9 October 2020

Burnout was first described in the 1970’s by Maslach who defined it as a psychological syndrome with three categories: exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished sense of personal accomplishments. Chronic work-related stress, long work hours, and working with others in difficult situations all contribute to the development of burnout.

The three categories of burnout:

  • Exhaustion is characterised by mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. You may be experiencing trouble sleeping and feel demotivated.
  • Depersonalization includes feelings of cynicism, apathy, and disconnect. This can be with family, friends, colleagues, or clients. You may be having negative thoughts about work and colleagues, and be avoiding social engagements.
  • Personal achievement, or rather the lack of personal achievement, is the last component of burnout. Feelings of guilt and failure are a consequence of exhaustion and depersonalization. This contributes to making you feel like you are stuck in a situation which you cannot fix or move forward from.

Burnout is different to stress as burnout describes the feelings of not having enough internal resources to cope, leaving you feeling blunted and disengaged. On the other hand, having too much stress describes having too many demands. Often, when you are stressed, you may feel that you are able to cope if you could get everything under control or that if you have a “break” you could manage better. That is not the case with burnout.

There are several ways to recognise that you are suffering from burnout which include:

  • Exhaustion (physical, emotional and mental)
  • Disengaging from work activities and work relationships
  • Reduced ability to perform as you did before
  • Decreased motivation and drive
  • Blunted emotions and detachment
  • Apathy and cynicism
  • Feelings of guilt and failure

Burnout can affect many areas of your life, from work to home, and prevent you from engaging with your daily activities. As burnout progresses, your productivity and energy levels will decrease and often it will leave you feeling resentful and as if you nothing more to give. Your emotions may feel deflated.

Some possible causes of, and contributions to, burnout include:

  • Working in an environment that is high-pressured and having little autonomy (for example, not being able to make your own decisions), while feeling unsupported
  • Having poor work life balance
  • Feeling over worked and undervalued while trying to manage many responsibilities
  • Working with others while managing difficult work situations
  • Personality traits such as being a perfectionist or a high achiever may also contribute

Building resilience, or strengthening your current resilience, can help you to cope better with certain demands that you face, and assist you in being able to function at your best. Resilience refers to the ability to adapt, recover, and grow from stressful situations. Simply put, it is your ability to “bounce back”. Resilience is not stagnant or set and you have the opportunity to strengthen and improve your own resilience capacity. You can do this by improving how you manage your emotions, improving your stress management and tolerance skills, and improving your belief and confidence in yourself.

When you are more resilient and skillful in managing your emotions, you are able to cope with stressful situations, adapt to change easier, and prevent burnout.