Recognising ‘Burn Out’ And What We can Do About It

According to the website, burn out is defined as "a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands”. 

Stress has always existed of course, but it’s not difficult to see why it’s more common in our modern society, where many aspects of life are fast-paced and high-pressure. The term ‘burn out’ itself was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, where he refers to a lack of motivation or incentive.

Several studies have been done on burn out and  a YouGov survey in 2015 found that 51% of full-time employees in the UK said they had experienced anxiety or burn out in their current job. Moreover, in one of the largest studies of burn out among social workers, 73% of participants reported levels of emotional exhaustion and stress so high that the lead researcher said it was above the cut-off threshold to be considered at risk of burn out.

We are clearly a stressed nation…  So how do we recognise burn out and what can we do about it? 

The symptoms of burn out

There are 3 dimensions to burn out:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Increasing absenteeism and inefficiency in the workplace, leaving to low self-esteem

If you are nearing burn out, you will start to notice the following:

  • Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Pessimism and disillusionment
  • Forgetfulness and difficulties with concentration
  • Issues with personal relationships – both at home and at work
  • Lack of self-care
  • Unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking too much or comfort eating
  • A constant preoccupation with work – even though it may feel overwhelming
  • A general feeling of dissatisfaction and emotional detachment
  • Health issues, emotional and physical

What you can do to alleviate burn out

Prevention is always better than cure but if you find yourself suffering from any of these stress-related symptoms, there are things you can do to help. 

Firstly, relaxation is essential and you should take it seriously. Find something which works for you, whether it’s meditation, mindfulness, walking or reading a good book. Make relaxation a priority. 

Create a life which is varied and balanced.  Even if you love your job, remember that work is only one element of your life.  Find your passion outside of work and devote some time to pursuing it.  Hobbies and interests can help you to make new friends, enrich your time off and teach you new skills.  Most importantly, they can help you to switch off from work and realise that life is not one-dimensional – you are not just an employee!

Have a break from technology.  There are lots of positives to having a phone which allows you to check your messages, emails, social media and keep in touch with the office. There are also obvious disadvantages when this seeps into your home life.  It can be wonderfully liberating to switch off your phone and be blissfully unobtainable for a while.  If you know that a work email on Sunday will ruin your weekend, then disable your messages until Monday – you don’t get paid to work when you’re not there – so value your free time.

Organise and prioritise your time to avoid overwhelm and ask for help when you need it.  Try different ways of organisation to find a system which works for you.

Take breaks when you need them – you don’t do yourself any favours by working through lunch breaks and weekends!

Get enough sleep, eat well and look after yourself.  Learn to recognise and acknowledge your own physical and emotional rhythms and truly pay attention to them.

Burn out is avoidable when you achieve balance in your life. 

Become a Counsellor with Chrysalis