Deconstructing Burnout: Preventing, Diagnosing, and Healing.

Last updated on December 5th, 2023

August 18th, 2023

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  • Burnout: one of the major societal problems in today’s job market. Millions of professionals live in this vicious cycle: they come to a new job with full determination to perform and excel.
  • Burnout is a “normal anomaly” of sorts; most professionals go through burnout at some point in their careers. You have to get through the process to learn your limits and self-regulate better. So, burnout can crush your career or help you, depending if you can learn from this experience.
  • In this article, we disambiguate what burnout is and what it isn’t. What are the typical causes, symptoms, and phases of a burnout episode? Can you prevent burnout, or recognize it early enough to reverse the process?

Burnout: One of the Major Societal Problems in Today’s Job Market.

Millions of professionals live in this vicious cycle: they come to a new job with full determination to perform and excel. And then, they overwork themselves to turn into a wreckage just a year or two years later.

And so they take a few months of a break to recover, then come back to work… and try even harder this time, willing to prove themselves and compensate the universe for a career gap. There comes another burnout. And so on.

According to a study by zippia.com, 89% (!) of workers have experienced burnout in 2022. The overall burnout rate was 59% throughout the year. It means that at any given moment, a random person met in the street is more likely to be in a state of burnout than to be well.

Why do so many professionals fall into burnout? Why is it so hard to achieve an effective burnout prevention? Well, it’s mostly because burnout is hard to detect in the early stages. It usually crawls into your mind slowly. When you notice its presence, it is too late to act.

Burnout is a “normal anomaly” of sorts; most professionals go through burnout at some point in their careers. You have to get through the process to learn your limits and self-regulate better. So, burnout can crush your career or help you, depending if you can learn from this experience.

In this article, we disambiguate what burnout is and what it isn’t. What are the typical causes, symptoms, and phases of a burnout episode? Can you prevent burnout, or recognize it early enough to reverse the process?

What Is Burnout and What Does It Do To Your Brain?

According to the World Health Organization, “burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

In layman’s words, it means: it’s when you are chronically exhausted, hate your job, and underperform.

In terms of cognition and underlying neurobiology, individuals experiencing burnout often exhibit difficulties in concentration, memory, and executive functions due to high stress levels. The working memory system is highlighted as a main impaired system, impacting complex cognitive functions.

Cognitive control deficits (CCD) are common in burnout, leading to errors in perception, self-regulation, and memory, potentially exacerbated by emotional dissonance. Furthermore, we often observe emotional symptoms like aggressiveness and personality changes. 

Last but not least, burnout can affect personal life and physical health, leading to sleep problems, immune dysfunction, and metabolic disorders.

Burnout Diagnosis: How To Properly (Self)-Diagnose Burnout?

In psychometrics, burnout was studied and measured since the 1980s. The first standardized tool to diagnose burnout was the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), originally dedicated to stu well-being of the workers of the health sector. This tool consists of 25 items: written statements about attitudes and feelings. The scale contains three sub-scales:

  • Exhaustion: feelings of being emotionally drained by work,
  • Depersonalization: feelings of impersonality towards one’s work tasks,
  • Personal accomplishment: feelings of achievement in one’s work.

Today, the most popular way to diagnoze burnout is an extension to MBI designed to be applicable for all occupations, The Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI). This tool includes questions assessing both physical and cognitive aspects of exhaustion, composed into two sub-scales:

  • Disengagement,
  • Exhaustion.

This might sound clear. However, in practice, burnout diagnosis is challenging, especially in high-pressure environments where everyone seems to be constantly busy and stressed. How to notice the thin red line between a healthy dose of adrenaline, and destructive chronic stress?

As the professional coach Alistair Williams, the founder of A Clear Path Ahead, described the feeling:

“I use the example of driving a car with the rev counter constantly in the red zone. You feel like you’re in momentum, you’re moving forward but the reality is that you’re making little progress, and eventually the engine packs in.

Your body experiences ever-increasing exhaustion despite little physical exertion. Your ability to make even the most simple decisions becomes labored. Apathy reigns – you may miss deadlines, repeatedly show up late, or find that procrastination is everywhere. Brain and body simply start to rebel, and then burnout kicks in.”

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The Key To Burnout Prevention: Causes of Burnout.

