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Mental Health Conditions » Basic Information About Burnout

Basic Information About Burnout

by | Jan 26, 2021

Basic Information About Burnout

When we talk about burnout, we may not be discussing something that’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—at least not yet—but it’s a very real, widely recognized mental health condition. Anyone who lives through an extended period of stress is at risk, so it’s important to be proactive about prevention, to remain on the lookout for indications that it’s setting in, and to cope with it if it does.

To help with this, here’s some introductory information about burnout.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion brought on by continuing stress that isn’t successfully managed. It’s generally brought on when someone pushes themselves too hard for too long. It’s important to note that burnout doesn’t set in suddenly; it’s a gradual process that continues to develop and increase in severity as it goes unaddressed over time.

There are different types of burnout and varying circumstances that can precipitate it. For example, people burn out from the stress of school or work, from over-training, from getting too caught up in current events and issues, and there’s caregiver burnout that affects people responsible for the ongoing care of another (typically someone with some sort of disability). However, the signs and symptoms, effects, prevention, and treatment are all basically the same regardless of the cause or type.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

As with any mental health condition, individuals have their own experience with burnout. Not everyone struggles with the same combination of signs and symptoms at the same level of severity. But burnout invariably causes some combination of the following complications. When they begin to affect areas of your performance and your quality of life and/or the quality of life of those around you, it’s definitely time to address the problem.

  • Chronic fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feeling physically or mentally drained
  • Inability to relax
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Never feeling rested even with enough sleep
  • Headaches or other bodily aches
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Loss of appetite or stress eating (and associated weight loss or gain)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness or inattention to detail
  • Diminished performance or productivity
  • Ongoing escape fantasies
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Caring less about performing well and apathy
  • Failing to meet responsibilities
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and quickness to lose patience or become angry
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities
  • Increased pessimism or cynicism
  • Getting sick more often
  • Feelings of worthlessness or being a failure
  • Feelings of being out of control of your life
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Depression

Preventing and Treating Burnout

The same steps that help prevent burnout can also help remedy it. However, once it’s severe enough—and particularly if clinical depression sets in—people may need help managing some of the symptoms and getting back to a healthier place. If you or a loved one are struggling with burnout, please consult a mental health professional. But in the hopes of reversing course before it gets to that point, be proactive about managing stress and preventing burnout with the following steps.

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting primarily of whole foods and low in processed foods and sugar
  • Get about 7 hours of sleep per night
  • Vent to a friend or family member when you need to get things off your chest
  • Join a caregiver support group if you’re a caregiver
  • Develop routines that help you get things done efficiently and promote a sense of being in control
  • Establish clear boundaries between school/work/training/caregiving/etc. and your personal life—and stick to them
  • Take a close look at your life to determine your greatest sources of stress, and create a plan to alleviate them specifically
  • Learn to say “no” when there’s too much on your plate
  • Ask for help with your to-do list and delegate
  • Schedule free time into each day—even if it’s just 10 minutes here and there—and use it to get completely away from sources of stress
  • Take a few minutes each day to think about the things you’re grateful for
  • Identify the value in your work/school/caregiving/etc. and remind yourself of it regularly
  • Find a creative outlet
  • Find a purpose you believe in and work towards it
  • Spend some time volunteering or helping others
  • Take an occasional day trip or weekend getaway, and a full vacation when you can
  • Consult a mental health professional for advice, therapy, and other treatment options

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