Understanding Burnout

A term tossed around a lot these days is burnout. It can mean a variety of stages of tiredness, exhaustion, or a justification for giving up. But what exactly is burnout, and how does it manifest in our daily lives?

Its origins come from psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, and the concept was grounded on his observations of himself and his staff working with addicts in a clinical setting (Kelly, 2021). This experience produced outcomes of experiences blended with internal and external stressors as well as individual well-being and unite to cause physical and psychological challenges.

Burnout is the term used to describe a psychological syndrome resulting from prolonged exposure to chronic interpersonal stressors. The response is comprised of three critical elements: overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment (Maslach, 2016).

The impact of burnout can be present in all or some of the following areas: personally, professionally, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Personally, many events cause feelings of overwhelming stress and chaos. Just listing a few:

  • significant life changes (baby, divorce, death)
  • high-pressure jobs
  • working long hours or working at a job you hate
  • having a baby/raising children
  • financial stress 
  • being a caregiver for a loved one
  • living with a chronic illness or injury

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is an occupational phenomenon resulting from unmanaged, chronic workplace stress. (Overton, 2022). Professionally, burnout is recognized as work-related stress caused by frustration, exhaustion, and loss of personal identity. The WHO further expounded upon the basic definition by adding three criteria required for work-related stress: 

  • Diminishing energy and/or exhaustion
  • Negative feelings toward the job and/or increasing distance from job responsibilities/operations
  • A downturn in professional efficacy

Moreover, additional sources and data suggest that burnout is becoming a global challenge to the business community. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review (2020) surveyed over 1,500 respondents in 46 countries and reported:

  • 89% said work life was getting worse
  • 85% said their well-being had declined
  • 56% said their job demands had increased
  • 62% said they struggled to manage their workloads and experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often.”

Work conducted by Goh, Pfeffer, and Zenios captured data showing that work is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Their 2016 study revealed that more than 120,000 deaths per year might be attributable to how U.S. companies manage their workforces (Goh, Pfeffer, Zenios, 2016). This issue is not just prevalent in the United States as the World Health Organization and The International Labor Organization report numerous findings. The ILO says that excessively long working hours contribute to the deaths of 2.8 million workers every year (ILO, 2019).

Burnout can present from an emotional aspect as well. Feelings become overwhelming, difficult, or confusing, and interactions are challenging. Engagements and reactions could look like many of the below descriptors:  

  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Absentmindedness
  • Apathy
  • Nervousness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irrational anger
  • Increased cynicism or pessimism
  • Sense of dread
  • Depression

Mental burnout can be noticed when changes start to look like this:

  • Taking on more than one can handle
  • Poor self-care
  • Lack of social engagement and support
  • Sadness, anger, or irritability.

The physical attributes of burnout look like this:

  • Feeling drained
  • Feeling tired
  • Lowered immunity resulting in frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or body pains
  • Change in appetite, change in sleep, change in physical activities

Spiritually can also feel the impact of feelings of burnout. This burnout can be a loss of doubt, energy, and/or faith. Indicators of spiritual burnout are:  

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Spiritual detachment
  • Spiritual anxiety
  • Spiritual distrust
  • Withdrawal from community and activity

Lifestyle changes can benefit the relief of burnout in a few different ways. Let’s try a few healthier habits:

  • Eat Healthy (thus improving digestion, energy levels, and quality of sleep)
  • Get some exercise (endorphins and serotonin levels improve emotional state)
  • Get better rest (follow a solid routine, limit alcohol and caffeine can improve the quality of rest)
  • Mindfulness routine (Meditation, yoga, journal, walks all contribute to reducing stress and improving mental health)
  • Connect with a trusted friend

Burnout can be addressed and remedied in several constructive and beneficial ways: 

  1. Acknowledging the feelings of burnout is the first step. 
  2. Next, acknowledge your feelings and seek support for ways to identify those causes and reactions to include the emotional aspect needed for resolution. 
  3. Establish solutions needed to improve your situation and circumstances. 
  4. Seek support from those you trust and value.  
  5. Take time/Take care/Take a break
  6. Seek professional guidance and support

The critical factor in all of this conversation around burnout is that options and resources are available to help take a step out of the chaos and move forward into a more peaceful and connective life for us all!

If you want to learn more, let’s connect at info@lwcounselingllc.com to set up an appointment. Until then, be well, my friends!

Dr. Shana Garrett

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