Burnout can happen in any profession
Burnout is a phenomenon that was first discussed around 1970. In the beginning, it applied exclusively to the helping professions, such as nurses, therapists, social workers or doctors. These people often were overworked and overwhelmed with the issues they had to face at work. However, by now, we know that burnout not only affects people who take care of others. Everybody who is consistently overworked, under-challenged, stressed or frustrated at work can suffer from burnout.
Time pressure, scarce resources, and conflicts with coworkers can influence burnout as much as constant worrying about clients or patients and dealing with emotionally difficult situations. Extreme commitment to a job that leads a person to neglect his or her own needs can also be a cause.
The following are some of the symptoms that a person with burnout might experience:
Sleep problems, particularly insomnia and chronic fatigue are quite common. Many people lie awake at night, unable to stop thinking about work. If this occurs frequently, these people are, of course, tired during the day, which makes it harder for them to focus and to be productive. Physical and mental exhaustion also make it difficult to concentrate, pay attention to details or remember things. In turn, this increases anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, which exacerbates sleep problems.
Many people with burnout describe a variety of physical symptoms, such as chest pains, heart palpitations, headaches or stomach problems. Of course, no matter what you think the cause for any of these problems is, they should always be evaluated by a physician to rule out any medical explanations. Loss of appetite and increased illness are additional physical symptoms of burnout.
Emotionally, increasing anxiety and depression with all their associated symptoms — even to the point of panic attacks or suicidal thoughts — are frequent long-term problems for people who suffer from burnout. Guilt, irritability and anger are also some emotions that many people with burnout experience. These feelings often lead to tension and arguments in private and work relationships, so that it is becoming harder and harder for the distressed person to find understanding and support.
Leading up to these more severe symptoms are often milder ones, such as loss of enjoyment for work, a general attitude of pessimism and negativity, or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. At some point, the person might feel that nothing is worth doing, that he or she won’t make a difference anyway and that nobody cares.
If you start noticing these symptoms in yourself, a coworker, or a family member, there are some steps you and they can take to improve the situation. Sometimes, it is possible to reduce stress by thinking outside of the box.
Maybe you can improve your work environment by listening to music, opening a window, or getting a more comfortable chair. Maybe you can share certain responsibilities with a coworker who enjoys them more. Maybe your supervisor would be willing to support you if he or she only knew what’s bothering you. Even small changes can make a difference.
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to feel like part of a team. Open up to coworkers, offer and ask for support. Encourage and praise each other and celebrate small successes. Instead of griping about the things you can’t change, like government regulations or management, find areas that you can influence. Clarify your job demands and don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Yes, your supervisor might be annoyed if you don’t finish this report over the weekend, but it would be even worse if you worked yourself sick and then had to stay at home for a week.
Perhaps most importantly, take good care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, get enough rest, exercise, find a hobby, and enjoy time off with family, friends and nature.
As always, if you need help with this or if you need additional ideas and support, don’t hesitate to contact your physician or a mental health provider. The earlier you address problems, the better your long-term outcome will be.
- Antje Rath
- April 2015