Here’s What You Need to Know About Burnout

by Michele Ross

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PSA alert: Burnout is more harmful than you may think. Here are the major signs and symptoms of burnout, as well as how to successfully recover from it.

Ever heard the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? How about “The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately”? It turns out that this go-getting, workaholic mentality comes at a steep price.

In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized job burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” They included it in the revised International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), a diagnostic handbook referenced by clinicians and healthcare providers worldwide.

Here’s why it’s so important to recognize the signs of burnout, plus how to deal.

What is burnout?

In 1974, psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced the term in a medical journal. He defined burnout as “significant changes in mood, attitude, motivation and personality” among his fellow volunteers at a free mental health clinic.

In the decades since, the term expanded to apply to other facets of life. However, WHO’s classification limits burnout solely to issues stemming from work.

It’s also worth noting that burnout is a syndrome rather than a disease. Before diagnosing it, doctors must first rule out potential psychological ailments. These include anxiety, situational depression, and other disorders related to stress, mood, and fear.

Why is the new classification important?

The official recognition of burnout is a major milestone.

Firstly, it legitimizes the epidemic of work-related stress. In 2011, a German medical magazine published a review on the topic with the undermining title, “Burnout: a fashionable diagnosis.” (To be fair, however, the review pre-dated successive studies that thoroughly investigated job burnout.)

Secondly, it brings greater awareness to the issue, and can help people decipher if they or their loved ones suffer from burnout symptoms. From there, they can take measures to offset adverse effects on their personal and professional well-being.

Finally, it carries huge potential to incite significant, lasting changes in workplace culture and employee expectations. Going forward, WHO is developing evidence-based guidelines for mental well-being at work. The best-case scenario? Employers around the world will take active measures to prioritize the health, happiness, and harmony of their workers.

Stressed man suffering from symptoms of burnout at home in front of laptop

3 Major Signs of Burnout

According to ICD-11, burnout manifests in several forms and results from the mismanagement of chronic workplace stress.

The most notable signs of burnout include these three main components:

  1. lack of energy or exhaustion
  2. negativity, cynicism, or increased mental distance from one’s job
  3. reduced efficacy at work

Symptoms of Burnout

We already know about the negative effects of stress. But how about burnout symptoms specifically?

While conclusive research is still underway, recent studies are emerging that identify some seriously harmful symptoms of burnout. One 2017 study found that burnout is associated with occupational issues like job dissatisfaction and absenteeism. Even further, it outlined alarming psychological and physical consequences.

Potential health hazards include:

  • fatigue
  • chronic sleep issues
  • mood imbalances
  • significant weight gain
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • cardiovascular complications

Plus, another study suggests that it can potentially lead to substance abuse.

With such massive repercussions, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of burnout sooner than later.

Who’s at risk?

Much of the existing research focuses on people with high-pressure occupations.

A 2019 survey found that 44 percent of the 15,000 physicians polled experience burnout. On top of that, a number of studies have confirmed the epidemic’s prevalence among medical professionals. Other public health and safety workers—like paramedics, counselors, and police—are also at increased risk due to the high-stakes nature of their respective professions.

However, burnout symptoms can affect anyone if they don’t properly manage chronic work stress.

To determine of you suffer from the tell-tale signs of burnout, ask yourself:

  • Am I spreading myself too thin?
  • Do my job’s demands—whether assigned or self-imposed—negatively impact my well-being?

If so, it’s imperative to start taking measures to avoid burnout.

Women discussing how to deal with burnout at work

How to deal with burnout

There’s no quick fix for burnout. However, you can adopt healthier habits to establish a more functional work-life balance. Consider adopting some of these tips to avoid burnout for good.

1. Reset your mind and body by taking regular breaks throughout the day. Research shows that doing so can:

2. Resist increasing your workload if you’re already overwhelmed.

3. Establish boundaries for addressing work matters, such as emails, after office hours. One 2018 study found that even the expectation of being available around the clock negatively impacts workers and their families.

4. Seek support when you need it, whether it’s from HR, a physician, and/or a friend.

5. Consider searching for a new job if your current role/workplace feels toxic, draining, or misaligned with your values.

6. Get your fair share of zzZz’s. Sleep deprivation can weaken immunity, productivity, and mood. It can even cause loneliness.

7. Become more resilient to stress by practicing breathwork, meditation, or yoga.

8. Break a sweat, as per the sage advice of Elle Woods:Elle Woods - Exercise, Endorphins, Happiness - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

9. Prioritize self-care as a necessity rather than an indulgence.

10. Boost your diet with natural supplements to reduce stress and support adrenal health.


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