You’ve been working long hours, living on caffeine and there’s no end in sight. One morning you wake up realizing you’re exhausted, and you simply don’t care. You have hit the edge of burnout. The sad part of burnout is that you may not even realize you’ve leaped over the edge. It takes looking at burnout from a non-crispy standpoint to be able to identify it.
I’ve had a few tangles with burnout during my life; one while I was in college, and several during my working career. I hit a burnout level very quickly while teaching, with the physical and emotional demands that dealing with 75 teenagers every day. Now, months later, I feel that I have finally recovered some of what I lost last year. But I am vigilant for the signs of burnout as they crop up because I cannot remain productive and happy while flirting with burnout.
Burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by excessive and/or prolonged stress. It can manifest itself in emotional, mental, and/or physical realms.
Burnout can be in response to external events and circumstances, affecting those such as long-term care givers or a those with a punishing school or work schedule.
Burnout can also be self-inflicted as we push ourselves too hard or hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations.
Causes of Burnout
Burnout is caused by an individual’s inability to handle things that are thrown at them. Just like every person is an individual, a level of a stressor that tips into burnout is also individual.
There are some general categories of stressors that can tip into burnout:
- Lack of control. Each person has a comfort level on how much control they are ceding to others, and it may differ in various areas of your life. You might be fine with being told everything to do at work, but not be able to deal with an apartment manager’s demands for raising and lowering blinds. Interestingly, situations with no boundaries, which appear to be the antithesis of lack of control, can also trigger burnout.
- Lack of recognition or acknowledgment. Go too long without any positive feedback, and it can wear on you. This also links into social support; if you don’t have the feedback structure there, you are less likely to tolerate a lack of one at work.
- Overwhelm. Too much going on in either work or personal life (or both) can trigger burnout.
- Poor health. Even without disease or a chronic condition, a lack of sleep and poor nutrition can trigger physical exhaustion, which can then allow you to react more strongly to stress.
- Perfectionism. Strong perfectionist tendencies can cause us to be too hard and demanding of ourselves, which then leads to a higher stress level.
Why We Have To Monitor For Burnout
There is an parable that you can boil a frog to death by putting him in a pan of cool water and then gradually turning up the heat – because he won’t hop out.
While this is not true (see Boiling frog – Wikipedia), it’s a good analogy of how burnout can creep up on us.
If we are not aware of what is going on, we can accumulate stress and absorb it as “normal” until we reach the point of boiling, and voila, burnout.
Burnout can trash your productivity, and creep up on you before you even know what you’re about. Know what can trigger it, and know that you have to be vigilant if you are going to prevent yourself from burning out.