Symptoms and causes of burnout

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What is burnout?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes burnout as ‘chronic workplace stress’. It’s important to acknowledge that burnout is specifically related to your work life.


Symptoms of burnout

Spotting the signs of burnout early can help avoid symptoms worsening over time. When it comes to burnout there are three key elements to watch out for: feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from a job and poorer performance at work. You may experience some of the symptoms below.

1. Exhaustion

· Having trouble sleeping
· Feeling tired a lot or all of the time
· Forgetting things or finding it hard to concentrate
· Becoming easily upset
· Losing your appetite
· Being more irritable and angry
· Feeling low in mood and worrying a lot
· Feeling low in energy, this can be both physical and psychological exhaustion

2. Mental detachment from your job

· Lacking motivation to complete work tasks and projects
· Feeling alienated from other people
· Having negative thoughts and self-doubt
· Feeling like a failure

3. Poorer performance at work

· Losing belief in yourself
· Feeling hopeless
· Being less productive at work
· Feeling irritable or snappy
· Being unable to “switch off” from work

Other signs and symptoms include:

· Becoming more self-loathing because you feel like you’re underachieving
· Feeling guilty for relaxing
· Feeling like you should be doing something productive
· Finding it difficult to find enjoyment in life
· Your mind is often preoccupied with thoughts about work – both in and out of the workplace


Stress, depression and burnout

A certain level of stress can be a good thing but when stress becomes unmanageable, that’s when to take action. It’s important to know the difference between burnout and stress. Stress can be having too much work to handle or too many responsibilities. Burnout is prolonged stress (chronic stress) and getting to a point where you’re demotivated and disengaged from your work, without energy to care.

Certain symptoms of depression, such as exhaustion or difficulty performing tasks, can seem similar to burnout. Sometimes it might be difficult to work out whether your symptoms are related to burnout, depression or are symptoms of something else so it's best to talk to your GP so they can find out what may be causing them.


Main causes of burnout

Unmanageable  workload and unreasonable time pressures
When you have too much work to do, it can feel overwhelming and if you regularly work long hours, this can lead to exhaustion.

Not being treated well at work
Behaviours such as bullying, favouritism, not being paid fairly or being overlooked for a promotion can take a toll and increase the likelihood of feeling burnt out.

Lack of communication and support
It’s important to have a manager who communicates well with you and supports you with any issues that come up. Similarly, think about your relationships with colleagues, as having strong relationships at work can reduce feelings of burnout.

Lack of role clarity
Do you know what’s expected from you at work? Having unclear goals can make it difficult to know what your responsibilities are and may lead to work-related stress.

Feeling unappreciated
If you feel like you rarely get positive feedback from your manager or no incentives in the way of a raise or a promotion, this is likely to feel disheartening, affect your motivation and increase your stress levels.

If this sounds familiar, here’s how to tackle burnout and enhance your wellbeing.

More about stress

Steps to help recover from burnout
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