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Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention
Feb 22, 2023

Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention

Joyce B. Robinson

January 17, 2023

(This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of the American Postal Workers)

The last few years dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to become overwhelmed and experience burnout. However, many either don’t recognize its symptoms or even know what it is. Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can occur when people are unable to meet constant demands, sapping their energy, and leaving them feeling increasingly hopeless, powerless, or resentful.

How Can You Tell if You are Experiencing Burning Out?

The signs of burnout tend to be mental rather than physical. They can include feelings of:

Frustration, powerlessness, detachment, withdrawal, isolation, failure, irritability, and uncontrollable sadness. People experiencing burnout may find themselves snapping at people or making snide remarks, and are often depressed and might want to sleep all the time, or are often “too tired” to socialize.

What is the Difference Between Stress and Burnout?

A person is normally aware of being under a lot of stress, but people rarely notice burnout when it occurs. Burnout is often a result of unrelenting stress, but is not the same as too much stress. Stress involves physical and psychological pressures. Stressed people normally feel better when everything is under control. When people experience burnout, they may feel empty, devoid of motivation, and do not see any hope of positive change in their situations.

What Causes Job Burnout?

Many of us have days when we are bored with what we do at work, when our co-workers seem bull-headed, when dragging ourselves into work seems like a waste of energy, or when nothing we do seems to make a difference. However, when every day is a bad day, you may be experiencing burnout.

What Factors on the Job Leads to Burnout?

The following factors can lead to workplace burnout:

  • Setting unrealistic goals for yourself or having them imposed upon you; 
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people;
  • Working under rules that seem unreasonably coercive or punitive;
  • Boredom from doing work that never changes or doesn’t challenge you, and
  • Feeling trapped, for economic reasons, to stay on a job that you hate.

How to Prevent Burnout

Because burnout is often related to stress, many of the methods that are effective in countering stress can also help prevent burnout as well.

If experiencing symptoms of burnout, you should:

  • Know your limits: Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give, set limits, and communicate those limits to family members, and others;
  • Connect with a cause or a community group: Joining a religious, social, or support group can give you a place to talk to like-minded people about how to deal with daily stress;
  • Practice healthy communication: Express your feelings to friends and family members who will listen, understand, and not judge;
  • Cultivate positive relationships: Poor relationships and isolation can contribute to burnout, but positive relationships can help prevent or reduce its onset, and
  • Learn to relax and blow off steam: Play cards, go to a movie or go out to eat with a friend.

In summary, to prevent or recover from burnout, learn to cultivate methods of personal renewal, self-awareness, and connection with others, and do not be afraid to acknowledge your own needs. Identifying the causes of your stress, recognizing your limited control of any given situation, and taking care of yourself, emotionally and physically, can help you to avoid burnout. �

Source: Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson at www.helpguide.org/


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