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In the modern work environment, people wear the badge of “busyness” as if it is a badge of honor. At home or at work, the demands placed on a productive person are never-ending. While there is much to admire about a strong work ethic, it is easy to get out of balance and propel yourself down a path that leads to burnout.

What Is Burnout?

According to the Journal of Social Issues (January 1974), burnout manifests as “signs of physical, mental, and/or emotional exhaustion as a result of stress related to the job or workplace”.

Weight gain, trouble sleeping, and irritability are all signs of burnout. However, they might also appear for other reasons. There is a difference between work-related stress and job burnout.

What is the difference between stress and burn out?

Everyone has bad days from time to time. People even go through seasons of elevated stress. It is a normal part of life. However, when someone does not seem to recover from their bad day or it persists beyond a reasonable amount of time, it might signal that someone is experiencing burnout.

A Short History of Burnout

The burnout syndrome was first described in two scientific articles published in 1974, one by Herbert Freudenberger (1974) and one by Sigmund Ginsburg (1974). Later, it was Freudenberger, a German-born U.S. psychologist and psychotherapist, who made the term popular. For his work, most authorities recognize him as the founding father of the concept.

12 Stages of Burnout

Burnout research indicates twelve stages someone passes through on the path to burnout. Although, there are different versions of this list. They follow similar ideas and patterns of behavior.

The Twelve Stages of Burnout
  1. Excessive drive/ambition
  2. Pushing yourself to work harder
  3. Neglecting your own needs
  4. Displacement of conflict
  5. No time for nonwork-related needs
  6. Denial. Impatience with those around you mounts
  7. Withdrawal. You begin to withdraw from family and friends
  8. Behavioral changes
  9. Depersonalization
  10. Inner emptiness or anxiety
  11. Depression (emotional exhaustion)
  12. Mental or physical collapse

This progression of feelings, attitudes, and behaviors is a strong indicator that someone is experiencing burnout.

The Symptoms Of Burnout

Burnout affects your personal life, physical health, and mental health

The Physical Symptoms of Burnout Include

  • Exhaustion
  • Frequent headaches and/or stomach aches
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or a disrupted sleep cycle
  • Muscle tension
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Weight Gain

The Physiological Symptoms of Burnout Include

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of creativity
  • Fatigue
  • Negative attitudes
  • Loss of purpose
  • Irritability
  • Cynicism
  • Frustration

What Causes Burnout And What You Can Do About?

The Common Causes of Burnout?

No one is immune to the dangers of burnout regardless of personality characteristics. Smart, productive people experience burnout as much as anyone else. Work-related stress can lead to emotional exhaustion and eventually to job burnout.

Some of the indicators that you are on the road to burnout include:

  • Heavy work load
  • Having a poor work/life balance
  • Dealing with distressing situations
  • Unhealthy work environment
  • Dissonance with the values of the organization
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feel hopeless
  • Chronic stress

How Do You Recover From Burnout?

1. Recognize The Physical Signs and Emotional Signs of burnout

You need to be honest with yourself if you are experiencing burnout. There is a temptation to resist making a change or getting help because you do not want to admit that you are having a problem.

Common Signs of Burnout
  • You lose motivation
  • You are feeling physically tired
  • Your primary emotion is numbness
  • People suck your energy and leaving you feeling drained
  • Little things can make you disproportionately angry
  • Your productivity suffers

It is important to recognize the warning signs of burnout, so you can take action as quickly as possible to avoid burnout. If you recognize that you are already experiencing burnout, then acknowledging the reality is the first step towards recovery.

2. Avoid Self-Medication

Self-care is good (more on that later), but self-medication does not lead to recovery from a burnout experience. Some typical examples of self-medicating include the following.

  • Overeating. Food is an escape from dealing with the real issues that are causing increased stress levels.
  • Overworking. You cannot overcome work related stress by doing more work.
  • Drinking and Drugs. The excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol are other common behaviors exhibited by someone who is trying to escape the pressures of work or life.
  • Impulsive spending (joking called ¨retail therapy¨). Spending money is a temporary relief from stressful situations. It does not provide any long-term solutions to the underlying causes of stress or burnout.

3. Take Your First Steps Towards Burnout Recovery

Here is what you should do instead of self-medicating behaviors.

  • Tell someone. Talking to someone is the first step to recovery from burnout. No one can completely resolve burnout on their own. Talk with family members or a trusted friend. Ask them if they recognize the signs of burnout in your life.
  • Get help. The guidance of a qualified mental health professional is the most important step you can take to recovering from burnout. You cannot come back from a burnout experience on will power alone.
  • Rest. Healthy sleep habits are a contributing factor to overall physical and mental wellness. Physical exhaustion is one of the symptoms of workplace burnout. Getting enough sleep is vital for recovery.
  • Believe you can be your best. People who experience burnout often feel that they have little or no control over the lives. Even when you feel overwhelmed, hope will give you the strength to take the next step.

4. Find Your Rhythm For Rest And Rejuvenation

What do you do to recharge at the end of a long day? Best-selling author Greg McKeown is a champion for the benefits of rest and rejuvenation. In his book, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most, Greg writes, ¨Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.¨

To-do lists and calendars are full of commitments for others. To avoid physical and mental exhaustion, you have to prioritize yourself. Schedule time for activities that refuel your heart, mind, and body. It is no less important than any other item in your task manager or appointment on your calendar. In fact, establishing a rhythm for rest and relaxation ensures that you will always be at your best for yourself and others.

Identify Your Happiness Formula

To overcome physical and emotional exhaustion, make a list of activities that you can do to refuel. Best-selling author Jenny Blake calls this your happiness formula. In her book, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, she encourages positive mental and physical health by implementing what she calls the happiness formula.

