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The Burnout Limbo

Whether you love or hate your job (or even if you fall somewhere in between), burnout is a danger. Burnout happens when the negative stress of your day-to-day work outpaces your ability to manage it. While burnout is most often associated with your professional career, your “day-to-day work” may be your education, parenting your kids, caring for a relative, or any number of activities that make up your daily life. When the stress of fulfilling the obligations of those activities leaves you feeling drained of energy, uninterested where you once felt passion, and generally less able to do that work well, then you’re likely struggling with burnout.

Burnout can have deleterious effects on your physical and mental health, your self-esteem, and your ability to perform the work that’s causing the burnout in the first place. You can experience burnout in a job you’re so passionate about that you overcommit yourself or in one that you don’t give a fig about – regardless, when the work becomes monotonous and the stress it causes builds beyond your ability to cope, you’re at risk for burnout.

How does burnout relate to behavioral health? That’s the big question, and experts are still not clear on how burnout is distinct from certain aspects of depression. Some view burnout as essentially a precursor to depression or an anxiety disorder – fail to address the symptoms of burnout, and they may continue to develop into a mental health concern. In fact, burnout is not technically a diagnosable disease. The World Health Organization officially defined burnout earlier this year as an occupational “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Regardless of how burnout is classified, the experience of it is real and there are several ways to address and hopefully alleviate it. The Mayo Clinic suggests a range of lifestyle adjustments similar to those recommended for individuals experiencing many behavioral health issues:

  • Find support in friends, family, colleagues, or others.
  • Exercise regularly – take a walk or a bike ride, go to the gym, etc.
  • Be sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Practice mindfulness.

In a Gallup study examining employee burnout last year, researchers analyzed job-related factors that correlate highly with burnout and came up with a list of the top five:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Unreasonable time pressure
  • Lack of communication and support from manager

If any of these could describe your workplace, it might be a good idea to try to address them now before burnout becomes a problem for you. Connect with your supervisor to try to establish regular check-ins in order to clarify your role, workload, and expectations. If you don’t feel your workplace can make a change in the right direction, perhaps it’s time to look for a new position. And when you do, keep in mind these five factors and look for an employer that handles them well.