Burnout is a condition caused by chronic stress and occurs when a person is overcome by emotional strain, demands on time, overwhelming work commitments or difficult periods in their personal life. Symptoms can be similar to depression and both can be experienced together, triggered by the initial burnout experience. As stress continues, the person may find it impossible to continue with their job and any pressures or responsibilities at home so it is helpful to be able to recognise the signs to help alleviate or halt burnout before it occurs.
Also referred to as adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, the signs of burnout begin gradually, building up until the person is unable to function at their normal level both mentally and physically. Periods of intense stress, such as a high-pressure project at work or the illness of a loved one can cause the body to react and gradually the person suffering may lose motivation to do the activities they previously enjoyed or interest in their work or home life. Feelings of hopelessness, intense fatigue and cynicism can all be signs of an impending burnout, and being worried or preoccupied with work when not in the work environment (e.g. at the weekend) may signify the need to reduce stressors.
Individuals may show different symptoms of burnout, but it’s worth noting that those who are perfectionists or have a high-stress job or increased responsibility at home (e.g. multiple children or a carer for a family member) may be more at risk. Symptoms can include:
As mentioned, there are certain personality types that may be more susceptible to burnout, but it can happen to any person regardless of their previous mental health history or job/home life. The UK government reported that 12.5 million sick days were taken in 2016/17 because of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, demonstrating just how common these conditions are amongst the community.
Professor Christina Maslach has been studying burnout at the University of California, Berkeley since the 1970’s and alongside her contributors came up with the following six components that can contribute towards the condition:
Workload - Juggling tasks, pressure from peers and impending deadlines.
Control - Feeling out of control with an inability to influence decisions.
Reward - Believing that hard work both at home or in the workplace is not recognised or rewarded.
Community - A lack of support from a community, be it colleagues or the local community can incite feelings of helplessness and despair.
Fairness - Perceived injustice is a powerful contributor to burnout symptoms, often culminating in a loss of control for certain situations.
Values - When values are not aligned it can cause extreme stress when in close proximity to those with opposing thoughts and opinions.
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