Burnout syndrome or chronic burnout affects millions in the workforce annually. One study estimates 28% of Americans deal with burnout, with that number increasing to 54% for those in high-pressure or high-stress careers. Burnout can affect anyone in any career path, young or old, in an entry-level or senior position. So, what is burnout? What are the symptoms and how can it affect the health of workers in the long term? Perhaps most importantly, how can burnout be treated?

What is Burnout Syndrome?

Burnout syndrome is a prolonged state of physical and mental exhaustion, usually due to long-term exposure to a high-pressure atmosphere. The term is becoming increasingly common, with some studies reporting close to 30% of American workers suffer from burnout. In high-pressure fields, the frequency can rise beyond 50%. Even among workers who do not directly report burnout, many experience intolerable levels of stress, emotional distress, and family problems, highlighting how widespread this problem has become.

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Symptom: Detachment

One of the main symptoms of burnout is detachment or depersonalization. This symptom is common healthcare fields because workers regularly face ethical and moral dilemmas. However, the reasons for detachment go much deeper. Often, people dealing with burnout feel hopeless in their situation, as if there is no light at the end of a tunnel. This causes cynicism and emotional depersonalization, often manifesting in a lack of interest in others, sarcasm, and deteriorating interpersonal skills.

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Symptom: Chronic Fatigue or Exhaustion

Feeling tired after a long day of work is normal. However, chronic exhaustion could be a symptom of burnout. The battle with exhaustion is a mental one as well as a physical one. If workers and employees repeatedly spend time on tasks they perceive as unfulfilling or dull, they will eventually suffer emotionally from a lack of personal fulfillment. This ties in closely with the next symptom.

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Symptom: Lack of Feelings of Accomplishment

A lack of feelings of accomplishment, even after completion of a large project or difficult task, is another symptom of burnout. Despite devoting a large amount of energy and time, burned-out employees will often feel obsolete, replaceable, or unvalued in their current role. This affects productivity, satisfaction, and overall job performance.

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Physical Consequences of Burnout Syndrome

Burnout syndrome is harmful to the physical health of workers. A weakened immune system from stress and anxiety can mean increased susceptibility to viral illnesses, exhaustion, and behavioral problems. Other consequences include:

  • Anxiety symptoms such as chest pains, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, and headaches
  • Insomnia or restlessness
  • Inability to focus on a given task

When these symptoms worsen, individuals should consult a medical professional.

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Psychological Consequences of Burnout Syndrome

The psychological consequences of burnout can be even worse than the physical effects and last much longer. In the healthcare field, ethical dilemmas and traumatic experiences can leave doctors and nurses with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some people in these and other fields also experience suicidal ideation. Some studies link burnout to the development of depression and anxiety, as well. A lack of emotional connection and feelings of anger may also surface, often affecting interpersonal relationships.

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Treatment: Examine Your Goals

One of the first ways to deal with burnout is to reassess your goals. If you have set your expectations too high, failing to reach these unrealistic milestones can be discouraging and harmful to mental health. This is especially true in individuals with low self-esteem or self-worth. Examine what you value and what you feel is important. Next, look for ways to incorporate this into your workplace goals. Prioritize your life. If you find yourself putting extra time and energy into unfulfilling tasks, look for ways to reorganize your time and put more focus on rewarding activities.

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Treatment: Manage Your Stress

Overwhelming stress levels can be a major contributor to burnout syndrome. While we cannot completely avoid stress, managing it is key to maintaining mental and physical health. Some of the best ways to manage stress include:

  • Regularly scheduling downtime and remaining committed to it, eliminating all outside stressors during this period.
  • Cleansing your diet and becoming more active
  • Removing unnecessary stressors such as harmful relationships.
  • Learning to manage your own workload, even if that means saying "no".

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Treatment: Find a Work-Life Balance

A work-life balance is crucial to avoiding burnout. Many professionals throw themselves into their work, leaving little time for cultivating meaningful relationships and practicing self-care. A solution lies in setting clear boundaries and cutoff points. If work has begun to spill into personal life, its time to firmly set your hours. A solid budget and financial plan, especially a long-term one, will help you avoid using overtime or taking on unnecessary work to pay off debts. Even small things, such as putting away your computer after work or keeping an organized workspace, can help untangle your personal life from your career.

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Treatment: Become More Mindful

Mindfulness is a relatively new idea in the working world, but the concept helps maintain a healthy mindset and lifestyle. Focusing on current events rather than the past and future can help you become more mindful and more in control of your life. Deep breathing techniques, meditation, and gratitude exercises are all great ways to become more mindful. Keeping a journal can assist you in keeping track of immediate things for which you can feel grateful or appreciative.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.