What do you consider to be the primary source of stress in your life? For many, the answer is related to their job. 83% of workers report suffering from work-related stress, with 25% viewing their job as the number one stressor in their life. Due to anxiety and emotional pressure, 52% of employees experience burnout, and these numbers do not improve over time.

Unfortunately, burnout raises many questions and misunderstandings. However, one thing is certain: it cannot be resolved on its own. To avoid falling into chronic fatigue and the negative consequences of burnout, it’s crucial to address this syndrome with awareness and readiness.

How can you recognize the signs of burnout, and what can you do to overcome it? In this article, you’ll learn about the basic theory of burnout, its causes, and effective recovery techniques.

The True Meaning of Burnout

It’s now common to diagnose burnout whenever people feel mentally exhausted. Despite being a different condition, burnout is often mistaken for depression due to similar symptoms.

In reality, burnout is a distinct state with specific characteristics. According to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is a condition specific to one’s professional life.

To better understand its causes, imagine a light bulb designed to handle only 220V of power. It functions well when the power load is met, but it will eventually burn out if it’s regularly subjected to higher levels of pressure. Burnout is officially defined as a result of prolonged stress at work that has not been effectively and promptly managed. It’s characterized by a sense of reduced achievement and loss of identity. Additionally, multiple signs may indicate one is experiencing burnout.

causes of workplace stress

Why Burnout Is a Major Cause for Concern

As burnout is caused by prolonged stress at work, it affects not only one’s professional but also personal life. For example, 76% of US employees report that stress at work negatively impacts their personal relationships. As a result, individuals experiencing burnout may have decreased productivity, apathy, and disruptions in various areas of their lives.

However, employees are not the only ones who suffer from burnout. Business owners may also incur costs from additional sick leaves and compensation for underperformance. With an increasing number of employees experiencing burnout, it’s essential to address the issue.

Most Common Symptoms of Burnout

Different studies have highlighted the range of symptoms that indicate a person is experiencing burnout. To better understand, let’s divide the signs of burnout into categories:

Emotional Symptoms

  • Feeling overwhelmed. If you feel down most days and have not felt energized for a while, it may be a sign that burnout is either approaching or has already taken hold.
  • Feeling detached from the world. It’s common to feel alone in your struggles, but it’s important to remember that many people experience burnout daily.
  • Being pessimistic and cynical. The prospect of a bright future and exciting opportunities may fade when feeling low energy for an extended period of time.
  • Losing interest in once-favorite activities. Even hobbies you were once passionate about may be put aside due to a lack of energy and stress overload. 
  • Feeling that your work is meaningless. Even as the workload increases, the sense of purpose in your work may diminish. As tasks pile up and working hours are not enough, the quality of execution may drop, leading to the feeling that there is no point in trying hard at work.

Physical Symptoms

  • Feeling tired all the time. During burnout, worker fatigue becomes chronic as stress activates the fight-or-flight response. This releases cortisol (the stress hormone), which disrupts essential processes and causes exhaustion. 
  • Changes in appetite. A person’s eating habits may change due to prolonged stress. Some may lose their appetite, while others may crave high-carb foods. 
  • Sleep disturbances. 34% of workers who have experienced burnout reported a disrupted sleep-wake cycle. Stress can cause insomnia, leading to exhaustion and the need for daytime sleep.
  • Recurrent headaches. Stress is a common cause of headaches and can even trigger migraines (80% of migraine sufferers reported stress as a primary trigger). It may also cause blurred vision and nausea.
  • Stomachaches. Similar to headaches, stress can bring on stomach pain as it releases specific hormones that cause spasms and disrupt gut and intestine functions.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • No motivation to work. Mental and physical exhaustion leave no room for enthusiasm and engagement in the workplace. This leads to employees operating on autopilot and being unable to set new goals or think about self-development.
  • Procrastination. Due to decreased motivation and a decline in physical and emotional well-being, performance suffers, resulting in missed deadlines and negatively impacting one’s career.
  • Attempting to cope in unhealthy ways. Some people may try to deny burnout and avoid dealing with it. This may include coping mechanisms such as consuming more caffeine (31%), smoking (27%), and consuming more alcohol (20%). 
  • Loss of interest in social life. Due to the physical and emotional effects of burnout, such as disturbed sleep and chronic fatigue, those experiencing burnout may have little energy for social events and communication.
  • Emotional outbursts. Those overwhelmed by burnout may have difficulty controlling negative emotions due to stress overload.

Best Practices on Beating Burnout

When addressing burnout, it’s important to avoid popular but ineffective solutions. For example, taking a vacation may provide temporary relief, but it’s not a long-term solution; burnout may return upon resuming work.

The most effective solution for burnout is to remove the source of prolonged stress. However, this is not always possible in real life. Therefore, try the following practices to address the underlying issues and develop sustainable ways to maintain peace of mind at work.

Distinguish Burnout from Depression

It’s important to note that burnout and depression share similar symptoms, which can be confusing. Therefore, it’s essential to determine whether the issue is job burnout or depression, as the treatments for these conditions differ. Depression is a complex mental disorder that can lead to more severe consequences, while burnout is not considered a mental disorder.

However, if left untreated, burnout can lead to depressive episodes. One way to determine which condition you are experiencing is by taking a psychological test, such as the Beck Depression Inventory test. The Breeze mobile app (which can also be found for Android devices) can be used to take the test. If the results are uncertain or indicate a high level of depression, it’s best to consult a therapist, which can also be found through the app.

Reflect on the Origins of Burnout

To address the root cause of burnout, it’s essential to identify it first. Take the time to reflect on your experiences by setting aside some time for yourself, making tea, or journaling in a calm environment. Consider when you first began feeling down, exhausted, and unmotivated.

