Burnout: What is it? Why does it occur? What are the symptoms? And, what to do if it occurs?

September 28, 2020

Burnout is not actually a new word or phenomenon, as some of you might have thought. In fact, the term "burnout" was actually coined by the American psychiatrist Herbert Fredenberg way back in 1974. He used this term to describe the psychological state of a healthy person who had been in a long-term emotionally charged atmosphere. 

According to Fredenberg, “burnout” was a characteristic often applied to teachers, police officers, politicians, lawyers, salespeople and managers.

Generally, burnout is when an individual reaches a state of ‘exhaustion’, that can be both physical or mental. Typically, those who suffer from burnout note that they feel useless at work, start to hate their work, and feel really tired all of the time. As you can see burnout typically applies to work, or a workplace.

Why does burnout occur?

Now you know what burnout is, it’s now important to know why burnout might actually occur. There are several reasons, and very often we miss the first alarm bells set off by burnout. Below is a list of the most common causes, but there are other reasons that apply to small groups of individuals. 

  • Too much work. Sometimes an individual gets overwhelmed by the amount of work they have. For example, imagine you were given an interesting assignment. Initially you’re very excited and ready to take on more and more tasks, but as time goes on and deadlines get closer, your work days get longer, and sometimes you have to work weekends, so your enthusiasm dwindles. You start to experience constant fatigue, followed by indifference and hatred for your new assignment - this is burnout.
  • Unknown. The fear of the unknown can be enough to cause burnout for some individuals. For example, imagine you’re working on a creative project, but you don’t know anything about this project. So, you’re basically going about this project in a ‘blind’ manner. You never know what will be around the next corner, you don’t know how your decisions will affect the project, and ultimately you don’t know if you’re even completing the project correctly. This all causes nervousness, which leads to fatigue, and you end up feeling sad and low, because you literally don’t know what to do for the best.  
  • Always wanting harmony. Although, we would all love to work in an environment where everyone gets on well, and there are no conflicts, this doesn’t actually happen in reality. For some individuals, who want to constantly be in a harmonious environment, working in an environment where there is conflict can be very fatiguing for them, as they are going against their natural instincts. Often, in this case, an individual becomes very upset to the point that burnout occurs. 
  • Heavy atmosphere. Not all work places are lively, fun, and good to be in. An unpleasant environment has a way of staying in your head even when you return home from work. This then causes you to worry about the next day at work, when you’ll be in the same room again. Individuals who suffer with this often become detached from their workplaces, and don’t want to be a part of the workplace. 
  • A particular individual. It is not uncommon for burnout to be caused by a particular person in the workplace. For example, a workspace might have been taken over by a bully, and they behave in a bullying manner towards their colleagues. This kind of environment is unacceptable, and it can make many people feel very low about themselves, fearful, and ultimately fatigued by their workplace. Often, people will take sick leave just to get away from the individual causing issues, and to recuperate after burning out. 
  • Inability to influence projects. Some individuals can sometimes feel that their contributions in the workplace always go unnoticed. This then leads the individual to feel unworthy and not part of the team. These negative feelings start to impact the individual’s mental health, to the point that the person does not want to be anywhere near the team anymore. Generally, an individual sees that nothing in the workplace depends on their contribution, so they give up and go to work without enthusiasm, but they may have a particularly pessimistic view of the workplace instead. 
  • Work-life balance is off. Often, burnout can occur because an individual has too many demands placed on them by work and from their personal life. In this case, an individual can quickly become overwhelmed with what exactly they need to do, and they find it hard to prioritise tasks, which all leads to stress at work and at home. An individual is likely to become exhausted quickly, and will become disinterested in the tasks at work and in their personal life. 
  • Work is like a boring TV show. Think of it like this, you go to work, you pour yourself a  coffee, you chat with your neighbor in the office, and you turn on your computer. At lunchtime you go to have a snack, and then go back to your station until the end of the working day. This monotonous work pattern does not inhibit a ‘drive’ in an individual. An individual has no interest in coming in the next day, only to be presented with exactly the same situation as the day before. A work day, in this example, is basically like watching the same episode of a boring TV series over and over again. This typically leads to boredom and detachment at work, and eventually burnout.
  • Perfectionist. Sometimes in a workplace you get an individual who has the characteristics of a perfectionist. The perfectionist characteristic often applies to someone who continuously strives for the best, has flawless standards, and who puts too much pressure on themselves. Generally, an individual who has these characteristics is often concerned with what others think, and gets very sad if things are not 110%. This is incredibly stressful for an individual and maintaining such high standards, constantly, often drains an individual and causes burnout. 
  • Lack of belief in oneself. It is incredibly common to hear about individuals who have no belief in their own abilities, and lack a great deal of confidence. This, ‘I can’t do it’ approach often leads to a very fatiguing working environment for individuals, as they are constantly putting themselves down. Continuously telling yourself that you ‘are not good enough’, or ‘cannot do it’, forms an unbreakable negative habit in your mind, that just drags you down overtime. This typically leads to feelings of indifference, because the individual doesn’t feel good enough anyway, and burnout occurs because of this negative cycle. 

