Burnout Syndrome; what is it, why does it appear, and how can we avoid it?

It is not uncommon that having to go to work on Monday after a relaxed weekend takes a big effort from us. However, we must pay attention and stop when stress, work demands and pressure feels so great that we find it difficult to find the motivation to go to work every day, or even when we see that it has begun to affect us physically and emotionally. What is happening to us? How do we know if we are suffering from burnout syndrome? 

What is Burnout?

Burnout was initially associated with specific face-to-face jobs that required a lot of interaction with people and the obligation to maintain composure in front of them. However, nowadays, we know that anyone can suffer from Burnout at work and that it is not only associated with stress but also with other factors related especially to the fact that such stress occurs over a prolonged period of time. 

When our work environment becomes a hostile space, with a lack of resources and organisation, full of demands or, on the contrary, in which our capacities are underused, we find ourselves in a discomfort situation that is often difficult to manage. Therefore, in addition to overwork or a conflictive work environment, our own perception of our abilities plays a very important role in whether this work pressure is a specific moment of stress or a continuous situation that leads to Burnout. 

Burnout symptoms and its consequences

The prolonged mental exhaustion caused by stress, work pressure and the resulting general exhaustion leaves a series of physical and mental signs that can indicate that we are suffering from Burnout Syndrome: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches 
  • Disturbance of menstrual periods 
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Repetitive thoughts about work
  • Preoccupation 
  • Demotivation 

All or some of these symptoms can be present in everyone's working life. However, when they become a permanent part of our daily lives, they can affect our emotional well-being in different ways. On the one hand, our self-esteem and perception of efficiency are diminished, and we even doubt our competence and professionalism. Many people feel that the cause of their discomfort arises from their own inability to effectively carry out all the work assigned to them. This feeling, if prolonged over time, can negatively affect the self-esteem of the person, who sees themself as increasingly useless in an environment where they previously perceived themselves as competent. Other people are overwhelmed by the pressure they are under in their jobs, and the difficulty of organising and structuring their activities, either due to lack of time or resources to do so. 

On the other hand, the overwork that leads to Burnout can affect emotional well-being in our private lives. Many people report that they are unable to "disconnect" from work and end up prolonging their working hours, and even during holiday periods or weekends they cannot stop thinking about work. This naturally affects their ability to enjoy leisure, family and friends. Numerous research studies have shown that mental rest is very important in increasing people's levels of efficiency in both academic and work environments. If we find it challenging to take a mental break from our work tasks, it is very likely that when we return to them, our level of productivity will be lower than if we manage to disconnect from work. 

In short, we can see that suffering from burnout syndrome is not only related to work-related factors, but also to personal factors closely linked to our perception and self-esteem. Knowing this relationship has been very important in finding different ways of treating and preventing it. 

How we can prevent Burnout at work

Taking care of our emotional well-being is important, but not only at work by leaning on our colleagues or taking short breaks. It is also essential to rest and recover the energy we lose after a day's work by doing leisure activities that allow us to relax and connect with ourselves. One of the most recommended activities is yoga, as it allows us to connect with our body and mind calmly and respectfully. Different variants, such as mindfulness, have been emerging as a way to take care of our general well-being and thus prevent not only work-related stress or Burnout, but also provide our body and mind with a space for relaxation and calm even on days when we don't need it so much. There are other activities that are simpler, such as going for a walk or doing any sport that allows us to release physical and mental stress

On the other hand, if we are experiencing stress due to a lack of resources in the company, poor organisation, poor role definition or a conflict with a colleague, it is time to take action and proactively offer solutions to our managers or the department in charge. We should not be afraid to ask for help in this regard; the company itself will benefit from making the necessary adjustments so that workers can develop their activity with productivity, effectiveness and well-being.

Once Burnout is present, what do we need to know?

In order to deal with this syndrome effectively, it is important to take into account all the factors that are related. 

  • Ask for psychological help. One of the first things that the psychologist will do is to make a chronology of the different work environments where the person suffering from this syndrome has developed and how they have developed in them. When we make this journey, we observe that many people have placed expectations in the workplace that are not adjusted to reality. These expectations are usually high and clash with reality, generating a profound sense of frustration and hopelessness in people. If what we expect and desire from the work environment is not fulfilled, and we lack the skills to express or regulate our frustration, we are burdened with negative feelings that end up overtaking us.

It is, therefore very important for companies to be aware that workers, with or without previous experience, will come with expectations that may or may not be fulfilled and that we anticipate them, giving them a space to express their wishes openly or anonymously. Many companies have set up anonymous suggestion boxes that allow all employees to make suggestions for improvement and feel that their needs are being listened to.

  • Also, as mentioned above, many people lack sufficient personal skills to manage their emotions, so frustrations, stress and workload can overload them and affect their emotional well-being before other people. This is personal work to do through therapy. But since these skill deficits can also become apparent in work tasks, companies can also do their bit. For example, a person with a deficit in communication skills may experience increased stress in teamwork contexts or in contexts where there is a lack of information. Thus, when the person lacks communication, organisational and planning skills, they may become more vulnerable to the syndrome. To both prevent and treat these difficulties, companies should implement, if they have not already done so, regular training for their employees to provide them with resources and skills for their teams so that the perception of self-efficacy and knowledge is greater and they can better manage uncertainty or work pressure. 
  • On an individual level, we can work on different aspects to better manage stress and overwhelm at work. On the one hand, it is important to take short breaks to organise our ideas and broaden our focus on a task, attention, speed and performance. Often when we spend hours working on a project or task, our performance and attention decreases, causing us to overlook aspects that are simple and often obvious, with the consequence that we become frustrated and angry with ourselves. Likewise, if we have colleagues to ask for help, we should not think about what they will say or how absurd our questions may be. We often judge ourselves more than our peers, so we need to take courage and lose our fear of asking questions. 

In short, having stress in the workplace is something common to everyone; however, when this stress and overwhelm remain over time, it can begin to affect our emotional, physical and mental well-being, interfering in both our work and personal lives. We mustn't normalise this discomfort because as we allow time to pass, increasingly uncomfortable and negative symptoms arise that interfere more and more with our general well-being, such as insomnia or anxiety. When we become aware that something like this is happening to us we should seek support and help from all the resources we have around us (friends, family, co-workers, mental health professionals...). Often we need to work more deeply to learn to adjust our expectations and better manage different negative emotions such as frustration.

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