Your happiness formula is the unique mix of environmental factors and activities that are most likely to invigorate you and reset your energy batteries when they are running low.

Your happiness formula is personal. It is tailored to your personality traits, interests, and values. It includes a mixture of mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social activities.

Ask yourself the following clarifying questions.

  • What are your favorite physical activities?
  • Which people do you like to be around to energize you?
  • What are you doing when you feel the most motivated?
  • What you want more of in your life?
  • What do you want less of in your life?
  • How many hours of sleep leaves you feeling rested?

Write down your answers to these clarifying questions (and others you might think of as you feel inspired). Now, schedule these activities in your calendar. Make a commitment to your well-being. Instead of reaching the end of the day and looking for something to be numb or escape, be intentional about doing something that will recharge your batteries for the next day.

5. Redefine Your Workplace Reality

Good sleep habits are essential to recovering from burnout, but it is not the only factor. You need more than a long weekend to recover from burnout. It is not what you are doing in your time ¨off¨ that produces the workplace stress that leads to burnout. It is what you are doing when you are ¨on¨ that is creating the problem.

To avoid burnout or to recover from burnout, you have to be proactive about dealing with the contributing factors.

Here are a few places to consider making some changes.

  • Long hours. If you know you are working too many hours and feeling completely exhausted at the end of the day, give yourself a hard deadline to stop working. Create a end of the day routine to close out your day and prepare yourself for the next day. You may be surprised how the constraints on your time make your more productive.
  • Sustainable Pace. Think of your goals in life and work as a marathon instead of a sprint and set your pace accordingly. There are moments when pulling an all-nighter is the right answer. Sometimes you need to sprint towards the finish line of a big project. However, that is not a sustainable pace for your daily life. If you are running at full speed and still feel overwhelmed and exhausted, then taking an extra day off once per month is not the answer. The solution for an ¨unsustainable pace¨ is to start living and working at a ¨sustainable pace.¨
  • Stress with Co Workers. Conflicts with co workers is a source of stress. Although remote work is more common, your relationship with your co workers remains a contributing factor to your level of stress. Do you best to build and maintain healthy relationships with your co workers. When an issue arises, resolve it as quickly as possible. Seek help from the proper authority if needed.
  • Priorities. If you are not planning your priorities, then they are being planned by someone else. Even top level leaders will admit that they carry their work home in the evenings and work through the weekends because they spent the work day on someone else’s priorities instead of their own. To get the job requires late nights and long hours on the weekend to complete their most important task. Working in this way accrues a significant sleep debt and piles on the physical symptoms of feeling tired and physically and emotionally exhausted. Our best advice at Asian Efficiency is to develop the habit called Eat That Frog (do your most important task first). You may not be able to control everything, but doing your most important task first will give you more ¨wins¨ than you will have if you don’t eat the frog.
  • Negative outlook. A positive attitude is one of your greatest assets in avoiding burnout. A healthy practice is to keep a gratitude journal. Laurie Santos, a psychologist who teaches a course on the science of well-being and happiness at Yale, says, ¨It is important to remember that gratitude is free.¨ Scientific investigation has found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress, reduce the symptoms of depression, and improve mental health. There is even some evidence that a regular practice of gratitude can reduce the risk of heart disease. It can definitely have a positive impact on your productivity.

6. Pay Attention to Self Care

Social Support

Your odds of making good decisions multiply when you surround yourself with other people who are making good decisions. Building a strong social network of people who share your values and commitment to minimize stress and avoid burnout is one of the best investments of your time and energy. Seek out family members, friends, and co-workers who support your goals and encourage the habits and lifestyle you want to experience.

Diet and Exercise

Small changes in your diet and exercise can yield dramatic results in how you feel about yourself, your energy levels, and even promote a more positive outlook towards life. Choosing to follow a healthy diet and developing the habit to exercise three to four times per week can help you avoid many of the physical symptoms of burnout.

Next Steps To Avoid Burnout And Live A Happy Productive Life

Seek Professional Help

If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, it is wise to seek professional help. There may be physical factors that are best determined by a physician. In addition to the physical symptoms, it may be appropriate to see a qualified therapist to guide you through a process of recovery. This is especially important for extreme cases when the symptoms have endured over an extended amount of time.

Plan To Avoid Burnout

It is definitely possible to recover from burnout. It is even better if you are proactive to plan to avoid burnout in the first place.

Here is what we recommend:

  1. Recognize The Physical Signs and Emotional Signs of burnout
  2. Avoid self-medication
  3. Take your first steps towards prevention / recovery from burnout
  4. Find Your Rhythm For Rest And Rejuvenation
  5. Redefine your workplace reality
  6. Pay attention to self care

The way to avoid burnout is to take small incremental steps every day to become the best version of yourself.

Implement the Your Happiness Formula

A great place to start in one of the areas that is most easily neglected – planning for rest and rejuvenation. For your first step in being the best ¨burnout free¨ version of yourself, identify your happiness formula.

  1. Ask yourself your the clarifying questions mentioned in this article.
  2. Schedule at least one item from your happiness formula on your calendar for this week.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. This is a great article that provides valuable insight into <a href=" https://yourmentalhealthpal.com/symptoms-of-burnout/ "> burnout symptoms </a> and how to manage them. I especially appreciate the suggestion to prioritize self-care and seek support from family, friends, or a professional. It's important to understand that burnout is a serious issue and should not be ignored. Taking proactive steps to address burnout symptoms can prevent long-term consequences and improve overall well-being. Thank you for sharing this information.

  2. Great article! I agree with everything you said. Burn out is a real problem, and it's important to know how to deal with it when you're experiencing it.

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