Published on October 7th, 2016 | from CAMH

Career Burnout

By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program |

Many people at one time or another will experience career burnout. They may struggle with their employment because they don’t get any satisfaction out of what they do, but may feel like they don’t have a choice. They may feel like every day is a bad day, feeling hopeless and useless, resulting in decreasing drive to get things done. So what happens next?

First let’s start by defining burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout in the course of employment can make one feel emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of work and other aspects of life. Burnout can reduce productivity and can lower your motivation and cause you to feel helpless, hopeless and resentful

What are the signs and symptoms of career burnout?

Burnout can feel quite draining. Individuals who are burnt out from work might feel drained and tired most of the time. This may even be accompanied by physical symptoms – they may have back aches and headaches, and may lose their appetite. Their sleep might be disrupted and they may start to become reclusive and withdraw from others. They may have difficulty getting things done and may even feel like calling in sick to work more often than they should. Their confidence may be affected, and they may feel like a failure. This is in addition to feelings of helplessness – like there is no way out of their situation.

Many of us don’t have control over work, but this feeling of helplessness might be amplified when someone is burnt out. Sometimes they are even unclear about expectations at work, feeling that their work tasks are demanding and overwhelming.

Is career burnout different from stress?

Stress and burnout may be related, but there are differences in how they manifest. Generally, someone who is stressed tends to be overreactive and hyperactive, whereas burnout presents more as disengagement and produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, with loss of motivation and hope. It can also lead to depression and detachment.

How do we prevent and treat career burnout?

We have to first be aware that we are becoming burnt-out, as this can creep up at times, especially during busy periods.

One way we can take care of ourselves from burnout is to reach out to others rather than withdraw. It is important that we have a strong social network to call on and people to talk to when we are going through difficult times at work.

It is important to try to socialize with co-workers so you don’t feel you are just coming into work and hiding away in your office. Withdrawing in the work environment can feel very isolating and contributes to the feelings of hopelessness and depression. Those ‘water cooler moments’ at work are more important than you might think.

Exercise is also important to boost energy and mood. Doing some cardio, waking or even weight training or other exercise activities can help to lighten the mood.

Try to find something in the work you do that you feel is interesting and helps you gain more of a purpose and value. This can be quite helpful in giving people hope and helping them to become more engaged at work.

Work-life balance is also important as just being overwhelmed with workload day in and day out can really becoming ominous and can lead to burnout and depression.

Eating healthy is also an important way to stay healthy, mentally and physically and can prevent burnout. A balanced diet, eating more fruits and veggies, minimizing sugars and reducing foods that can negatively affect your mood such as alcohol and caffeine particularly if consumed in excess can help minimize the effects of burnout.

What do you do if it is more than career burnout?

It is also important to note that if it seems that it is more than burnout that is being experienced and it has morphed into a mental disorder such as a mood or anxiety disorder it is important to seek professional help. Visiting your family doctor is a good first step to possibly getting a referral to a psychiatrist for medication or psychologist for psychotherapy. Calling ConnexOntario is another resource to finding appropriate mental health resources.

In summary, it is important to watch the early warning signs of career burnout such as feeling withdrawn, sleep disruption (either sleeping too much or too little), loss of appetite, low mood and feeling somewhat helpless in the situation. If you start to see some of these signs put the strategies in gear and start working toward a healthier balanced lifestyle to prevent it from becoming worse.

Remember, practicing good self-care will do wonders for many facets of your life, both at work and at home.

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