Are you feeling very stressed at work? Do you find yourself often feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with the demands of life? If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from work burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO), defines “burnout” as an “occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.”
That distinction is made to mean that while it may impact someone’s health or warrant treatment, burnout is not seen as an “illness” or health condition like heart disease or clinical depression. WHO goes on to say that, “Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
WHO also limits “clinical” burnout to the workplace. Admittedly, you can feel “burnt out” from being a parent, or a home caregiver, but for the clinical definition of “burnout,” the organization confines it to be work-related.
WHO outlines three specific things that happens when someone is actually “burning out.” These are: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.”
The 12 Stages of Burnout
To better explain the phenomena, psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North came up with a 12-stage model that shows how burnout progresses. Through this list, you’ll also see the signs and symptoms to watch out for, so you can tell if you’re burning out.
- Compulsion to prove oneself (excessive ambition)
It usually happens to the “best” employees—those who are, “extra-committed” to their jobs. Either you’re eager to be handed more work (to demonstrate what you’re capable of) or you find it difficult to say “no” to extra work.
- Working harder
Because of your high expectations of yourself, you continue to accept additional work obligations. At some point, you’ll find it difficult to prioritize tasks. And your main goal? Just meeting every deadline.
- Neglecting your own needs
You sacrifice sleep, eating, and your social life just to finish your tasks. You don’t realize that your habits are unhealthy, though, and you don’t really see that you’re making minor mistakes because of your lifestyle.
- Displacement of conflicts and needs
The first physical manifestations of stress, such as feeling worn out, can appear here. You start coming to work late, submitting things past their deadlines, and missing appointments, and you constantly find excuses for these problems.
- No longer any time for non-work-related needs
At this stage, it’s like nothing is more important than work anymore—not even your loved ones, leisure activities, and personal values.
- Increasing denial of the problem and decreasing flexibility of thought or behavior
Here, you encounter more problems and tend to blame time pressure and your workload. You start criticizing your bosses and teammates. However, you fail to recognize that the problems are arising because of your lifestyle changes.
- Withdrawal, lack of direction, cynicism
Instead of depending on your partner, family, or friends, you feel like they’re just another burden. On top of the lack of support system, you might cope with stress through alcohol and other vices.
- Behavioral changes or psychological reactions
The people you’re usually with notice that you’re changing. Your loved ones might feel concerned, especially when you seem like you don’t care about anything anymore.
- Depersonalization or loss of contact with self and own needs
At this point, you don’t see yourself and others as valuable. You just focus on surviving every day, but you don’t really attend to your needs. Your health is far from your priorities, and you might start feeling that your life is meaningless.
- Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
You feel more anxious, exhausted, and useless. To cope with these feelings, you get preoccupied with overeating, bingeing on alcohol, even increased sexual activity, or other vices. Some people might even use recreational drugs.
- Increasing feeling of meaninglessness and lack of interest
This is when depression becomes apparent—you feel more helpless, hopeless, and worthless. You might find the future bleak, but you’re indifferent when you think about it.
- Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening
At this last stage, you feel physically drained on top of being mentally and emotionally unstable. You start noticing the alarming changes in your body because of overworking. Aside from obvious physical symptoms of stress, you may even develop suicidal thoughts. This is an emergency that has to be properly addressed right away.
The experts say that if you look at this list and find yourself in the early, stages of burnout, you may need to adjust your lifestyle a bit to fix things, and find a better work-life balance.
If you find yourself already in the later stages, were work related stress is taking a physical toll on your body and quality of life, then it’s time to let a medical professional step in. He or she will evaluate whether your symptoms or conditions are manifestations of an actual disease or if they have a psychosocial component as the root cause.
Dr. Rolando “Oyie” Balburias, a Board Certified Internist who has been treating patienst with burnout for over 20 years says, “Burnout from chronic stress is unavoidable. Yet, it’s also manageable. You can change your responses to stress, and that have a huge impact on your resilience. You can stop the cycle of chronic stress and worry about small changes. Improving your ability to transform stress will strengthen your energy reserves, improve tissue health, and create a supportive environment for healthy aging.”