Then, consider the reasons behind these feelings. Was it due to unclear job expectations and an increasing workload? Or is it because of taking on too many projects related to your passion? It may also be a combination of various factors. Write down your thoughts and analyze them to gain a deeper understanding of the causes of your burnout.

Brainstorm Ways to Take Care of Yourself

It’s essential to prioritize your mental health and well-being. Believe that you have the power to overcome burnout and regain enjoyment in your work.

Recovery may not be instantaneous, but taking care of your needs can help improve your well-being every day. Start by identifying the most manageable steps from recovery tips you can implement today.

Additionally, incorporating small rituals that bring you joy can help. For example, taking a break to have a cup of cocoa, listening to birds singing, or taking a relaxing bubble bath after a hard day.

Avoid Self-Blame

It’s common for people to blame themselves for experiencing burnout. An inner critic may tell you that it’s your fault for not saying no to new projects or that you chose to take on this job and must accept the consequences.

It’s important to remember that we are humans and not robots programmed to make the best decision at all times. We learn from our experiences, and it’s impossible to know the outcome of every choice we make. The best we can do is to deal with the consequences. Blaming yourself will not help in overcoming burnout.

Develop Self-Awareness

To prevent falling into a state of mental exhaustion and apathy, try to focus on what is happening to you in the present moment. This means not allowing automatic responses to take over.

First, acknowledge that you are experiencing burnout symptoms and identify them specifically. Then, remind yourself that it’s not permanent and that you can change how you feel. This can help reduce tension and increase control over your emotions.

Several practices can help develop self-awareness, such as keeping a diary and recording strong emotions throughout the day or reflecting on the day’s events and emotions at night.

For a more comprehensive approach, try using a tool like Beams.ai, which offers regular mood-tracking functionality, personal recommendations, and consolidated analysis of the overall team climate to help form a clearer understanding of your mental state.

Beams.ai personal recommendations

Determine What Motivates You to Overcome Burnout

Experiencing burnout can be difficult, but having a clear motivation to recover can make a significant difference. To identify your motivation, create a list of things that drive you to take action. It can be a desire for a more relaxed lifestyle, better relationships, joy from your work, professional and personal growth, and more.

To gain a better understanding of the situation, create a list of factors that stand in the way of achieving your goals and compare it to your current reality. This could include a toxic coworker, a poor management style, or regular overtime. Identifying these obstacles will make it easier to develop solutions for each, as well as create a more pleasant working experience.

Accept that Recovery Takes Time

Falling into burnout is a gradual process caused by a combination of various factors. Therefore, the journey to recovery also takes time. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for burnout recovery. One study indicates that general stages of day-to-day recovery include psychological detachment, relaxation, mastery, and control. Therefore, it’s essential to be patient and take small steps toward healing.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Support

Some people may not be used to asking for support during difficult times, but it’s important to remember that humans are social creatures and need each other to survive. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help, whether from a friend, partner, or professional therapist.

For those who find it difficult to ask for help, using a tool like Beams.ai can be beneficial. The regular pulse surveys given to employees collect data on various parameters of their mental state. Managers can then receive overall statistics and offer timely assistance when they notice a decline in an employee’s indicators.

Beams.ai pulse survey

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity has been scientifically proven to be helpful in combating burnout. One study has shown that acute aerobic exercise can help improve cognitive function and overall well-being. Even if you are not ready to go to the gym or engage in physically demanding sports, starting with yoga practices can be beneficial. 

Yoga is considered to be highly therapeutic; it can help switch the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight mode, to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestive functions. This can help with stress management, improve the immune system, and provide many other benefits for physical and mental health.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Good Sleep

Healthy sleep is essential for combating burnout, as it allows the body to produce vital hormones for normal development and existence. For example, the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for recovery abilities, can only be produced during sleep and while maintaining a healthy circadian cycle. Without proper rest, the body is unable to restore properly. To combat burnout, do your best to maintain good sleeping habits and a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

Learn to Express Your Emotions

During burnout, it’s helpful to learn how to express your emotions and not repress them. Repressing emotions can lead to severe consequences for both mental and physical health and can also prevent recovery. Studies have shown that expressing your true feelings to a friend or therapist can prevent mental and physical illness and improve overall well-being. Additionally, writing down your feelings or recording them on tape can also be effective ways to release emotions.

Draw the Line Between Your Job and Personality

One of the reasons for job burnout is a lack of work-life balance — 27% of workers report they cannot unplug from work after hours. Thus, it’s important to remember that your work is not your entire life and existence. Your occupation should not define your personality. The belief that you would be considered a bad person if you refused to work overtime should be removed from your perception of life.

Build Personal Boundaries

Many people find it difficult to say no when asked to take on more work than they can handle. Make sure to learn to take care of your own needs and set boundaries, even if it means saying no to others’ requests.

Specifically, it’s not helpful to promise to help a colleague with a task when you know you don’t have the time or resources to do so. This can lead to unnecessary sacrifices that won’t benefit anyone or anything – not you, the person who asked for your help, or other things in your life that also need your attention, such as family and hobbies.

To Summarize

Workers who burn out at work are usually the ones that are most passionate about their job. 87% of professionals surveyed say they are passionate about their current job, while 64% say they still frequently feel stressed. This proves that employees aren’t immune to stress or burnout, even if they adore their occupation. Although such a caring attitude is worth praising, try your best to keep self-care in focus to prevent job burnout.

Implementing some or all of these rules will help you build a fulfilling career while maintaining an optimal work-life balance. Prioritize your needs and utilize every possible tool to help you achieve harmony, both internally and externally, with the Beams solution that allows you to track your mental state and get valuable resources for self-help.