What is Professional Burnout and How to Handle it

For those of us in the working field, heavy workloads and deadline pressures are things we have all experienced at some point in the job. Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed or stretched thin sometimes? But when relentless work stress pushes you into the debilitating state we call burnout, it is a serious problem. It affects not just your own performance and well-being, both also that of your team and your organization. A 2013 ComPsych survey of more than 5,100 North American workers found that 62% felt high levels of stress, loss of control, and extreme fatigue. Research has also linked burnout to many negative physical and mental health outcomes such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety and
increased alcohol and drug use.

Burnout is a three-component syndrome that arises in response to chronic stressors on the job.

Exhaustion is the central symptom of burnout. It entails physical, cognitive and emotional fatigue that undermines people’s ability to work effectively and feel positive about what they’re doing. This can stem from intense time pressure, lack of control over work, disliking work, not having the necessary skills to accomplish work tasks, or simply having too much to do. Cynicism, also called depersonalization, is a way of distancing yourself psychologically from your work. Instead of feeling invested, you feel detached, negative and even callous. Persistent cynicism is a signal that you have lost your connection to, enjoyment of, and pride in your work. Efficacy refers to feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement. It often develops alongside
exhaustion and cynicism because people can’t perform at their peak when they’re out of fuel and have lost their connection to work.

Recovery and Prevention

Changes at the job, team, or organizational level are often required to address all the underlying issues. However, there are steps you can take on your own once you’re aware of the symptoms.

Prioritize self-care

It’s crucial to replenish your physical and emotional energy, along with your capacity to focus. You can do this by implementing good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, social connection and other activities that promote well-being, like meditating, journaling and being out in nature.

Shift your perspective

While rest, relaxation and restoration can ease exhaustion, they don’t fully address the root causes of burnout. Take a close look at your mindset and assumptions. What aspects of your situation are truly fixed and what can you change? Are there ways to reshape your job to gain more control or to focus on the most fulfilling tasks? Could you built some positive, supportive relationships to counteract the ones that drain you? If you’re feeling ineffective, what assistance or development could you seek out? If recognition is lacking, could you engage in some personal branding to showcase your work?

Reduce exposure to job stressors

Reevaluate high-value activities and relationships that still trigger unhealthy stress. Reset the expectations of colleagues, clients and even family members for what and how much you’re willing to take on and establish ground rules together. You may get pushback, but doubters must know that you’re making these changes to improve your long-term productivity.

Seek out connections

The best antidote to burnout is to seek out rich interpersonal interactions and continual personal and professional development. Find coaches and mentors who can help you identify positive relationships and learning opportunities. Given the influence of situational factors on burnout, it is likely that others at your work are suffering too. If you band together to offer mutual support and advocate for solutions, you all will increase your sense of control and connection.

Burnout can feel insurmountable. But the sense of being overwhelmed is a signal, not a long-term sentence. By understanding the symptoms and causes, you can recover and build a road map for prevention. Your challenging experience can serve as a turning point that launches you into a more sustainable career and a happier, healthier life.


About Grace Kim: 

Grace Kim is a Resident in Counseling providing services at the Woodbridge location. She is a Qualified Mental Health Professional for Children (QMHP-C) and a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Grace has extensive experience in providing outpatient counseling services to children, adolescents, and young adults. She also has sufficient experience working with adult clients with longstanding substance abuse issues. She is an individual who has had her own share of mental health challenges and, with the help of those around her, has been able to overcome obstacles and barriers in her life.  To learn more about Grace, visit HERE

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