Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress, often related to work or caregiving. It can result in feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a reduced sense of accomplishment, leading to a decreased ability to perform tasks effectively.
Robert Common, Founder and Managing Partner of The Beekeeper House, a mental health and addiction treatment centre, answers some of the most common questions around burnout to help individuals recognise the signs and get the help and support they need to overcome it.
Why is burnout still a problem?
Burnout is one of the biggest mental health challenges that raised its head during lockdown and continues to be a significant issue.
Workloads are still unreasonable, and the added pressure of the global economic crisis and looming recessions mean people feel unable to take their foot off the gas, even when running on empty.
If burnout is left untreated, it can become a major issue impacting all parts of a person’s life. It can affect performance and productivity, and both working and personal relationships. There is also a strong link between stress and substance and alcohol abuse; without adequate treatment, individuals are more likely to turn to drugs or booze as a coping mechanism.
What are the symptoms?
- Crippling Physical Exhaustion: It’s normal to feel tired if you’ve been under stress, but burnout exhaustion goes far beyond feeling tired; it’s a constant sense of fatigue that no amount of sleep or rest seems to resolve.
- Sleep Issues: Burnout is a cruel double-edged sword in that not only is chronic exhaustion a common symptom, but those experiencing burnout also tend to have problems getting enough, or quality sleep. Insomnia, restlessness and bad dreams can all occur when you’re over-stretched.
- Productivity Dips: When you have too much going on in your head and you’re already fatigued, it can be difficult to prioritise, make decisions and remember everything you need to do. Even the most proactive of people can dither and miss deadlines when they’re burnt out. You might also find yourself making decisions that are out of character.
- Personality Changes: One of the first signs of burnout is feeling disengaged with your work or job. This can even happen to people who find a great sense of fulfilment in what they do. It can also cross over into your personal life, and you may find yourself becoming snappy and irritable with family and friends.
Who is affected by burnout?
Like all mental health issues, burnout does not discriminate, although research suggests that some groups may be more at risk than others. A report by Future Forum covering over 10,700 workers in six countries showed several trends:
- Women: Women are more than a third (32%) more likely than men to experience burnout
- Under 30s: Those under 30 are 29% more likely to experience symptoms than their older counterparts.
- Middle Managers: Middle managers are taking the brunt and are at the highest risk of burnout (43%) than any other job level.
How is burnout treated?
All too often, treatment for mental health issues like burnout goes down the path of medication as a first resort. However, this does not treat the root causes.
There is an increasing evidence base that shows therapeutic techniques help you begin to understand the psychological and environmental factors that may be contributing to burnout.
Burnout is not just mental exhaustion but also physical. This is why treatment should include somatic approaches and mindful practices like meditation and yoga that help you develop the skills necessary to manage your mental health in the long term.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.