Burnout at work is more common than you might think.
In fact, 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their current job.
So, if you’re dealing with a case of burnout, you’re not alone.
In this blog we’ll cover how to beat burnout at work, and what to do if remaining in your role won’t work.
Let’s start with the definition of burnout…
What is Burnout?
Burnout is not a medical condition, though there has been a ton of recent research on it.
It’s best to think of burnout as apathetic exhaustion.
Things don’t feel exciting anymore.
If you’re burned out, you may feel numb and like you’re going through the motions.
Notably, burnout doesn’t have to be pervasive. Some people who are burned out at work still have fulfilling family, social, and hobby aspects of their lives.
What Does True Burnout Feel Like?
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in 1974.
He said burnout is “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
As you can see, burnout can be the result of having no impact through your work.
Here are the 3 symptoms of true burnout:
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of pleasure in your work
- Lack of belief in your ability to complete tasks
One may observe that burnout can be the result of too little impact in one’s role, though it’s more commonly associated with too much stress.
We’ll turn to the subject of stress in a later section.
Signs of Burnout
Here are some subtle or obvious signs you or someone you know may be burned out:
- Feeling cynical at work
- Having to force yourself to go to work
- Being slow to start on work tasks
- Irritability or impatience with coworkers and clients
- Achievements that don’t bring satisfaction
- Feeling disillusioned about your job (including loss of fantasy)
- And more.
Burnout is associated with doing your work duty out of obligation rather than intrinsic motivations.
Symptoms of Burnout at Work
- Tiredness or exhaustion
- Sleeping difficulties
- Abnormally high or low appetite
- Lack of motivation
- Self-doubts and negative self-judgments
- Failure or loneliness
- General dissatisfaction
- Social isolation
- Not performing your responsibilities
- Work-related anger outbursts
Mental burnout symptoms
- Concentration difficulties
- Thoughts of doom or hopelessness
- Apathetic stance, I.e., “giving up”
- Mental slowness
- Catching yourself while “spacing out”
The theme of burnout is having no more energy to give.
Whether that’s because past efforts have been stunted or unfruitful, those with burnout may have learned that trying doesn’t matter.
Example of Burnout in the Workplace
It can be helpful to see what burnout looks like in an example.
Here’s Danny’s story (not his real name):
“When I started at my new company, I was excited to do great work. The first few months were really exciting, and I was genuinely happy to be there. So, when overtime became available, I jumped on it. I thought it was a chance to prove myself.
“Well, the overtime turned into a regular routine, and I was expected to be there for 60+ hour work weeks. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d gotten some recognition from my high ups, but that didn’t happen. And I started feeling cynical about my job.
“I began craving alcohol to cope, and that’s when I knew I had to do something. The mental distance I felt towards my job was the opposite of what I wanted: joy, satisfaction, and impact.
“After getting therapy for support in placing boundaries and asking for what I need, I began to feel better. I was able to set a limit with my boss that I wouldn’t work overtime more than 1 weekend per month if needed. I was also able to focus on projects where I knew I’d have a better impact. It took about three months for the burnout to fall away, but I know I’d still be there if I didn’t make any changes.”
Danny’s ability to overcome burnout was related to his ability to advocate for his needs.
How Do You Notice When You’re Nearing Burnout?
Burnout is different from stress.
When we’re nearing burnout, we may reach for substances to cope.
We might feel irritable, annoyed, hopeless, and a loss of motivation.
Also, as we near burnout we may become prone to suicidal thinking. This isn’t always due to wanting to die; it can be a way to fantasize about escaping your situation.
Lastly, as you near burnout, you may become physically and mentally overwhelmed.
A great analogy for burnout is that you have your gas pedal all the way down just to go cruising speed. In other words, normal functioning takes a lot of effort when you’re burned out.
What is the Difference Between Stress and Burnout?
Stress is a short-term response to a perceived threat. This can be as simple as a deadline.
Burnout is a challenge that comes when stress is chronic and high. It feels like physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.
The difference in burnout vs stress is the chronic nature of burnout and the overwhelming fatigue that accompanies it.
You might also be wondering, what’s the difference in burnout vs depression?
For starters, burnout is a syndrome whereas depression is a clinical diagnosis.
This means that medication is not prescribed for burnout unless accompanied by a diagnosis, such as anxiety or depression.
Depression can underpin burnout or be separate entirely. It depends on the individual and the circumstances.
How Do You Recover from Burnout ASAP?
Okay, enough of the details.
Now, let’s get into the good stuff.
How do you recover from burnout, and how do you do it fast?
If you’re feeling burned out right now, you’re probably looking for a fast solution.
I don’t want to pop your bubble, but there truly is no fast cure for burnout.
As you’ll see below, there are a few actions you can take to cure burnout, but they take time.
Rest, Rest, and More Rest
Probably the best thing you can do to recover from burnout at work is to do… nothing.
Assuming we have what’s called “overload burnout”, the solution is to take it easy.
Only by relaxing and recharging can we start to think productively of ways to better our
Perhaps you need to have better boundaries at work, or switch departments, or change jobs altogether.
By resting, you’ll find what you need.
Setting Work Boundaries
Learning to say “no” will be key to healing your burnout.
