Work Burn-Out: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Job burn-out, sometimes called occupational burnout, is a fairly new psychological condition associated with work-related stress. In many cases, symptoms of burnout begin to appear in an individual after their daily workload has been increased beyond their capacity. Burnout is most common among employees, but the condition can also be identified in students who have been saddled with too much work and other people who are under immense pressure – for example, professional artists or athletes.

The intensity of symptoms related to burnout vary from one person to another, and some people are more susceptible to developing the condition than others. For example, one person may be perfectly comfortable with their workload, while a colleague with the same workload may find it to be overwhelming and subsequently unable to handle the pressure of completing their tasks.

It’s really a question of personality and individual capacity. For some people, the emergence of burnout symptoms may take place over a long period of time – stress accumulates little by little until, one fine morning, the person breaks down. Others experience burnout as a sudden event that isn’t preceded by any telltale signs or symptoms.

Causes of Burnout

While the main cause of occupational burnout can be attributed to an unmanageable workload, burnout can also occur when a person feels undervalued at work. Feeling left out of decisions related to their job and communication problems with managers can also contribute to burnout.

Sometimes, other factors can lead to a person’s burnout. These can include:

  • Excessive traffic during a commute (some people can end up spending up to 4 hours per day in traffic)
  • Physical condition (for example, back pain that makes work tasks more difficult to accomplish)
  • A loud working environment (especially for factory workers)
  • A precarious financial situation
  • A constant fear of losing their job
  • A conflict with a colleague or superior

Symptoms of Burnout

A person entering a burnout condition is experiencing chronic stress. Whether that stress is originating at work, at home or somewhere else, stress has become omnipresent in their life.
Symptoms specific to burnout are classified in one of two distinct categories: psychological symptoms and physical symptoms.

Psychological Symptoms of Burnout

  • Chronic stress
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressiveness
  • Anger
  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling of abandonment
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irrational fear of going to work
  • Distraction or difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Isolation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts

Physical Symptoms of Burnout

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Physical pain arising from stress (back pain, migraine, muscular pain)
  • Hypertension
  • Memory problems
  • Constant muscular tension
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Rapid breathing
  • Digestive problems
  • Loss of appetite

How to treat Burnout

Officially, burnout isn’t recognized as a mental illness, but rather is categorized as “trouble adapting to the workplace”. Because of this, burnout isn’t found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and it can be challenging for doctors to make a diagnosis. If a doctor identifies physical symptoms of burnout in a patient, they will often refer the person to a psychiatrist to receive a complete psychological evaluation.

Psychological Treatments

Once a diagnosis of burnout has been established, it’s strongly recommended that the individual stop working immediately for an indefinite period of time. The person will be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will attempt to treat the patient through therapy. Above all else, the afflicted person should rest and stay far away from the sources of their stress. These psychological treatments are often very effective and preferable to more intensive treatments.

Pharmacological Treatments (Drugs)

If a person suffering from burnout doesn’t respond to therapy, medication (usually antidepressants) may be prescribed. These drugs can modify the person’s brain chemistry and help alleviate the symptoms associated with burnout. While antidepressants can cause side effects in people, they can also be effective in treating serious cases of occupational burnout. If you feel stressed at work and are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, do not hesitate to contact a health-care professional.

How to Prevent Work Burnout

Prevention is without a doubt the best way to combat occupational burnout. It’s like the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Below are some strategies that can help you avoid a case of burnout.

  • Set your limits. One of the most important ways you can protect yourself from work burnout is by setting limits on your workload, work schedule, and responsibilities in general. Working a lot of overtime or taking on too many tasks are primary causes of burnout; talk to your superior to make sure you don’t fall into this trap.
  • Learn to delegate. If you feel swamped by your workload, talk to your boss or colleagues to see if someone can help you manage the excessive tasks. Maybe some of your colleagues aren’t as busy and will be able to lend a hand. Remember that the goal of your employer isn’t to saddle you with as much work as possible; it’s to make sure the company is operating in a sustainable way.
  • Learn to say no. By learning to say no to work requests that go beyond your capacity or role, you will avoid overextending yourself and setting yourself up for burnout.
  • Pursue a healthy, active lifestyle. It’s scientifically proven that having a healthy and active lifestyle helps to lower stress and improves mental health. Make time to go to the gym or get outside for some exercise, sleep well and eat healthy foods.
  • Take time for yourself. Take at least one hour each day to do something you enjoy or simply to relax. For example, you could watch an episode of your favorite TV show, read a book, do some drawing, play a video game – it’s up to you.
  • Find a new job. Sometimes, changing jobs is necessary to eliminate the stresses that may be leading to burnout. Adapting to a new environment and working on new projects with new people can be invigorating and exciting. Some people fear changing jobs and the associated uncertainty that comes with such a change, but it’s helpful to remember that there are other jobs out there, and doubtlessly there are at least a few that correspond well to your profile.

Take a look at the jobs available on Jobboom to find out what’s out there – you may just find the ideal position!

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