Everybody feels stressed, apathetic, or drained sometimes. But when that feeling continues — over weeks, months, even years — it can be a recipe for burnout. You hear about burnout most often in the context of a career, but it doesn’t have to be work that burns you out; personal matters can be just as taxing. Think you might be burning out? Read up on the symptoms and coping strategies.
According to the nonprofit mental-health resource HelpGuide, burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” The term was coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 when he was volunteering at an addiction clinic and needed a word for the psychological and physical toll the job was taking on him and his coworkers.
Burnout is different than stress in the way that it presents itself: While stress can make you anxious and over-engaged, burnout tends to blunt your emotions and make you disengaged and depressed. When you’re on the road to burnout, you might start to notice that you’re always tired, you feel like nothing you do makes a difference, and every day is a bad day. Eventually, this can lead to cynicism, detachment, and feeling like you’re not really doing anything with your life.
Not all burnout looks the same, however. When it comes to workplace burnout, researchers have delineated three different types, defined by the sufferer’s chosen coping strategy:
Frenetic burnout happens to high achievers who push themselves too hard without enough self-care or compromise. Their job is an extension of themselves, and not performing it well is an admission of failure. This is the typical workaholic who’s known to skip meals and personal engagements in order to get ahead at the office. These people tend to cope by griping about their boss or the way the company is run.
Worn-out burnout happens to people who aren’t emotionally invested in their work. Whereas people with frenetic burnout will see obstacles as challenges (and overwork themselves to overcome them), worn-out individuals see them as oppressive and tend to lose motivation as a result. When faced with stress, they cope by just throwing in the towel.
Boredom burnout affects the people who are somewhere in between. Obstacles neither motivate nor overwhelm them; they’re just things that need to be worked around. These people don’t find the job very engaging or interesting — even if they once did — and just do the minimum to get by.
But the workplace isn’t the only area burnout can strike. Overextending yourself in any arena — social events, volunteering, even your favorite hobbies — can eventually feel like a drain if you aren’t careful. This is particularly common with parents and caregivers, who can start to feel overworked, underappreciated, and get the sense that they don’t have control over their own lives.
If these symptoms sound familiar, there are ways to cope. According to HelpGuide, one of the most effective ways is by reaching out to other people. Opening up to someone you trust about how you’re feeling and making an effort to spend time with the people who make you feel invigorated can go a long way. Socialize with your co-workers — eat lunch in the cafeteria instead of at your desk, and actually go to that open mic or art exhibition they keep inviting you to. At the same time, drop the dead weight: Limit your contact with people who make you feel lousy.
Finally, it’s important to set healthy boundaries and learn to say no. Remember that every “no” allows you to say “yes” to something you really want. You should do things because you want to do them, not because you can handle them.
Check out my related post: How this company made meditation a business?