Burn-out generally results from a state where feelings of stress are prolonged. Work-related stress is described by experts such as Carroll and Walton (2003) as a psychological state representing a mismatch between your perception of work demands on you and your ability to manage those demands. The extent of the state of such over-load within any given situation depends on the resources and support available to you for coping and on the amount of control you experience over the situation. In worst case scenarios, your emotional and physical resources are depleted, you experience reduced personal accomplishment and there is a sense of an invisible wall emerging between you and the world as you struggle to cope as best you can with the stressors you perceive both in your personal and professional worlds. The coping strategies of choice put into place by you or your organization may not be the healthiest and even maladaptive and can include amongst others: long hours in the office and 24-hour availability; drug/alcohol abuse and total neglect of self-care. Unfortunately these tend to merely push towards that state of chronic stress or burnout, marked by emotional and physical exhaustion, detachment and cynicism and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. This state does not emerge overnight but gradually over time which means that you can recognise the signs before it’s too late.
The warning signs of burnout include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep disturbance (trouble falling/staying asleep and later insomnia)
- Concentration difficulties, forgetfulness resulting in poor performance
- Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, breathing issues, headaches, stomach problems
- Weakening of the immune systems leading to more regular bouts of illness
- Change in appetite
- Pessimism, loss of enjoyment and feelings of hopelessness
- Withdrawal, isolation and detachment
- Increased irritability
Once it takes hold, burnout is difficult to get rid of. Psychotherapy can provide guidance in assessing the sources of stress in your life as well as supporting you in making the necessary changes and developing more adaptive coping strategies to ensure that you begin to live again to the fullest.