Burnout: Symptoms and Ways to Cope

(Last Updated On: September 25, 2022)

Burnout is a problem that involves a loss of energy, feeling distant from goals, and a sense of cynicism about work or other tasks. This feeling often emerges when people are faced with a great deal of stress, particularly when the stress is ongoing and the individual lacks the resources to cope.

Research suggests that burnout is often a problem for people who work in people-oriented professions, including healthcare, education, and human services. However, people in any profession can experience burnout.

In order to cope with feelings of burnout, it is important to understand the symptoms so you can recognize that it is happening. It’s also essential to know what factors tend to cause burnout so that you can find ways to modify some of the common risk factors. If you suspect you might have burnout, there are strategies you can try that may help.

Table of Contents

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a psychological phenomenon that occurs in response to prolonged, chronic job stress. Job burnout has three key characteristics:

  • It causes overwhelming exhaustion
  • It leads to feelings of detachment and cynicism
  • It makes people feel unaccomplished and ineffective in their work

Common Symptoms of Burnout

There are several symptoms of burnout, including:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion: Feeling physically and emotionally drained from work or other activities.
  • Cynicism, apathy, and detachment: Feeling negative or hopeless about your work or goals. You may also feel like you’re just going through the motions without any real investment in what you’re doing.
  • Ineffectiveness and lack of productivity: Feeling like you’re not getting anything done, or that your efforts are not making a difference.
  • Physical symptoms: Burnout can also manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach problems, and trouble sleeping.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Feeling like your mind is foggy or that you can’t focus on anything.
  • Sleep difficulties: Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Depression: Feeling depressed, hopeless, or helpless.
  • Anxiety: Feeling anxious, on edge, or stressed out.
  • Changes in eating habits: Overeating or undereating. You may also find yourself skipping meals or turning to unhealthy foods as a way of coping.
  • Lack of motivation: Feeling like you don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything.
  • Procrastination: Putting off tasks or avoidance behaviors.
  • Isolation: Pulling away from family and friends.

When people are experiencing burnout, they may find it difficult to perform at their usual level and may make more mistakes than usual. They may also have a decreased ability to cope with stressors and may withdraw from social activities.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to take steps to address the problem.

What Causes Burnout?

While burnout is often associated with stressful types of jobs, not everyone who works in a high-stress job experiences it. And people who work in less stressful fields can also develop symptoms of burnout.

Factors that can contribute to the onset of burnout include:

  • Work-related stress: Work-related stressors include a demanding job, unrealistic job expectations, poor communication, poorly defined roles, and a lack of control over one’s work.
  • Personal stressors: Personal stressors include family problems, financial difficulties, and health problems.
  • Lack of social support: A lack of social support can also contribute to burnout, as people who feel isolated and alone are more likely to experience burnout.

In many cases, it is often a combination of factors that contribute to the onset of burnout. You might feel overly stressed by the demands of your job while at the same time struggling with personal challenges. Feeling like you have no one to talk to or share these burdens with can lead to the feelings of overwhelming exhaustion and hopelessness that characterize burnout.

How Do You Cope With Burnout

If you think you are heading toward burnout or are already there, it is important to recognize that there are steps that you can take to feel better. Burnout can be frustrating, but it isn’t a permanent state of mind. There are several ways to cope with burnout:

  • Take breaks: It is important to take breaks from work and other activities that are causing stress. Taking breaks can help to reduce the amount of stress one is feeling and can give them time to relax and rejuvenate.
  • Go on vacation: If you are able to, an extended break from work-related stress can often help combat feelings of burnout. Being able to step away can help you clear your head, renew your focus and come back with a renewed sense of motivation.
  • Care for yourself: It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as this can help to reduce the symptoms of burnout. Make sure that you are supporting your own well-being by getting enough sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet.
  • Finding support: It is important to seek social support, as this can help to reduce the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Co-workers can be a source of support, but it is often a good idea to seek connections outside of work. This will allow you to fully focus on things that are completely separate from your job.

Summary:

Burnout is a problem that can occur when people are faced with a great deal of stress. The symptoms of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression, and lack of motivation. There are several factors that can contribute to burnout, including work-related stressors, personal stressors, and lack of social support. There are several ways to cope with burnout, including taking breaks, going on vacation, caring for yourself, and finding support.

Sources:

Demerouti E. Strategies used by individuals to prevent burnout. Eur J Clin Invest. 2015;45(10):1106-12. doi:10.1111/eci.12494

Gallup. Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes.

Maslach C, Leiter MP. Understanding the burnout experience: Recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry. 2016;15(2):103–111. doi:10.1002/wps.20311