Williams explains: “Burnout occurs when high levels of stress persist over extended periods of time, and eventually become the norm. Chronic stress follows which, if left unchecked, becomes unsustainable. The brain and body simply start to rebel. And burnout kicks in.”

But where can this persistent stress come from? Research on burnout has identified a plethora of organizational risk factors across many occupations in various countries. Six key domains have been identified:

1. Extensive Workload.

Of course, every professional career needs effort and engagement. However, when the workload is so high that it leaves no room for rest, recovery, and restoring balance, it puts an employee at risk of falling out of homeostasis and failing to meet the demands of the job. 

This is unfortunately common in many environments where young Turks need to learn on the job, i.e. in corporations, consulting businesses, law offices, architectural studios, or medical residencies.

In fact, the workload as a source of burnout is much more nuanced.  Burnout can also appear right after major professional success, when the subject realizes that extensive workload put into the challenge over the years is not matched by the payoff.

This is an often scenario encountered by the Olympic gold medalists and recipients of the Academy Awards also known as Oscars: the day after the crowning ceremony, they feel that their careers just peaked and the only way forward is the way down. 

2. Lack of Control.

Some professions are associated with navigating chaotic environments where the results of one’s work partially depend on chance or other people’s subjective opinions and it is extremely challenging to keep top-notch results throughout a professional career. 

This concerns traders and other financial services professionals who operate in volatile markets, farmers who cannot influence the weather, as well as actors and other artists whose performance is subject to opinion from critics and public assessment.

One reason for burnout is also role ambiguity. If you are confused about what your responsibilities at work are, you might naturally feel like your manager does a bad job in terms of assigning people to tasks, which might naturally result in burnout.

3. Delayed Gratification.

Many professions are associated with delayed gratification, namely the necessity to wait for years and years before any formidable professional success. For instance, in politics, it can take decades of volunteering, networking, and social work to build a reputation and gain valuable contacts before getting any chance of running for public office.

4. Community.

Community refers to ongoing relationships that employees have with their colleagues. Competitive attitude, lack of support and trust, and unresolved conflicts result in a greater risk of burnout. Such situations are common e.g. in sports or in academia, there is not enough room for everyone to get to the top or even make a living, which often puts people against each other.

5. Fairness.

Many professions are associated with being treated unequally when on the job, which can lead to cynicism, lowered morale, and in turn, also burnout. 

For instance, dancers traveling around the world as a support for a pop star on tour, often sleep in much worse conditions than their employer. Or, corporate employees work in boxes squeezed like sardines in a can while their managers occupy spacious private offices.

6. Values.

Lastly, values are ideals and motivations that originally attracted people to their job. If employees discover that in fact, there is a gap between their individual and organizational values, it can easily result in burnout. 

For instance, when the employees of the infamous giant in biotech, Theranos, found out that the company leaders pursue their own agenda with no respect for human health, it resulted in a toxic atmosphere and hundreds of burnouts.

Burnout as an Occupational Hazard.

As a rule of thumb, all professionals are susceptible to burnout, especially if they need to marry their careers with parenting. However, some professions bear a substantially higher risk of burnout than others.

An essential part of burnout prevention in one’s career is also choosing the right profession that well corresponds to your natural susceptibility to stress.

Professions with the highest occupational risk of burnout are usually those associated with stress from making important decisions that could backfire down the line or high speed of work and multitasking (or both at a time).

1. White-collar Professions.

Information Technology (IT) Professionals. Constant technological changes, tight deadlines, and high expectations for performance contribute to burnout among IT workers.

Financial Services Professionals. Long hours, pressure to meet financial targets, and the responsibility for managing financial matters can easily contribute to burnout in this field.

Corporate Managers. High responsibility and pressure to meet financial targets in the complex post-pandemic market and with limited resources cause that more than 50% of corporate managers self-report burnout.

Hiring Managers: Time pressure and high responsibility to find the top talent, candidate drop-offs due to competing compensation packages, and an unstructured, ineffective hiring process contribute to over 80% burnout rate among hiring managers.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Long hours, high pressure for “creative management,” and unstable work pattern with heavy workloads during the tax season often leave a mark on the CPAs’ mental health.

Teachers. Long hours, intensive work in a noisy environment, low remuneration, and constant changes to the education system leave teachers in a vulnerable position that often leads to burnout.

