Burnout is now a recognized health condition, but what is it?

BurnoutCC: Sebastian Herrmann at Unsplash

In a world that’s becoming increasingly demanding, many people struggle to keep up with the pace. The chances are, you’ve already heard the term burnout. However, it wasn’t until recently that it gained medical recognition. As of today, the World Health Organization (WHO) sees burnout as a chronic complaint.

Officially, the WHO recognizes burnout as being “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” But what does burnout mean? And what can you do when it happens?

What does burnout mean?

Most of us experience workplace stress from time to time. We may encounter a few too many late nights. Or, we might fall out of love with a career we once adored.

Burnout goes a step further. When you’re experiencing it, you’re likely to encounter the following feelings:

  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed by your job.
  • Feeling emotionally drained.
  • Believing that you cannot meet constant demands.
  • Everything starts to look bleak.
  • You struggle to find the energy to continue with everyday tasks.

Naturally, burnout won’t arise from your workplace activities alone. It’s often the case that family life, financial stresses, working multiple jobs, and adverse life events play a role. Over time, you may feel as though you don’t have the emotional or physical reserves needed to do everything that life demands of you.

What happens when you start burning out?

When you start burning out, you’ll begin experiencing some tell-tale signs and symptoms. They include:

  • Digestive disturbances, such as constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Constantly thinking about work, even when you’re at home.
  • High blood pressure and/or fast heart rate.
  • Being moody, irritable, and prone to angry outbursts.
  • Socializing less often.
  • Spending less time with your family or enjoying yourself.
  • Suffering from poor concentration.

You don’t need to encounter all the above signs to receive a burnout diagnosis. Additionally, experiencing just one in isolation doesn’t necessarily mean that work is the problem. However, when you begin experiencing two or more and you believe that work is the cause, you need to start making changes.

What can you do to stop burnout happening?

When you’re in the middle of burning out it’s normal to feel as though there’s no way back. You may feel as though you can’t fix your situation, which makes the problem worse.

Fortunately, there are small changes you can make to burnout less likely. They include:

Working less

To many, the idea of working less either seems impossible or unthinkable. However, if you’re on the verge of burnout, can you afford not to take a break? Many of those who succumb to this condition find that they cannot work for prolonged periods anyway. Consider approaching your boss and asking for reduced hours, and see if you can make changes to your lifestyle that make it feel less financially demanding.

Shorten your commute

You may find that the hours you spend at work become manageable when you spend less time traveling there. If you live one hour away from your workplace and you spend 48 weeks per year working, you’re spending 20 days of the year traveling. Looking into options such as moving to a closer workplace or telecommuting part of the week can make a significant difference.

Lighten the load at home

When you’re trying to balance family life with working life, you rarely have any hours for yourself. Start looking into options such as asking other family members for assistance or broaden your childcare options.

Finally, try not to neglect the amount of time you spend on yourself. Managing a well-balanced diet, exercising, and enjoying hobbies are all approaches that can prevent a mental collapse.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.