IN OUR MODERN, fast-paced and demanding world, burnout has become increasingly common. The malady has been around for years, but before the COVID pandemic, we didn’t give it much thought. Since the days of lockdown, it seems that everyone’s feeling it, with the issue now permeating all professions.
The signs of burnout can manifest in subtle ways that aren’t always easy to spot, but it’s important to identify them early and avoid a minor problem escalating into a full-blown crisis. Sometimes a ‘just push through it’ attitude won’t cut it. Burnout is not something that will just go away if nothing changes. Ideally, you want to be able to spot the signs of the affliction and be proactive in preventing them from worsening. Here, we’ll explore five key signs that may indicate you or someone you know is on the brink of burnout.
What is burnout?
The World Health Organisation officially defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It sounds fairly straight forward, right? But since burnout is really an advanced stage of extreme stress, it’s easy to confuse the pair. It’s simply a case of not all stress is burnout, but all burnout is stress. So, when does common stress become serious burnout? There’s no precise threshold, but stress usually doesn’t bring about feelings of hopelessness, cynicism and perceived ineffectiveness in the workplace—which are all hallmarks of burnout we’ll get to shortly. If you spot those symptoms, you could be experiencing burnout and will need to take steps to remedy it.
Now, let’s get into five of the most common signs of burnout.
1. Persistent Fatigue and Lack of Energy
One of the earliest and most common signs of burnout is a persistent feeling of exhaustion, both physically and mentally. If you find yourself waking up tired despite a full night’s sleep or feel drained throughout the day, it might be a red flag. Burnout can deplete your energy levels, making even routine tasks seem insurmountable. Ignoring these signs can lead to a downward spiral, impacting your overall wellbeing.
It’s worth noting that a lack of energy is also a sign of stress. Therefore, waking up tired one morning might not necessitate a wholesale lifestyle change, but a quick breather could be a good idea.
2. Increased Cynicism
A shift in attitude and perspective is another telling sign of burnout. If you find yourself becoming increasingly cynical, detached, or emotionally distant from your work colleagues and personal relationships, it may be a sign of burn out. This response is the body’s defence mechanism against overwhelming stress, and it can subsequently erode your sense of purpose, leading to a negative mindset that impacts various aspects of your life.
3. Feelings of hopelessness
As burnout takes hold, the sense of achievement and fulfilment that once fuelled your passion for work can gradually fade. Ambition is then replaced by a pervasive feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. This can create a cycle where all your hard work seems pointless, leading to a profound loss of hope in the possibility of positive change or relief from the relentless demands. In such a state, you may struggle to envision a future where your efforts can yield meaningful results, amplifying the sense of hopelessness.
4. Feeling a sense of failure and self-doubt
The ceaseless pressure to meet deadlines, exceed expectations, and navigate an ever-accelerating pace can leave you feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. In this state, even the most accomplished professionals can find it challenging to separate their self-worth from their perceived inability to cope with the mounting pressures.
The key word here is perceived. For while burnout can affect cognitive function and even impair decision-making abilities, that isn’t always the case. Often, the sense of failure and feeling like the quality of your performance has declined is only imagined. People suffering from burnout tend to be harder on themselves and critique things they wouldn’t have before, an introspective consequence of their increased cynicism.
5. Neglecting personal needs and life outside of work
Burnout can often cause people to neglect their own needs and wellbeing in the pursuit of professional or personal goals. Skipped meals, inadequate sleep, and a lack of recreational activities are all warning signs that your work-life balance is askew. Unfortunately, failing to prioritise such activities and other forms of self-care can start a vicious cycle in which this neglect intensifies burnout’s challenges.
How can you prevent burnout?
Being able to recognise these signs is a start. If you catch onto these symptoms early, it’s essential to make changes immediately. That could mean prioritising self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support as soon as possible. By addressing burnout early, you can unlock healthier work habits, improve wellbeing and find a more sustainable approach to achieving your goals. Remember, acknowledging vulnerability is a strength, and seeking help is a proactive step towards resilience and recovery.