Lawyers and Other Legal Professionals. Paralegals, legal assistants, and other legal support staff also face high workloads, tight deadlines, high pressure from clients and public opinion, ethical dilemmas, and other stressors that often contribute to burnout, especially after a lost cause.

Journalists. Chasing after the next big story day in and day out, pressed to produce clickbait material, and constantly under time pressure, journalists often burn out.

Police Officers. High pressure and high tempo paired with low remuneration and high frequency of dangerous situations at work often lead to burnout.

Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers. High pressure and responsibility, inhumane work hours, and a working scheme that messes up the daily rhythm and causes never-ending jet lag easily lead to burnout.

Customer Service Representatives. High work pace, never-ending assessment, negative karma associated with calls from unhappy clients, and low pay leave a mark on mental health.

Social, Nonprofit, and Aid Workers: Dealing with sensitive issues, limited resources, the emotional toll of working with people in crisis, and low pay can easily lead to burnout.

Healthcare Professionals, especially Nurses: High pressure, high work pace, long hours, and low pay, and the prevailing norms are to be selfless, put others’ needs first, and do whatever it takes to help a client or patient, or student lead to severe burnouts.

Counselors and Therapists: The necessity to work with patients suffering from deep mental and emotional problems daily often leads to burnout as it’s hard to empathize without absorbing patients’ emotional states.

Self-Employed: Freelancers and Entrepreneurs: Lack of financial stability, high competition, uncertain future, multitasking, lack of support team, and never-ending hustle prevalent among the self-employed all contribute to high burnout rates

2. Blue Collar and Other Professions.

Farmers and Agricultural Workers: The physically demanding nature of farming, unpredictable weather conditions, and financial pressure can lead to burnout in this field.

Construction Workers: Physically demanding and high-paced work associated with a high risk of concussion and other health consequences often leaves a mark on mental health.

Retail and Fast Food Workers: High work pace, repetitive, robotic tasks, low hygiene of work, low social status, and low pay all contribute to high burnout rates in retail and fast food.

Flight Attendants / Waiters / Bartenders: High work pace, repetitive, robotic tasks, and the necessity to handle all kinds of clients’ behaviors and keep a kind face on, easily lead to burnout.

Performing Artists: The pressure to perform, the culture of success, irregular schedules, and the emotional demands of artistic expression can contribute to high burnout rates among actors, musicians, and dancers. 

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Burnout in Men Versus Women.

Research studies and public polls consistently demonstrate that women suffer from substantially more work-related stress than men. According to a survey by LinkedIn on a group of 5,000 Americans, 74% of women were very or somewhat stressed for work-related reasons at the time of the survey, compared with just 61% of men.

Societal structures and gender norms intersect and play a significant role in this discrepancy. In the US, women still earn an average of about 82 cents for each dollar earned by a man. The salary gap across many European countries is similar.

In 2018, researchers from the University of Montreal published a study tracking over 2,000 employees over four years. The academics concluded that women were more vulnerable to burnout than men because they were less likely to be promoted and therefore more likely to stay in positions with less authority — which can lead to increased frustration and burnout.

Burnout Prevention: Better Prevent Than Heal!

Your mind is like an engine of a car you drive for a lifetime. Except that you can’t exchange this car for a new model at any point. The only maneuvers you can do is treat it with care, repair it when necessary, and regularly take pitstops.

As mentioned before, burnout is highly treacherous: it crawls into the back of your mind slowly and quietly. When you feel burned out, it is usually too late and the path to recovery will be long and painful. So, better pay attention to the signs and prevent rather than heal.

First to say, frustration at work is a good thing! It prevents you from burnout the same way as the sensation of physical pain prevents you from dying. The problem starts when frustration becomes a permanent state of mind.

So, are you on the edge of falling into burnout?

As the first step, you can just stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself:

  • What motivates me to work? Is stress the one thing that keeps me running?
  • Is my decision-making at work rational and clear? Or, do I go with the flow and no longer care about decisions taken around me?
  • How is my general behavior to colleagues, friends, and family? Has it changed in recent weeks and months? (It makes perfect sense to ask colleagues, friends, and family this question),
  • When did I last have a proper break, where and when did I switch off from work?
  • Do I still keep my interests outside of work? Or perhaps I try to convert all my hobbies into work and capitalize on them, and I end up in a never-ending circle of working around the clock?
  • Am I taking proper care of myself and my body?

