Burnout doesn’t appear all of a sudden and often has devastating effects. It almost always sneaks up on us without us actively noticing it. We might attribute the mental and physical depletion that we are experiencing to being overly stressed or fatigued but it’s often much more than that. Burnout is the result of feeling overburdened to the point of being on the brink of, or past exhaustion.
When Psychologist, Dr Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term in the 70s, he referred to burnout as the loss of motivation, a growing sense of emotional depletion and cynicism. Back then, the psychologist used the term to describe the consequences of severe stress and high standards amongst what was considered “helping” professions such as doctors and nurses.
Nowadays, the term describes anyone who feels extremely exhausted and unable to cope, whether in or out of the workplace. Burnout can affect anyone and is characterised by a state of chronic stress that can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, alongside feelings of detachment and lack of accomplishment. The below signs or symptoms are typical of someone who might be experiencing a burnout, as told by Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab.
Despite getting enough sleep, burnout leaves us feeling constantly tired or drained of energy. Usually, a person suffering burnout will wake up feeling tired and this can see them really struggling to get through their day. Even if there is an absence of physical exertion, they won’t often feel as though they’ve had rest or feel relaxed because they’re as mentally fatigued as they are physically.
A person suffering from burnout can often have trouble sleeping. This can include insomnia where a person cannot fall asleep, or on the other end of the spectrum – they might not be able to get out of bed instead, experiencing excessive sleepiness. Lack of sleep can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing and if prolonged, can increase the risk of developing other mental illnesses.
People suffering from a burnout will often experience physical sickness because their immune system is so run down, making them susceptible to falling ill. They might find themselves catching a common cold regularly and will be vulnerable to infections. Physical sickness can also display itself as a symptom of burnout in the form of heart palpitations, dizziness, fainting or headaches. The ongoing heightened stress and anxiety during burnout may result in the manifestation of physical symptoms in the form of an upset stomach, tightness in the chest, nausea, trembling or shortness of breath.
A person suffering from or on the brink of a burnout can often be feeling particularly emotionally exhausted, leading to irregularity of mood. Emotional outbursts, anger, loss of passion, feeling flat and an ever-present sense of negativity are common. Here we might find someone overreacting to a situation or lashing out at someone unnecessarily – or even completely shutting down emotionally and withdrawing. Often people suffering from burnout are feeling particularly pessimistic, cynical and disillusioned. This is usually because their overall emotional state is at complete exhaustion where they feel rundown, low on energy and short on patience.
The constant worry and stress from a burnout can eventually and often reveal as another mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. The physical strain or somatisation of symptoms can see disorders such as panic or acute stress disorder develop, and overall mental health can really deteriorate when experiencing burnout. During burnout, it is common to feel intensely negative, hopeless, worthless, ineffective or unaccomplished. This is a particularly concerning symptom because if left untreated can lead to dangerous outcomes.
The above symptoms on their own or combined all point to signs of a burnout. Everyone has bad days, however if a person feels these symptoms for weeks on end, it is important to take steps towards alleviating some of the stress. Oftentimes this can be done alone, by implementing some strategies to cope. Ensuring enough rest, sleep and relaxation, is a crucial thing to consider when wanting to cope better with the signs of burnout. Just as it is important to allow the body to shut down and recharge, it’s also vital to allow the mind to do the same, through the implementation of meditation and grounding techniques.
Other strategies might mean having some open conversations with people to set some boundaries or expectations around the workload you carry – whether that be with regard to work, friends or family. Making lists and writing everything down in order to feel in control of the situation and on top of your to-do list can also help. It’s important to consider that some things can feel out of control despite your efforts and this is when it is imperative to reach out and seek professional help.
Additionally, a family member or friend can often provide emotional encouragement, usually leaving us feel supported and as though there is someone to turn to. A psychologist will be able to assist in providing some coping mechanisms and suggest practical tactics to alleviate some of the feelings or symptoms, helping you get on top of the mood, behaviour and symptoms.
Places like Beyond Blue and Lifeline provide free over the phone counselling services, and Lysn provides access to qualified psychologists via phone or video chat. With services like Lysn, it just means that when suffering from things such as burnout, a therapist can be more readily accessible to help us through, and to assist in gaining as much normal function as possible without disrupting our schedules too much. It’s important to note that our General Practitioners are also a great point of contact and if a person is feeling suicidal, please call 000 immediately.
Words by Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab.