Part 2: Signs of Burnout
In the first blog, “What is Burnout?”, we defined burnout as “over utilization of personal resources without replenishment.” This definition takes burnout to a personal level. Just like the causes of burnout the symptoms of burnout can be subjective to each individual. Different professions can yield different signs of burnout but overall, this blog is a culmination of the research on the signs of burnout and is not an exhaustive list.
Although different terms are used basically symptoms of burnout are broken down into three categories, physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms.
When we experience a stressor our fight for flight system goes into overdrive. This system releases glucose, speeds our heart, tightens our muscles, slows digestion, and many other things to prepare us to face an emergency. This system was meant to be a burst to give us energy to fight that bear or other life threatening emergency on our doorstep. After the burst the body would return to normal functioning. When we are in a state of perpetual stress due to causes of burnout (listed in the previous blog) our body begins to fight against itself and we begin to run out of resources.
Physical Symptoms of Burnout:
Fatigue: One of the most reported symptom of burnout in the research is feeling drained, tired, or warn out. Early signs of burnout may start with a lack of energy and move into exhaustion.
Change in Sleep (less/more): Tossing and turning, trying to slow down the mind, counting sheep only to end up thinking about what you forgot to do during that day. Also, sleeping excessively due to lack of motivation, fatigue, or avoidance.
Headaches/ Muscle Pain: Often muscle soreness can sneak up on us. We lean over desks, stare at computer screens, and sit or stand for excessive amounts of time trying to complete the tasks we have for the day.
Getting Sick: The immune system is in overdrive when we are under stress. Overtime the immune system gets weak and fighting even the most common cold because disastrous.
How we think and our emotional state are heavily intertwined. The research uses different labels to describe that is going on in our heads. Emotional, Cognitive, Thoughts, Feelings, and Psychological Processes are all terms that appear in the research with regards to burnout. For the sake of this article the terms have been combined into one category that we will call Psychological.
Psychological Symptoms of Burnout:
Feelings of Self–doubt: In the beginning, we may start to question if we are on track or doing the right thing. This can turn into questioning every decision we make leading to a feeling of failure.
Cynical / Negative Outlook and Self-talk: Small comments like “No one cares anyways, or what is the point doesn’t matter how hard I try” start to creep into our lives. These comments start to grow and eventually start to shape how we think in every situation. It is also important to mention that negativity is contagious. If we are in a situation where others are also starting to experience burnout we may be feeding each off of each other making the situation worse. It is good to have someone to talk and vent with but all too often we maximize more than minimize each other’s misery.
Lack of Motivation: We just stop, sit, stare, and don’t do anything. In the beginning this might be not starting a new project or struggling to completing an old one. Later down the road lack of motivation from burnout can even hold us back from doing or planning things we once loved.
Feeling Alone: When we start to feel some of the symptoms above it is easy to retreat within ourselves and stop talking to others. This is a vicious cycle that can lead to real isolation and feelings of detachment from others.
Behavioral symptoms are described as the things we do that can be observed. Feeling alone may manifest itself into withdrawing from others. Another example would be feeling sad may lead to crying, for what appears to be, no apparent reason. Many of the behavioral symptoms of burnout present themselves the later into the development of burnout. Behaviors can often be coping mechanisms for the bigger issues. Just changing stopping our self-defeating behaviors might be a good start but won’t be enough. More on that in the next blog.
Behavioral Symptoms of Burnout:
Withdrawing from Responsibilities: It is good to say no, but this can go to the extreme. When someone starts removing themselves from events, planning, and other things that were ones important to them red flags should be going up!
Isolation: Feeling alone makes a smooth transition into being along. One feels like no one would understand so they stop reaching out.
Procrastinating: The comment “I will do it later” has left many a thing undone and waiting attention.
Displacement: Displacement is the redirection of an impulse on a powerless substitute target. When we are feeling frustrated it is easy to take our frustration of our work or boss out on others. When we start yelling at, ignoring, or belittling the people around we might just be experiencing burnout.
Skipping, Coming Late, Leaving Early: Starting to find reasons not to be at work, coming in late, or leaving early could be a sign that the environment is not pleasing.
Self-Medicating: The use of alcohol, drugs, or other mind altering chemicals could be a sign of the need to escape.
WOW that was a lot to READ!
I didn’t intend on this blog being this long but this list was shortened as much as I felt possible, still giving credence to the more important and research presented signs of burnout.
STAY TUNED for the next blog “Burnout is Real, Now What?” We will investigate different skills that can be learned and performed to alleviate and help prevent the symptoms of burnout.
It is important to mention many of the symptoms of burnout similar to depression. It is important to seek out assistance from a medical professional if you feel your symptoms are dangerous to yourself or others. This blog is only meant to be used for education not diagnostics.
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This blog was started as a fun way to get information out about various topics in the wide world of stress management. If you have any suggestions for posts, please feel free to comment below or send an e-mail. Sit back relax and enjoy.