If this assessment gives you suspicions that you might be falling into burnout, take prevention steps to stop the spiral of frustration and exhaustion:

1. Change Your Thinking about Building Professional Success.

First of all, if you found yourself on the edge of burnout, it might mean that you follow the “hustle culture” (also known as “toxic productivity”) for “the American dream.”

The belief that anyone regardless of their background and talent can become a multimillionaire solely by hard work and that you should attribute your lack of professional success to too low workload is indeed toxic.

Firstly, it does not take the luck factor and the impact of networking and personal connections into account.

Secondly, it does not respect the fact that people have varying, individual natural capabilities to work, similarly, as they have their individual need for sleep.

While your colleague is fresh after just 6 hours of sleep, you might need full 8 hours to maintain homeostasis. Similarly, the fact that your colleague can work like a beast for 12 hours straight doesn’t mean that you can keep their pace.

The prophets of hustle culture such as Gary Vee or Grant Cardone, are freaks of nature. Trying to work like them is like being a Sunday jogger and comparing yourself to a pro ultramarathon runner and trying to keep their pace.

In fact, you cannot craft a career with the strength of your muscles. It is a process of investing in yourself — your skills and your network — and making thoughtful decisions over decades.

And nope — if you don’t work 12 hours a day, it doesn’t mean that you are lazy or careless.

2. Analyse Your Relations At Work.

Most people burn out because of toxicity at work, not because of workload. What and who stresses you? Perhaps changing the team, the role, or the employer can fix your problem.

3. Customize Your Working Scheme.

Sometimes, taking one step backward may work like taking two steps forward. Working less, taking more breaks, avoiding overtime work, or adjusting your work patterns to your chronotype might do magic.

After the pandemic, working in a hybrid fashion has become popular. Perhaps this is your chance to start experimenting with your work patterns and find your natural rhythm.

You can also talk with your boss and colleagues, and work on shuffling your tasks and responsibilities with other employees so that you can fully focus on the tasks that you are the most efficient at. 

The process of making various changes to the dynamics and interactions with others at work is often referred to as “job crafting” and is highly welcome in most organizations.

4. One Step At a Time.

As a rule of thumb, it is advisable to take baby steps: chunk your projects into tiny pieces and properly reward yourself for completing every task. You don’t need to wait for your boss’ approval to tell “What a great job!” to yourself.

When in burnout, your brain, misses dopamine like a plant missing sunlight. So, seek every occasion to grant yourself a little dopamine shot! Every tiny milestone is a reason for a micro-celebration, even if it means rewarding yourself with a cup of coffee for wrapping up a solid paragraph of text.

Furthermore, choose your battles wisely. Burnout is the “ambitious people’s disease.” Namely, if you suffer from burnout, chances are that you aim to be best at every aspect of your work. But what you truly need to get better, is to learn how to say “no” with a smile on your face, focus on a limited number of tasks, and perform them well.

Lastly, review your unfinished tasks and try to finish or kill as many of them as possible. The Zeigarnik effect is a well-known psychological phenomenon associated with unfinished tasks that haunt us, recurrently come back to the spotlight in our minds, and take disproportional amount of our energy as compared to their importance. So, kill all unfinished tasks that are not absolutely essential for your career or otherwise, they will feed your burnout every day.

5. Work On Your Coping Skills.

Try to identify your main sources of stress. People have their own individual resilience to stress — while some get stressed while teaching and mentoring junior employees, some are fragile to judgment at work, some malfunction while in conflict, and others primarily stress about public presentations.

So, identify stressors that are particularly detrimental to you and seek help. Take a specialistic course (e.g., in cognitive restructuring, conflict resolution, time management), practice the skill you lack, or, come back to point no 1 and shuffle tasks with other employees so that you are not exposed to stressors for the time being. For instance, if public presentations are a formidable stressor for you, we can recommend our article “11 Steps To Stop Stressing About Public Presentations.

Furthermore, review your reactions to stress as some of them might be counterproductive. For instance, many professionals subconsciously combat stress at work by shopping (a phenomenon also known as “retail therapy“). As a result, they surround themselves with unnecessary gadgets and clutter their environment. 

