Occupational burnout is not simply a type of stress which is related to exhaustion at work. Burnout is a wider problem than it is generally talked about. Everyone shows their successful and super-productive side in public. No one wants to admit that they are unwell.
What do you do when you are going through intense emotional stress? Eat your feelings away or stop eating all together, get drunk or pop antidepressants. Which are actually strictly forbidden when you are burning out! But most importantly, everyone blames themselves for not being productive and doesn’t let themselves relax because of that. If you don’t notice the exhaustion in time it might lead to a nervous breakdown, depression or even lethal outcome.
I want to talk more about what the difference between burnout and stress is and how to detect it when it’s not too late and painful.
Burnout vs Stress
Stress is a normal reaction of your body that helps you live healthily and succeed. When you are starting a new job and are really inspired and excited, that’s stress too, but it’s good for you.
You start burning out when there is too much stress and it is constant.
It’s a condition when you are completely exhausted: the body uses all of its resources to the limit and there is no time to recover. You become guilt-ridden, problems pile up, the circumstances weigh you down — it’s impossible to work like that.
Even though this condition is called “occupational” burnout, a tired mother of three children may also develop it.
If you don’t help your body in time, you risk getting sick. Heart attack or heart seizure are also possible consequences of burnout.
You are at risk if:
Your job is to help people
Teachers, doctors, psychologists, medical managers — all those who contact and help people who are going through difficulties and problems. They don’t get positive feedback. For example, a nurse always works in an environment where pain, fear and aggression prevail. How often do people thank her?
Responsible people who don’t allow themselves to relax. Small business owners — those who completely identify themselves with what they do. Men and women in charge of their entire family. People who have to deal with their relatives’ expectations when you have to keep proving to your parents or partner that you are doing great.
You have a really hard job
Risks, poorly defined responsibilities, hard tasks — it wears you out. Even worse if you work with people with different values and expectations.
For example, 66% of startups go out of business because of differences in expectations and requirements that their founders have.
You are a perfectionist
You are already 35 and Zuckerberg hasn’t called you with an offer yet? You are not satisfied with what you have. High expectations, too much ambition, too much pressure on yourself — all these factors contribute to job burnout.
Signs that you are burning out
Burnout is always a process. You need to detect it before it gets irreversible.
Everything starts with tiredness. You come home from work and have no energy. It’s better in the morning, but in the evening it’s the same thing again, you don’t want to go anywhere. This stage is reversible.
Then you become apathetic. You think you are useless and you can’t care less about anyone. Next there is something that finishes you off, a failure at work, for example.
So there you have it: burnout, guilt, panic, you can’t concentrate, you can’t even get to work. But you refuse to rest though, “I’m not keeping up”. You have poorer results. You stress out even more, but for some reason now you only want to get drunk.
Do a Self-exam: are you on the verge of burning out?
There is a standard test developed by Christina Maslach. She was studied this condition and coined the term “burnout”. Maslach is an American social and health psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S. She defined categories of burnout signs and created a 22-question questionnaire. The test helps clearly identify the stage of a person’s emotional exhaustion.
Main categories of burnout signs:
- Feeling of emptiness. Everything seems pointless and you don’t want to do anything
- Fatigue, helplessness, despair
- Dissatisfaction with yourself, your work and life in general
- Cynycism. You lack empathy and can’t stand people
- You have a dry formal approach to people and work. You do everything for the sake of box-ticking
- Annoyance. Everything seems to drive you nuts
- “I don’t get anything done and I can’t get anything done ever”. You depreciate everything you do
- Lack of self-confidence
- Withdrawal from people, no motivation to do anything
If you have similar signs, it’s time to stop and think. Try measuring your stress and energy levels, it will help you understand what condition your body is in right now.
In our next blog post: How to deal with burnout at different stages and Expert opinion on what you should never do.