Every once in a while, it is completely normal to feel exhausted after a long day at work. We are no superheroes, after all, and it’s impossible for us to operate 24/7. Feeling exhausted is our body’s way of communicating to us that we could use some rest or sleep.
How do you know when it gets too much?
The American Psychological Association defines burnout as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.” Chronic workplace stress may eventually lead to job burnout if not successfully managed, according to the World Health Organization. What ultimately separates burnout from typical exhaustion is the accumulation of the long-term negative effects of work-related stress.
In 2019, the World Health Organization found that more than 60% of board-level executives reported high levels of anxiety and stress on a regular basis. In a 2021 study, 26% of U.S. employees have asked for help with mental health challenges, including burnout. Healthcare workers, in particular, are at a higher risk for burnout. One in three physicians experiences burnout at any given time. Jobs with a high amount of stressors, like teaching and counseling, are prone to burnout.
With all of this alarming and overwhelming data, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many people want to know how to overcome burnout. Before we get into that, let’s find out the different signs of burnout.
Signs of Burnout
The symptoms and signs of burnout may vary from person to person, but the ones listed below are the most common. For physiological symptoms, they include:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Inability to recover from a common cold and headache
- Lack of sleep
- Frequent gut problems
- Shortness of breath
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
Some psychological symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Lack of focus
- Loss of sense of purpose
- Emotional exhaustion
Differences between burnout and depression
Looking at the symptoms, it’s easy to mistake burnout for depression and vice versa, as the signs and symptoms are very much alike. Hence, it’s not surprising that misdiagnosis is common.
Some people self-diagnose themselves with burnout when it might already be depression. Unlike depression, burnout is very specific to problems related to work. Depression, on the other hand, is concerned with all areas of life.
Not everyone who experiences burnout has depression, although it may be a risk factor. It is important to seek help from a professional instead of self-diagnosing to avoid misdiagnosis and get proper treatment.
Why Am I Experiencing Burnout?
Burnout may be caused by different factors. There are six key domains of burnout: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.
- Workload: Heavy workload demands more mental and physical energy from an employee to meet the requirements for the job. If this persists for an extended period of time, with very little opportunity to take a break, this would contribute to burnout.
- Control: If employees are able to exercise their autonomy in their profession, given more freedom to make their own decisions, they are less likely to experience burnout.
- Reward: In general, people like being rewarded. Employees, specifically, want to feel rewarded for their job as it makes them feel seen and valued. Therefore, a lack of reward may demotivate employees and cause job burnout.
- Community: We are social creatures, and relationships are one of the most important key aspects of being human. Employees are likely to stay in their job when they establish good connections with their colleagues. However, if there is an unresolved conflict between the management and the employees, burnout is likely to occur.
- Fairness: Promoting fairness in the workplace is a great way to make employees feel heard. This is also effective in avoiding unnecessary conflicts. Cynicism and hostility tend to arise, though, when employees feel like they are not being treated with respect.
- Values: Values are what initially attract the employees to the company. If the employee finds out later on that they do not share the same values as the company, this may cause them to feel alienated, eventually leading to feeling burnout.
Job burnout is very common, but it’s worth mentioning that there are also other factors outside of work that can cause burnout.
Burnout can occur when introverts socialize too much without having enough time to recharge by spending time on their own.
Are you in a toxic relationship? Your relationship may be causing you burnout, too, if it has been a constant source of stress. Lack of clear communication, emotional fatigue, and not setting boundaries are risk factors in a toxic relationship that may lead to burnout.
Relationships don’t have to be romantic – even your relationship with your family and friends can affect your mental health.
Burnout in school is also rampant among students. Schools require students to meet the demands of academic requirements. The discrepancy between the student’s personal expectations versus their actual individual resources causes them to develop school burnout.
Especially during the pandemic, students are more prone to school burnout due to online classes and a lack of direct communication with their professors and classmates.
How Can You Help Yourself Overcome Burnout
Wondering how to overcome burnout by yourself? There are many things you can do on your own to overcome burnout. Burnout recovery mainly depends on where your burnout is coming from, so it’s important that you identify it first.
Some activities that can help you include:
- Practicing mindfulness (breathing meditation, coloring, journaling, and positive self-talk)
- Connecting with loved ones
- Regular physical exercise
- Maintaining a healthy sleeping pattern
On top of these activities, your external environment plays an influential role in how you manage your burnout. Exposing yourself to situations that may trigger stress and negative emotions can jeopardize your own recovery and may even make things worse.
Awareness of these things can keep burnout at bay. Know which environment and what type of relationships are taking a toll on your mental health.
TedX covered an interesting speech on this topic:
How Therapy Can Help You Overcome Burnout?
Recognizing that not everyone is capable of overcoming burnout alone, another option is going to therapy sessions.
Seeking mental health treatment feels daunting at first. You might be worried about what you are going to tell your therapist or how your therapist is going to react to what you have to say. These are totally normal things, especially if it’s going to be your first time.
However, psychotherapy has proven itself to be effective in reducing psychological symptoms of mental health problems and equipping people with new coping skills. Assess what it is you want out of the sessions and have a vision of what life would look like for you when you reach your goal of recovery.
The therapy itself can take many forms, depending on the therapeutic approach being used. Some of the more common ones for treating burnout are cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is the gold standard in psychological treatments. CBT helps you identify thoughts and behaviors that lead to negative emotions and turn them into positive ones. Popular CBT techniques include ABC functional analysis (used to examine the causes and consequences of behavior), cognitive restructuring through positive self-talk, and role-playing potential scenarios so that you can learn new behaviors.
Left unresolved, negative thoughts may eventually wear you down, preventing you from being productive at work and sustaining healthy relationships with yourself and with others. Several studies have shown the effectiveness of CBT in reducing burnout symptoms.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT is known for encouraging individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings instead of fighting against them. When individuals experience burnout, they tend to escape the present moment by avoiding disputing thoughts, using substances, and escaping uncomfortable situations. Rather than escaping the current situation, ACT trains individuals to accept things the way they are.
The core processes included in ACT are fitting for an online counseling session. These are:
- Defusion: Attempts to detach from our thoughts and emotions.
- Acceptance: Instead of avoiding unpleasant situations, individuals are taught to embrace their thoughts and feel their emotions.
- Contact with the present moment: Acknowledging the here and now and maintaining a non-judgmental contact with the present moment.
- Self as context: Also known as the observing self, it is the locus from which a person’s experience unfolds.
- Values: Your deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being.
- Committed action: Values will lead to behavioral change if you keep moving in the direction of your actions.
Remember that each therapy session is different, but at the core of psychotherapy is establishing a warm and safe environment where open communication is encouraged. The therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the client is determinant of the quality of the counseling sessions.
These days, you can choose to have your therapy from the comfort of your own home. This is thanks to the up-and-coming solution that is online therapy.
Is Online Therapy for Burnout Effective?
Online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. With the advancement of technology, more and more people prefer online counseling to in-person therapy, and this is due to many reasons: it is convenient, less expensive, and more comfortable for those who prefer online communication. You can also choose from different therapists specializing in the mental health problem that you are dealing with, no matter how far away from them you live.
Internet-based interventions are effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. As mentioned above, anxiety and depression may be experienced by someone with burnout. According to one study, 50% of the participants recovered from stress following 7 weeks of online CBT treatment. Several studies also recognized that online therapy plays a huge role in combating mental illnesses remotely.
After reading this article, you should have a rough idea of whether you’re experiencing burnout or not. Know that prevention is always better than after-the-fact treatment. Before things get even worse, it would be in your best interest to schedule an online therapy session with a mental health professional right now. Your future self will thank you for it.