How to recognize burnout?

Now you know what might cause burnout, let’s take a look at the most common symptoms of it.  

Here are the general symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Apathy
  • Issues with performance
  • Feeling useless 
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling unwell more often 
  • Cannot make decisions quickly
  • Pessimism
  • Irritable and bitter
  • Insomnia 
  • Keeping away from people
  • Lack of pleasure in what you do and who you are
  • Increased alcohol intake 
  • Disgust for the environment

Here are some physical symptoms of burnout:

  • Dizziness
  • Shivery
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Sickness and colds

**Please note that every individual is different, and some individuals may experience symptoms that are not mentioned on these lists. 

If you feel unwell, or your symptoms and feelings do not improve, you must seek immediate medical help.  

What to do if you experience burnout?

You know what burnout is, what may cause burnout, and what symptoms burnout has, let’s now see what you can do if you ever experience burnout. 

Here are some things you can try to alleviate the symptoms of burnout, or to prevent it from spiralling out of control:

  • Change your work pattern
  • Explore outdoors
  • Get plenty of fresh air
  • Talk to people 
  • Get a new hobby
  • Arrange professional support
  • Sleep (an adequate amount of sleep is about 8 hours a day, and it’s better to go to bed before 11pm every night) 
  • Yoga
  • Sport and moderate exercise (walking, running, or swimming can help unload the brain and rid it of unwanted thoughts, and it’ll help you to fall asleep faster) 
  • Mindfulness 
  • Proper nutrition (no fast carbohydrates, and no sweet and heavy food)

What professions tend to suffer from burnout?

As we said at the start, teachers, doctors, and salespeople are typically the “first victims” of burnout. It’s typically thought that burnout occurs in these professions because they are very ‘people’ centred roles. 

But, what profession rarely reports episodes of burnout? IT specialists, such as testers, rarely report suffering from burnout. 

IT specialists and testers are “stress-free” professions, so much so that they have been listed in Forbes’ “Happiest professions” in the USA for several years now. 

By the way, it’s not difficult to become a professional tester and to lead a stress-free life. And actually, you can learn about it with us at JobEasy. You don’t need a formal or technical education. So, start your career in a promising and secure field right now, by signing up to one of our QA courses.

Conclusion

In this article we have covered the topic of burnout. We have discussed what burnout is, why it occurs, how to recognise the symptoms, what to do if you experience burnout, and finally what professions are most susceptible to experiencing burnout. 

Burnout is very unpleasant, but it can be managed if an individual feels ready to help themselves. If an individual starts to show symptoms of burnout, then there are many steps that can be taken to help them. But, the most important thing to remember is to be calm, patient, and empathetic towards them. 

References:

1. Burnout Symptoms and Treatment

2. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action

3. Burnout: Causes and symptoms

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