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Working in a full-time job, being a parent, taking on the role of caregiver to an ill parent, or handling two or more of these major responsibilities simultaneously can become a huge source of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. If there’s no relief in sight, you may feel like you’re not performing to the best of your abilities, or that you’re not getting the support you need, which can lead to burnout symptoms.
The term “burnout” was first used by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger—according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information—to describe the severe stress that people working in the human services industry (such as doctors and nurses) experience on the job. Now, the term is used to described anyone who feels extremely overburdened by and/or unsatisfied with their daily responsibilities.
Because we often experience stress due to our busy schedules, it’s sometimes hard to identify when we’re officially “burnt out,” so it’s important to know what’s causing it, what the signs are, and how to handle them.
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Burnout isn’t necessarily caused by one significant event, person, obstacle, or situation, but rather a combination of circumstances that can leave you feeling extremely exhausted, stressed, and hopeless. The following are frequent causes of burnout symptoms, according to Forbes.com:
- Lack of control. Feeling like you don’t have the resources you need to perform your job efficiently or that your responsibilities don’t match your interests or skill set.
- Lack of reward. Feeling like you’re not getting the verbal, social, and/or monetary recognition you deserve for your hard work and sacrifice.
- Lack of community. Feeling like your work environment lacks teamwork and comraderey.
- Lack of fairness. Feeling disrespected by pay or workload inequalities and/or inappropriate behavior that goes unchecked.
- Conflict in values. Working or living in an environment that conflicts with your personal values.
- Work overload. Working long and/or demanding hours or tasked with responsibilities that are beyond your skill set, level, or ability.
- Lack of social support. Feelings of isolation at work and/or at home.
- Work-life imbalance. When your work and/or caregiving responsibilities take significant time and effort away from your personal life.
It’s normal to feel stressed and worn out after long day of working or taking care of a loved one. At times, something as simple as a hot shower and a good night’s rest might be all the “cure” you need. But if you experience any of the following burnout symptoms for more than a couple of days in a row, you may be at risk for something more serious:
- Feelings of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of cynicism
- Lack of satisfaction from your work and/or accomplishments
- Change in appetite
- Physical ailments, such as headaches, backaches, and muscle tension
- Reduced performance
People working in the healthcare or education fields, for example, are more likely to suffer burnout due to the demanding hours. Working parents, caregivers, and those facing conflicts both at home and on the job also are at risk. And those who tend to get obsessed with succeeding in their profession can burn out because they tend to neglect their physical, mental, and emotional health to focus on their work.
Is It Burnout or Something Else?
There aren’t any medical tests that diagnose burnout, but there is a common tool used by researchers: a questionnaire created for human services professionals. Called the “Maslach Burnout Inventory” (MBI), the questionnaire assesses three areas:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Depersonalization, which measures impersonal responses towards the people being served
- Personal accomplishment, which measures feelings of competence and achievement at work
In fact, ignoring burnout symptoms can often lead to more serious and chronic complications, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, heart disease, stroke, obesity, substance abuse, and type 2 diabetes.
Burnout symptoms sometimes can mimic depression symptoms. Both conditions can cause you to feel exhausted and down, which can have a negative effect on your work performance. But while burnout symptoms often relate directly to work or caregiving, depression can cause negative feelings about all aspects of life. Therefore, if you feel extreme sadness or hopelessness and/or have suicidal thoughts, you should seek help for depression.
How to Get a Handle on Your Burnout Symptoms
Experiencing burnout can be emotional and exhausting, but there are steps you can take almost right away to begin the recovery process—steps that need not be as drastic as quitting your job or turning your back on your responsibilities. Here’s how you can start managing your burnout symptoms:
- Consider your options. Discuss with your employer and/or family members ways that you can make your workload more balanced. If your career is the source of burnout, consider options that can help you better manage your workload, including telecommuting, mentoring opportunities, and/or professional development. If you’re a caregiver or parent, try recruiting some additional help with cleaning, cooking, and running errands.
- Reach out for help. Even if your hectic schedule doesn’t slow down right away, reaching out to a friend, family member, or therapist can help you cope with stress. Take a few minutes to call or have lunch with someone around whom you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and concerns.
- Take care of yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep, not eating right, or not making time for exercise, you’re missing out on three essential coping mechanisms for handling stress. It’s also important to take time to pursue your own interests, hobbies, and passions, which can not only help you handle demanding responsibilities but that might point you in the right direction in your search for a more suitable job or career.
- Adjust your outlook. Instead of constantly focusing on the negative aspects of your responsibilities, find and focus on the moments that you do enjoy. Use a short walk or meditation session to zone in on these moments.
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