Everyone gets stressed, right? Just a fact of life when you work hard for a living.
But do you feel:
- Like nothing gives you joy – even hobbies and activities you used to enjoy?
- As though it’s difficult to concentrate on the simplest tasks?
- Constantly that you’re in a bad mood in the workplace – and nothing seems to shift it?
- Like you do battle with yourself everyday just to get to work on time?
- No joy in a task well done – even if you receive recognition from your team?
If so, you may be struggling with work burnout.
Burnout is a condition you may experience when under long term stress in your workplace. While normal stress is short-term, often relating to a looming deadline or a temporarily busy period, burnout is far more sneaky.
What Does Burnout Feel Like?
Burnout is often something that can creep up on you – because it manifests as symptoms that you may pass off as a normal part of life, such as feeling fatigued and unrefreshed after sleep, or feeling reluctant about getting to work and tackling your workload. After all, everyone has days like that, right? But if the days are becoming more frequent, and you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed working in what you would previously have described as your dream job – then it’s possible you have burnout.
Mentally, the three main psychological elements of burnout are “overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” But you can also struggle with physical symptoms too!
Symptoms of job burnout include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Irritability with customers, clients, or colleagues.
- Inconsistent productivity due to low energy levels.
- Negative attitude – often cynical or heavily critical.
- Reluctance to head into work or get started on your daily tasks.
- Inability to take pride in your accomplishments.
- Reliance on alcohol, drugs, or food to feel better or avoid your feelings.
Physical signs of burnout can include increased susceptibility to colds and illness, changes in sleep patterns, headaches, stomach pain, and other gastrointestinal upsets.
There are 12 phases to burnout – but these phases don’t occur one after the other, and many can occur at once.
The 12 phases are:
- Overwhelming desire to prove yourself
- Working much harder
- Neglecting your own needs
- Displacement of conflict – blaming your boss, or other external factors
- No time for any non-work related activities
- More denial and lack of flexibility in your behavior
- Behavioral changes
- Depersonalization – feeling like your life is out of control and you no longer have any say
- Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
- Depression: feeling that everything is meaningless and you have a lack of interest in life.
- Physical or mental exhaustion that can be debilitating and needs treatment.
Burnout is not just “bad stress” – it can take a toll on your body and mind, and it can have some severe consequences if not treated in time. Also, it’s not contained at work – your symptoms spill out and have consequences in your home and social life.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout happens when your stress response goes on overdrive. Above, I’ve explained how you cycle through the psychological phases – but there’s a physical element to stress that combines with these phases, making you feel worse.
When you perceive a threat, your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis kicks into action. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to reason with the HPA response – it’s evolved to keep you out of danger, but your brain can’t always differentiate between the danger of a swerving vehicle and a dressing-down from your boss!
Your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is made up of:
- The hypothalamus of the brain
- The brain’s pituitary glands
- The adrenal glands – situated on top of each kidney
The HPA axis is your central stress response system, and when the hypothalamus perceives danger, it tells your pituitary glands to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels to your adrenal glands and triggers a release of adrenaline and cortisol. While adrenaline is the hormone responsible for your fight-or-flight response, causing an increase in heart rate and in breaths taken, cortisol is a different beast.
Cortisol works to reduce the number of processes your body is dealing with, for the duration of the danger – redirecting the energy to be used instead for fight-or-flight. So cortisol suppresses sleep regulation, immune system function, and insulin production. All fine in the short term, but long term suppression – in the case of long-standing stress or burnout – can have a serious impact on your ability to fight off illness, get enough sleep, and process sugar – putting you at risk for type 2 diabetes.
How Can I Recover from Burnout?
Many of the most recommended ways to recover from burnout involve rest and relaxation – or more drastically, a change of career. Often these options are not feasible, but there are other ways to ease the strain on your mind and body.
- Finding support – phase 7 of burnout is withdrawal, so many burnt out workers find it hard to reach out. But it’s essential that you find some support: in the workplace, or from family or a close friend. Consider finding a trained therapist who can help you work out your options, and teach you some coping mechanisms.
- Becoming more active – regular exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety, increase serotonin levels, and regulate the way your HPA axis responds to stress.
- Putting in place a sleep routine – high levels of cortisol have an impact on your sleep/wake cycle so it’s important that you keep to a regular bedtime, and make time to relax.
- Booking an appointment for burnout IV treatment – Long-term stress and high levels of cortisol can cause a nutritional deficiency in your body, causing additional weakness and fatigue. Your body isn’t meant to undergo heightened cortisol for any length of time. An intravenous treatment of nutrients, including B vitamins, is quicker and more effective than taking oral supplements, and helps you regain your vitality so you can make the necessary changes to banish burnout for good. Alternatively, if you have felt burned out for some time and suffer from a mood disorder like major depression, ketamine infusion therapy is a viable option.