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What is burnout?

What Is Burnout?


What is burnout?

This the first in a series of blogs about burnout. I will be looking at the exact warning signs and symptoms, what puts us at risk of burnout, some real life examples, the key differences between stress and burnout and how to prevent and to recover from burnout.

We seem to hear the word “burnout” all the time these days.  Generally (but not exclusively) we use the term to describe how we feel about our relationship to our work, whether we work for someone else or for ourselves. In many cases, the story has been as follows:  we start a new job with positive expectations, enthusiasm, and the goal to be successful in whatever we are doing. Over time, things changed we start to feel  “ I gave 100% for a long time, only to find myself exhausted, bitter and disillusioned.” The initial flame of dedication and passion has well and truly burned out!

Is it real?

But does it REALLY exist? Is it no more than another name for employee resentment, an excuse to opt out or a modern label for stress, depression or anxiety? NO! In extreme cases, burnout can lead to serious physical and mental illness. It is  a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Can it happen to anyone?

Yes – it isn’t just those in the workplace who are at risk: Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout—it can also affect stay-at-home parents coping with all kinds of demands, or indeed anyone in a caring role such as those caring for a sick or elderly relative or partner.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu, or even more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

Am I at risk?

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • Most of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overloaded, or unappreciated—when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this MOST OF THE TIME, however, you may be burned out.

A gradual process

Burnout is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but can creep up on you. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but they get worse as time goes on. Think of the early symptoms as red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and act to reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll eventually burn out.

Seeking help

Although anyone can experience burnout, research has shown differences in how the genders deal with it, and how and when they seek help. NB MANY people delay far too long before they seek help. Research show that women tend to be more in tune with it, can identify it in themselves and seek help. However men can tend to see it as a weakness. They are more likely to go to their GP with unrelated, vague physical symptoms – perhaps just throwing in a giveaway comment as they are about to leave the consulting room. (Society’s expectations of men can exacerbate the issue. “If we’re not able to do what we’re supposed to do, then who are we?”)

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!


See also: All You Need to Know About Stress, Stress At Work, Stress Symptoms

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