While in fact, the more clean and uncluttered your place, the better for your mental health. Please read more about feng shui and other technics for balanced life in our article “How To Stop Grinding and Worrying In Our Careers? What Can We Learn From Taoism.”

6. Seek Social Support.

The biggest mistake is to attempt to work through burnout in secret from others. It is so, so common, yet there’s still an element of it being an unspoken suffering.

So, don’t hide your state of mind from your friends and family. Don’t keep quiet hoping that all will be just fine. You should do the opposite: talk to your relatives and close friends, and make sure that you are surrounded by friendly, benevolent people.

Furthermore, multiple online communities can give you free support and assist you on your way out of burnout. Some options worth recommending: a variety of Discord servers oriented at mental health support and  focused YouTube channels such as Therapy in a Nutshell.

As a rule of thumb, talking to your boss is also an idea. Today, mental health awareness is higher than ever before, and any good manager would welcome openness in that respect, as preventing burnout works on behalf of both of you.

7. Utilize Relaxation Strategies at Work and After Working Hours.

Take a look at your workstation. Is it clean, or is it cluttered? Keeping too many items around you is a cognitive burden and can cause the feeling of fatigue or even cause anxiety.

When it comes to free time after work, then again, everyone is different. While your colleagues will best chill on a mountain trail or in a gym, you might be better off in a sauna or on a beach. 

The same as hustle culture, the fitness culture can be toxic as it puts pressure on people and makes them compete even in free time. You don’t need to look like a semi-professional athlete to be happy so stop competing on a perfect body and choose what relaxes you.

Peace of mind makes people happier on the inside than the look of a fit body in the mirror. One of the most effective techniques for preventing and combating burnout is mindfulness practice: focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.

Lastly, if you are a female, also look into your monthly cycle. As a rule of thumb, most women have varying productivity across a monthly cycle. You can pay more attention to these cycles and choose to slow down whenever your body needs it. Please check out the work by Anna Lindfors to find out more about how to plan your time in professional life as a female.

8. Develop Self-awareness.

There are multiple various self‐analytic techniques, counseling, or therapy methods that can help you better understand your relationship with work and fix it when it becomes toxic.

Whatever methods you choose, remember the old wisdom of Shaolin monks: 4 words are the key to internal peace. And these words are: “Not my fucking problem.”

You need to develop a healthy distance from everything that happens around you, otherwise, you will never be mentally stable no matter how good your therapist is.

9. Review and Polish Your Resting Scheme.

Resting is a complex biological process. The human mind and body operate in multiple cycles going on at varying frequencies at a time — and your pattern of rest should address all of them:

Speed resting. Resting during the day: power naps, lunch, coffee breaks, and micro-breaks during the day. Let’s be real: no one can take 8 hours of uninterrupted, high-focus deep work. If you try, you will fail. So, plan for these little breaks during the day without conscience.

Low-interval resting… Also known as night sleep. It might be the key to your professional success. You can use apps like SleepCycle to measure the quality of your night sleep. And please invest time into researching your chronotype and optimal sleeping patterns.

Medium-interval resting. Commonly known as a weekend. As a rule of thumb, unless you are a freak running on adrenaline for a lifetime such as Elon Musk, you will need at least a day a week of complete rest. So, please be reasonable about your working scheme — even God rests a day a week.

High-interval resting… Also known as vacation. We need it at least 2 weeks of interrupted vacation of a year to fully recover our bodies and minds from the work-related clutter. 

The biggest problem around vacation is that, in the age of social media, we are no longer comfortable about disconnecting from the Internet for so long. But hey, you need to try — for your own health. 

And if your business or career depends on social media, you might pick the low season when most people go on vacation and not much happens, such as August or Christmas time or use software or subcontractors topmost your content while you are away. There is literally no excuse to stay glued to the Internet.

(*) Sabbatical. Today, it is becoming increasingly popular to consciously plan and take career breaks between contracts, or take sabbaticals — for as long as 6-12 months. 

According to a global survey of 22,995 workers and 4,017 hiring managers conducted by Censuswide on behalf of LinkedIn (January 2022), the majority of professionals active today took a break at least once in their careers. 

Moreover, the recent report by ManpowerGroup reveals that 84% of Millennials plan significant career breaks for the future. So, if you dream of taking a sabbatical to explore your other hobbies, travel, and experience life in ways other than work, you are perfectly normal! And perhaps, you should do it if the opportunity presents itself.

