Feeling the symptoms of burnout? Here’s how to manage it

By Hannah Kingston

Wednesday October 21, 2020


Burnout isn’t a new concept. The phrase was coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger.

Burnout is a complex condition that is often, but not always related to workplace stress. The symptoms can be similar to depression but generally arise after a period of high stress and anxiety.  Burnout can leave you feeling in a state of emotional and physical deflation following a period of over-activity. The condition can creep up on you over time.

The pandemic has brought a unique set of challenges to the workforce, the “word” unprecedented remains applicable seven months since its beginnings, and it is totally normal not to be producing your best work during this time, however, if you are feeling the symptoms of burnout, you need to acknowledge it, and fast, before it becomes harder to manage.

So, what are the symptoms of burnout?

  • You are struggling to get out of bed most days
  • You feel unmotivated or indifferent when it comes to your workload
  • You feel overwhelmed by tasks that wouldn’t have phased you in the past
  • You feel cynical and resentful towards your workload or team members
  • You feel fatigued and sapped of energy
  • You are frequently getting sick with cold and/or flu
  • You have aches and pains from no identifiable source
  • You are experiencing regular stomach aches and/or headaches
  • Your appetite has either increased or diminished
  • You are either sleeping too much or too little
  • You are experiencing imposter syndrome or don’t have confidence in your work
  • You don’t want to socialise and withdraw from those around you
  • You find yourself snapping or taking frustrations out on others
  • You procrastinate and find it difficult to stay focused on simple tasks
  • You find yourself dreading every working day

Risk factors

Everyone has bad days, it’s a side effect of life, but some people are more likely to suffer from burnout than others.

It may be circumstantial, such as the industry that you work in, 42% of physicians stated that they are feeling the effects of burnout in a 2020 Medscape study. Having a “bad boss” or unrealistic expectations at work could also be a factor.

Other circumstances, such as not having a strong support network of friends to rely on could contribute to an increased chance of burnout, as well as lifestyle factors such not getting enough time for self-care, not getting enough sleep and poor work-life balance.

Feeling burnt out or deflated could be related to personality traits, those who have a type-A personality, are perfectionists, or are naturally cynical are also more likely to face the effects of burnout.

If you identify with the above symptoms or scenarios, you need to take action before your burnout becomes too overwhelming.

Managing your burnout

There is no magic cure to make your feelings go away, and even though talking about it may be the last thing you want to do, it’s the best step in the right direction for getting back on track.

If you are feeling down and out at work, you need to turn to someone you trust and ask for their advice and support. No one will judge you for feeling overwhelmed, especially this year. Once you have identified the root cause of your burnout, it may be time to speak with your HR department and communicate that you need extra support, that might involve flexible working hours, fewer hours or more collaboration within the team to help manage your workload.

Once you have started building a support system around you, it’s time to take back some control.

Sometimes burnout is a symptom of simply not wanting the job you have anymore. It’s not a luxury for everyone to be able to move on easily but if your current role is making you miserable, it might be time to take that vital step.

If how you are feeling is less to do with the organisation and more to do with how you feel within it, there are other things that you can do to build back your confidence, focus and motivation outside of work, to help you feel better while you’re at work.

  • Exercise, while it may not feel like something you want to do, exercise can act as an instant mood booster and help you to feel more in control of your day.
  • Eat well, a healthy diet can act as a project outside of work. Eating well and trying new recipes can help you to focus on something other than work and build back up your immune system.
  • Build social connections at work to help you to forge positive associations that aren’t directly related to what happens at your desk.
  • Meditate regularly to stay in the moment, take stock and ease your day to day worries.
  • Minimise interactions with negative people, to help you to focus on your own path to positivity.
  • Decrease screen time to help you to restore, reset and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Attach meaning to tasks at work to help you to value your output and avoid detachment from what you are doing.
  • Be compassionate, minimise negative self-talk and replace it with the facts.
  • Speak to a health professional, if you feel that burnout is not something that you can tackle on your own.

Keep reading: 9 job skills to develop for a post COVID world 

Keep reading: Here’s why emotional intelligence matters at work


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