What is burnout and how do I know if I’m burnt out?
Burnout is defined as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress”. These days most of us are more susceptible to burnout from stress. Burnout comes when the effects of unmanaged chronic stress start to erode our resilience, then our quality of life. This progressively depletes our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Burnout develops not in response to a single event but as a build-up of stressors over an extended time. Burnout results in a performance drop, which vigorous attempts to work harder fail to rectify. Hopelessness and helplessness set in.
Burnout is often experienced by high-achievers, who are used to being able to solve any problem in their lives. These people tend to be ambitious, organised, impatient, time-conscious, competitive, perfectionist and aggressive. When they meet a problem in life that they can’t overcome alone, their identity is shattered, they experience a loss of confidence and burnout is the result.
10 burnout symptoms and signs
1. Loss of motivation and interest
You’re no longer enthusiastic about things that used to motivate you, you’ve lost interest in life, it’s harder to get out of bed and you have to force yourself to get to work. If your work has lost its meaning and purpose, this may indicate burnout
An actual or perceived excess of work. Demands that cannot be met and a task list that’s never complete. Overwork often leaks in to home or family life, in the guise of longer work hours, bringing work home or being unable to stop thinking about work. Sufferers of burnout try ever harder to meet their slipping productivity and quality goals, throwing more effort at the problem which appears insoluble. Work performance suffers, with potential loss of status.
3. Lack of support or reward
People in or near burnout may feel un-rewarded, under-appreciated or under-supported, which chips away at their self-esteem and motivation. They can’t enjoy success like they used to. Equally they find it hard to provide heartfelt support to others.
Experiencing a deep and unrelieved exhaustion undermines health and our ability to function. If you feel tired all the time, this one factor can accelerate all the other symptoms of burnout. You may also experience insomnia or poor sleep quality, waking unrefreshed.
5. Negative thoughts
Negative and gloomy thoughts tend to prevail and can include catastrophising. You might be wondering what’s the point, why am I doing this? It’s harder for you to think positively. Self-blame, frustration, anger, resentment and shame are common for people who cannot do things that used to be easy for them.
When stress turns chronic and you are constantly in fight-or-flight, this impacts sleep, brain function, digestion, reproduction, body repair, immunity and relaxation. Over time, physical, emotional and mental health deteriorates and you may start to notice symptoms of this, including loss of resilience and performance.
7. Brain fog
If you remain stressed and in fight-or-flight mode, brain functions such as memory, concentration, decision-making and problem solving will be dimmed and you will not perform at your best. This occurs before burnout, but along with lack of motivation makes it harder to lift your game. You may start to seriously doubt yourself when this happens and wonder if it’s permanent. It isn’t.
For people with characteristics likely to lead to burnout, such as perfectionism, anxiety is usually a frequent visitor and in burnout it can become a constant companion. Anxiety consumes an enormous amount of energy and leads to negative thinking patterns that become stronger with use and drag other systems down with it, such as digestion. It’s also a factor in insomnia, which I’m sure you know if you’ve ever woken in the night envisioning some work problem you “can’t solve”.
9. Low mood
In burnout low mood can include lack of emotion, loss of interest, scarcity of positive emotion and numbness. You may feel frustrated, resentful or cynical. In some cases, burnout can lead to depression. If you are in crisis please contact Lifeline or your local mental health crisis support.
10. Personal relationships
Typically, a person in burnout becomes tired, irritable and defensive and rarely reaches out for help. In burnout, if they sense a loss of power and status, they may withdraw or isolate and lose close connections. Relationships may become a chore rather than fulfilling, even with loved ones. Avoidance and conflict are common.