I recently attended a talk where someone told me that burnout is not ultimately caused by being overworked — not directly. It is caused by a gradual depression based on all the things we miss while we are overworking — family time, friend time, time for hobbies, time to play with our pets, time to be outside… all the things that go into a balanced life. Burnout is caused by having a life where the scale tips too heavily towards work.
Burnout is actually found in the International Classification of Diseases manual by the United Nations World Health Organization. It is a condition “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It has three elements: chronic exhaustion, mental detachment from work, and poorer performance.
Although there is an unfortunately low amount of data on burnout, 595,000 people in the United Kingdom reported workplace stress in 2018. 40% of UK doctors report experiencing burnout, and 42% of UK nurses experience the phenomenon. The European average for workplace burnout is estimated at 28%. Considering poorer work performance is one of the key ingredients of burnout (and those in the medical field are significantly more susceptible to it) this is quite scary!
Although distinct stages of burnout are yet to be proven scientifically, it is agreed that burnout is a gradual process. You slip into it rather than suddenly experiencing burnout. As soon as you experience symptoms, be sure to see your physician; it can lead to depression and even suicide.
Spotting the signs of burnout
In fact, the symptoms of burnout and depression are quite similar, so it is important to discuss with a professional to help you distinguish. It would be dangerous to try to take an antidepressant if you are experiencing burnout, because it fails to get to the root cause of a lack of balance in your life.
So what should you look for then? If you are experiencing a newfound cynicism — where you no longer see meaning in your work, social life, and are more prone to disappointment — that is a tell-tale sign.
Another is your work slipping up, because you simply cannot perform at full capacity anymore. If you’re continuously tired, but getting enough sleep, something might also be going on. You can check out the Maslach Burnout Inventory — a test designed to assess your current levels of burnout — if you want to confirm.
Where to get support
Firstly, you should talk to your doctor, then consider working with a therapist to help you get your life back on track. You could have perfectionist tendencies, you might be receiving ridiculous demands at work, or you can be doing work that just isn’t fulfilling for you. Either way, you are not crazy for being upset over all the other things you could be doing instead of work, even if you love your job.
We all need to take a step back and make sure our lives are balanced from time to time. There are ways to make yourself happier in the position you are in, or get help finding a more balanced position. You are worth it, and a job should be fulfilling to you.
Written by Mikaela Marinis
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