Burnout: What is it and How to Cope

It’s no secret that the US workforce is burning out. Healthcare workers, teachers, and even those working from home have reported higher levels of stress, lack of job satisfaction and exhaustion over the past year. In the workplace we now experience jobs that include high demands and low resources. As a result, this increased stress and exhaustion leaves workers vulnerable to burnout. But, what does burnout actually mean? And how does it differ from exhaustion or stress?

What is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as, “[…] a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.” Exhaustion, cynicism, and even anxiety and depression caused by burnout are responses to the stressful work environments ever present. Consequently, living in a state of continuous stress has negative effects on your mental health. As a result, exhaustion and excessive stress from your job are the catalysts to burnout.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it is an occupational phenomenon. Burnout goes further than just simply being exhausted from the workload.  Christina Maslach, PhD describes burnout being a result of 6 components. Research shows that intense workload, lack of control, mismatch of reward, workplace community, fairness, and how important the work is to you are the areas that put us at risk for burnout.

So how do we prevent burnout and what do we do to address it?

Mindfulness

The problem with identifying burnout is that it can be easy to ignore. Practicing mindfulness is one of the keys to first being able to recognize that you may be experiencing burnout. Being able to identify when your energy source is adrenaline rather than genuine can be one of the determining factors in identifying burnout.

Be Aware of Overcommitting

In the workplace, we all know how easy it is to overcommit. The more we are mindful of how we are feeling,  the more we increase our awareness of when we are accepting too much. Setting boundaries is necessary in order to look out for yourself and prevent burnout.

Coping Skills

Many companies offer wellness programs in the effort to provide their employees with tangible coping skills. However, this does not address the stress of the job itself. If company-wide yoga sessions or happy hours are not doing the trick for you, challenge yourself to find the activities that fuel you. Taking a walk or scheduling reading time on your lunch break can help you decompress on those stressful days.

Burnout is a lot more than just feeling overwhelmed at work or tired from a busy week. Burnout is the combination of the stress that comes from an intense workload, lack of control, mismatch of reward, unfit workplace community, lack of fairness and misplaced values. If burnout is not addressed, not only can it affect your work ethic, it can also bring feelings of inadequacy and failure. Creating a lasting change is not easy but being mindful of our limits and incorporating coping skills one day at a time will make a difference.

References:

Gilihan, S. J. (n.d.). 6 ways to ease yourself back into work after burnout. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/think-act-be/202207/6-ways-ease-yourself-back-work-after-burnout

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20311

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Speaking of psychology: Why we’re burned out and what to do about it, with Christina Maslach, Phd. American Psychological Association. from https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/burnout

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received her Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.