10. Stop Caring What Others Think.

Lastly, a large contributor to burnout is expectations. Most people have the wrong impression that social status is synonymous with professional success. It isn’t.

While generating X used to think like this as they lived in a world of scarcity. Lack of social status meant a lack of resources to maintain a good life.

Now, we don’t live in a world of scarcity anymore — we live in a world of abundance AND frustration. Today, happiness means status.

So, stop caring about what your neighbors think about your house, your car, or your clothes. People will lean toward you if you are not frustrated and toxic, not if you are wealthy.

And, stop caring what your boss thinks of you. You are responsible for your work, not for its outcomes. Learn to say “no” or otherwise, you will never reach stable mental health.

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Diagnosed With Burnout? The Path To Healing: The Maslow’s Pyramid.

Now let’s assume that unfortunately, it is too late for prevention: the burnout episode has happened and you are looking for a way of effectively healing from it. Of course, seeking relax and therapy is the first, most obvious step to take and that’s where you should start.

But therapy is not always the answer to your problem. Namely, therapy can address the high levels of Maslow’s pyramid associated with work: your need for fulfilment, professional success, and appreciation.

But if your professional life is deeply dysfunctional, you will need to dive to the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid to fix it.

Namely, remember that your mind is a product of your body. You will need to start from fixing your basic physiology first, before tackling more complex and abstract concepts such as “job satisfaction.” If your body feels wasted and underperforms — you will never feel job satisfaction.

Moreover, people have tendency to look for wrong causes of their problems and blame external circumstances for their situation.

For instance, let’s assume that you have some food intolerance, you are on a wrong diet, and feel never-ending fatigue because of it.

In that case, if you don’t have your dream job, you will likely think: „I’m wasted because I am frustrated with my job!”

And if you do have your dream job, you will probably think: „I’m wasted because I work too much!”

That’s why you need to start from the basics. Think about the low levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Do you feed your body properly? Do you have enough movement during the day? Do you sleep in clean and quiet conditions? Do you live in a safe quarter of the city? Do you feel enough bond with your family?

Then, if the lower levels of the Maslow’s pyramid are fixed and you still feel burned out, you can get to the higher levels.

You will need to look at your career like at a video game for a moment: rewind, think back about the past and figure out when was the last time you felt satisfied with what you do, professionally.

Ask yourself: what factors and decisions taken afterwards led me to where I am now?

How can I start over and reboot my career from that point on?

Sometimes, this requires taking a step back, e.g. move to a less paid role or less prestigious organisation. But believe me, in the long term it will bring you much further.

What Not To Do On Your Path To Health.

You can talk about burnout… but don’t you get used to it!

We live in a culture where talking about burnout finally got socially accepted — sort of.

Of course, sharing your issues via support groups, online and IRL, social media, and blogging/vlogging, is a good thing.

However, don’t get too comfortable with your burnout! It’s easy to get addicted to dopamine shots coming every time you hear a supportive comment from family, friends, and colleagues. Burnout is not how you are supposed to feel and it won’t get you anywhere in the long term!

Furthermore, in many countries, employees suffering from a burnout can receive an official diagnosis and enjoy social benefits while on a sick leave (e.g., in the Netherlands, up to 2 years continued salary), which gives some illusory sense of comfort and further de-incentivizes people from healing burnout as fast as possible.

When you feel burned out, act. Yes, you have to slow down with work. BUT, you need to slow down wisely as just “not-working” for a period of time will not help you solve your problems.

You need to pay effort to put your body on the right track and reevaluate your priorities and goals. Healing from burnout is active effort, not just waiting.

How To Recognize That You Or Someone Next To You Suffers From Burnout?

As a matter of fact, in the fast and unpredictable job market of today, every professional around you might be now going through a burnout, even if they are in their early twenties and whether they work, study, or are just taking a career gap. As Andrea Farias testified on her YouTube channel, she suffered from a burnout at the age of 23, which is common among Generation Z.

So, how to recognize burnout around you? Well, the typical symptoms are intuitive: low motivation, signs of exhaustion and/or insomnia, irritability, amplified anxiety. 

However, it is often the case that burned out professionals are not willing to reveal their vulnerable side to avoid exposing themselves to a possible backlash in their competitive professional environments. Or, they are completely unaware of their own problems.

