chronic when it is persistent and the pressure affects you more consistently in everyday tasks. It may even seep into other areas of life such as sleep, relationships, and overall emotional wellbeing. Once stress has become chronic, it begins to lead to burnout where one has passed the threshold of what they are able to tolerate in order to function. This can take a toll not only physically and behaviorally but also on one’s sense of self-worth. If burnout is not treated at this phase, it can lead to developing anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. These symptoms can be so detrimental that it prevents one from being able to complete the tasks expected of them in their role at all.
Burnout Prevention and Treatment
While it is best to prevent burnout before it happens through dedicated self-care and community care, treatment is still possible even in the habitual burnout stage. Having a strong support system is vital to ensuring you stay connected and are able to practice healthy boundaries at work, in relationships, and in any other area of life. Boundary-setting involves identifying and communicating your limits, needs, and values so you don’t end up taking on too much or feeling obligated to engage in ways you are not able to or negatively impact your wellbeing. Emotion regulation skills are also important for self-soothing, grounding, and cultivating an effective self-care practice in order to de-stress and create separation between stressors and rest and joy.Create a habit of reframing negative self-talk into more neutral, reality-based cognitions or even positive affirmations to build a strong sense of self. If you are struggling with digging your way out of burnout and implementing these strategies in your life, consider contacting a mental health professional for additional support, guidance, and resources.