It’s when you say “yes” to every new project that you get stretched too thin.
This prevents you from having the impact that you want.
And can lead to burnout due to a sense that you lack control over your life.
Say no as your default and over time you’ll have less things contributing to your burnout.
How to Counteract Burnout with Exercise
Exercise is a great way to regulate your emotions.
It’s healthier than going out for a drink, and helps you feel good in general.
Using this healthy outlet for your energy, you can experience:
- A release of burnout-causing stress
- Improved sleep quality
- Feeling good in your body
- Feeling love and gratitude for your body
- Increased energy levels
- Better focus and resilience
- And more.
For an easy start, try going for a short walk each day.
And if you’d like to get even more benefit, walk in the park. Studies show that seeing green helps you feel calm and relaxed.
Consult a Therapist
You could probably change the transmission in your car if you had to. But why do it the hard way?
It’s the same with your mental health.
With enough books, meditation, journaling and the like, you could probably heal your burnout.
But there’s no need to do it the hard way by doing it alone.
Work with a therapist to get help healing from burnout.
Having someone who is nonjudgmental to talk to can work wonders for your mental health.
Plus, your therapist will be able to direct you to the best resources and challenge you in a healthy way.
Can You Talk to HR About Burnout?
Depending on your work culture, it can be daunting to seek help. But seeking help is always worth it.
We want you to know that it is your company’s HR department that can best assist you in recovering from burnout.
They should want employees to be operating at full capacity, so they can recommend resources for achieving that.
Your HR team can even set you up with a career coach to help you avoid full-on burnout
where basic functioning is too hard.
There are no laws against seeking help. And by making a good faith effort to get better, you’ll be taking a step toward bettering your situation.
What if HR Won’t Support You?
Your work environment can be a significant factor in burnout.
If you feel pressured by bosses and coworkers, the high stress can contribute to burnout.
Sometimes you might want to ask HR for help, but your company isn’t letting up. Their deadlines and demands seem to take priority over your mental health.
If you don’t feel safe with HR or haven’t been supported by them in the past, we hear you.
Sometimes the best option is to talk with someone outside the company, such as a friend, successful relative, or a mental health professional.
Aside from getting things off your chest, you may learn new ways of seeing your situation and the people involved. You can also learn new strategies for coping.
Your mental health is important. Sometimes you may have to fight to get your needs met, and that’s okay. Seek support where you can.
How Much Time Off Should I Take for Burnout?
As much time as you need, ideally. But we know that the world isn’t always ideal.
Depending on your circumstances, we recommend taking time off to rest from burnout. Of course, your job may not offer this luxury. But if it’s available, we say take it.
One strategy could be to use PTO to lengthen your weekends.
If you have 5 days of PTO, that could be five 3-day weekends that help you recharge when you need it.
You can also take Fridays and Mondays off to have a 4-day weekend.
Time is essential for healing burnout at work because your body and brain need time to process the accumulated stress.
When you’re taking time off, make sure to relax. Make time to do nothing but sit alone without distractions.
Tuning into what you need can help you heal burnout faster.
How to Recover from Burnout Without Quitting Your Job
What do you do when you can’t just walk away from your job?
If you have a family or other responsibilities, it may not be feasible to just up and leave.
So, what should you do?
Here are five strategies to recover without quitting:
- Make Social Plans. By getting our social needs met, we can unwind and find more resilience. Laughing with friends can be a great stress-relief.
- Volunteer. By volunteering, you’ll be able to get outside of your own perspective. This can help you gain insight on ways to cope. Plus, volunteering has been proven to increase well-being.
- Reduce Overtime and Afterhours. One thing you can do is try to reduce your work hours and stop working overtime. This will give you free time to rest and recover from burnout. And while you’re at it, delete your work email from your phone – it only keeps you from fully disconnecting and recharging.
- Align Your Role with Your Values. Humans are complex and your values may have changed since you started the role. Maybe you’ve started a family or done some life-changing travel. By writing down your values, you can see ways to align your role with them, thus realigning you with fulfillment. This exercise can also help you determine whether to switch roles or companies or chart a new path entirely.
- Plan Your Exit. When salvaging your job is not possible, it may be time to start thinking about your next move. By thinking and planning months in advance, you’ll be able to leave on good terms and have a safe transition.
Does Changing Jobs Fix Burnout?
There is nothing that fixes burnout instantly. But changing to a job at a moderate (not too high nor too low) level of responsibility can have some benefit.
If you can get a job that pushes you to grow at a sustainable pace, you’ll be less likely to burn out.
It’s when our jobs expect too much or too little that we get burned out. This can be from feeling overloaded or from being unchallenged.
When interviewing for a new role, ask about how management rewards positive contributions from employees.
A third type of burnout is “neglect burnout.”
Basically, if you’re not acknowledged for your efforts, you’ll be more likely to burn out.
No matter what job you have, you’ll be better able to fend off burnout by practicing self-care.
This can mean taking a hot bath once a week, lifting weights, running, meditating, walking in nature, seeing friends, or anything else that works for you.
By giving yourself time to decompress – including taking vacations – you can make sure that burnout doesn’t creep up on you.
For help overcoming burnout, our Houston therapists are here to help. Contact us for a free 15-minute, no-obligation phone consultation today.
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