People often try to cover burnout symptoms using a number of compensatory mechanisms. Some common indirect syndromes of burnout are as follows:

1. Buying New, Unnecessary Stuff.

Yes, people often get into a shopping addiction and flex with new gadgets trying to cover their sense of void with material goods. No need to mention, it doesn’t work that way.

2. Starting New, Niche Hobbies.

If your friend has a new, posh hobby, it might be a sign of a burnout. People often try to compensate their lack of perceived professional progress by starting new, eccentric extracullicular activities to feel more unique and valuable as humans.

3. Traveling a Lot.

Burned out people often wrongly associate movement with progress. Therefore, going to excessive number of sites and photographing everything to then flash with beautiful photos on social media, or choosing a new job that requires commuting or traveling is a common reaction to burnout.

4.  A House Makeover.

Makeover often gives people a sense of progress. If their career does not progress the way they expected, at least they can spend their free time on upgrading their household to feel better.

5. Taking a Position That Sounds Prestigious But Requires Little Workload.

Some burned out people cover their mental states by choosing new positions that sound prestigious… but when you look deeper, you notice that in fact, the job is simple and straightforward. In a way, they exchange ambitious jobs for jobs that sound ambitious only on paper. This is their way of taking “mental vacation” without spilling the beans to anyone, including their closest family.

6. Sharing Lots of Family / Hobby Photos on Social Media.

When people are not happy about their professional careers, they often get back to their private life. They feel more blessed and grateful about what they developed on that end, and express that openly in public. While admiring family photos on your colleague on Facebook, you might reflect once in a while: “Is my friend equally happy in their professional life?”

7. Increased Social Media Presence.

And in general, in burnout people have tendency to compensate by posting tons of materials from their daily lives on social media. So, please be fragile to this.

Of course, none of these syndromes means anything in isolation, but if you notice multiple syndromes as once, pay close attention.

8. Bragging With Any Little Success At Work.

A person who is truly happy about their work doesn’t feel pressure to constantly brag about every little success and demonstrate how cool their job is. If your friend is overly expressive about their job and never stops to talk about their career, it might be a sign that there is some unspoken frustration underneath.

9*. Silent Burnout.

In many cases, detecting burnout is almost impossible: it is so well covered that there are almost no external symptoms. This type of burnout is characteristic for highly performing individuals who learned adaptive strategies to keep their impeccable image regardless of circumstances.

In such cases, burned out individuals keep active in the public space and keep their social lives going – so that to spectators, nothing unusual happens in their lives. However, at work, they cherry pick low-hanging fruit as they feel no energy for challenges or changes. In that case, only a specialist in a field closely working with the burned out person could potentially notice the problem.

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Conclusions: Burnout in Times of Mental Health Awareness.

You only have two lives. The second one starts after a burnout.

Burnout is a micro-catastrophe in one’s professional life. But just like anything else, whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Burnout can have multiple positive outcomes on your life, as it makes you think about what is really important in life. Many employees reevaluate their priorities after burnout, slow down, and learn Ikigai principles of good life.

Fortunately, we live in times of increasing mental health awareness across the board.

Hundreds of influential people openly admitted to experiencing burnout, including Prince Harry of Windsor, actress Sandra Bullock, actress and singer Lady Gaga, singer Beyoncé, Banking Group boss António Horta Osório, novelist Matt Haig, lawyer Tina Martini, and Founder of the Huff Post Arianna Huffington.

Many organisations today welcome executives who experienced burnout in the past as empathy, sensitivity to employees’ mental health, and servant management style are important for developing a healthy, friendly working culture.

Moreover, in recent years, a whole new specialisation in management was created: employee-experience manager (also known as “Chief Happiness Officer”) responsible for taking care of the employees’ mental health, ranking fifth in LinkedIn’s 2023 list of the 25 fastest-growing jobs

Which means that employers worldwide collectively declared war to mental health problems among their employees, and we can hope that the situation will improve in the long run.

Worried about your mental health at work? Please also check out my articles:

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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. Z. (2023, August 18th). Deconstructing Burnout: Preventing, Diagnosing, and Healing. Retrieved from: https://ontologyofvalue.com/deconstructing-burnout-preventing-diagnosing-and-healing/

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