Burnout is a common emotional experience, most often discussed in the context of the workplace. Many companies and offices promote self-care activities to prevent the physical and mental symptoms of job burnout. However, burnout can happen outside of work, too — and it’s just as important to take care of when it does.
What is burnout?
Burnout describes an emotional fatigue that affects physical, cognitive, and social health. Burnout looks different for everyone. However, people who become burnt out generally feel this way after a prolonged period of intense effort, especially when there isn’t a sense of fulfillment or a sense of social connection. Even when someone feels like their work or their relationship is meaningful at one point in time, burnout can occur when there isn’t enough time to rest and recover.
When burnout happens, you might find yourself thinking:
- I can’t do this anymore
- I’m not interested in what I’m doing anymore
- They’re my best friend but I don’t want to talk to them at all
- I don’t want to be here anymore
- I’m so beyond caring
- I hate my job
- Why did I even come here
- I just want to be alone
At times, these thoughts are normal — sometimes, they’re even appropriate. However, when you begin noticing these thoughts happening daily, you might be slipping into a period of burnout. The same is true if these thoughts aren’t characteristic of you or if they’re negatively impacting your personal life and daily routine.
Prevalence of burnout
Burnout happens in all professions, all types of relationships, and all family structures. Burnout happens to people of all ages, identities, and backgrounds.
A study conducted by Indeed found that 52% of a surveyed population reported experiencing burnout in 2021. Millennials and Gen Zers experienced burnout at a higher rate, around 58-59%.
It’s highly likely that most people will experience burnout at least once in their lives. Those who live with high stress levels — because of economic hardships or racial and identity-based discrimination — may experience burnout more often than others. One protective factor against burnout is the ability to take the time to take care of the self. For some, self-care on an impactful scale may not be a possibility.
Job burnout is significant to physical and emotional health as prolonged work-related stress can worsen mental symptoms due to poor work-life balance and unfair treatment in the workplace. This can quickly lead to reduced performance and disengagement from one’s job and social life as well as decreased interest in everyday tasks or the development of other mental health conditions.
Symptoms of burnout
Burnout symptoms can be markedly obvious — think shouting profanities at a car that drove a little too close to you. But burnout can also be inconspicuous and imperceptible. You might go weeks without feeling close to anyone or feeling void of all emotions, and only realize that it’s burnout when you talk to someone about it.
People who feel burnt out can feel:
- Apathetic towards everyone, even family members and those that they love
- Disengaged, even in things that they normally care about
- Bored with daily life
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling tired
- Unappreciated by those around you
The emotional toll of burnout can also affect your physical health and mental health. People who are going through burnout might find themselves suffering from physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, weight loss, weight gain, and decreased energy levels. Burnout can also change your cognitive functions, debilitating your memory and executive functioning. Burnout symptoms of mental health include:
- Depressed mood, including heavy feelings of sadness
- Emotionally drained, or emotional exhaustion
- Anxious about trivial things
Burnout is a result of prolonged stress. By taking care of yourself and working with a therapist, you can avoid or heal burnout before it becomes a more complicated medical condition, depression or anxiety disorder.
Therapy for burnout
Many therapists specialize in treating burnout. Self-care is a key component to all mental health journeys, as are de-stress and relaxation practices. This gradual process toward well-being may look like:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Improving sleep habits
- Physical exercise
- Incorporation of a healthy diet
- Engaging in supportive relationships
Therapists who treat burnout encourage clients to express their thoughts and feelings. They’ll also encourage their clients to engage in self-care practices, whatever that looks like for them. By educating clients about burnout, including what mental and physical signs to look out for when trying to avoid burnout, therapists ensure when the next period of excessive stress happens, you have the tools you need to get through it.
Here are some practices to help you recover from burnout:
- Strengthen your active reflection and self-compassion practices
- Create action items to make a systemic review and changes
- Develop daily strategies to prevent stress and burnout
- Take time to reflect on your efforts and accomplishments
- Consider taking time off to reset
- Recognize and replace negative self-talk
- Adopt an "ownership mindset"
- Give yourself permission to be imperfect
- Seek professional support through therapy
When searching for a therapist for burnout, find someone who knows about burnout recovery and can help you in setting short-term and long-term goals. It’s important to find someone who makes you feel at ease and understands your experiences — understanding systemic issues like workplace or cultural discrimination if those are contributing factors. Additionally, work with health care professionals that have the skills to differentiate between burnout, depression, and anxiety.
Most important is aligning with a mental health professional that you feel comfortable working with — a strong therapeutic alliance is the best chance for reaching your wellness goals.
Experiencing burnout is tough, but it is treatable, and the recovery process can be empowering! Seeking help from a trusted therapist is the next right step.
During recovery, you can reconnect with your values and goals, gain confidence in managing stress, and learn techniques for long-term success. While burnout is temporary, the personal growth achieved through intentional treatment can be long-lasting.