Burn Out: How to Recognize it and Ways to Escape it

by Max Kimmel | Last Updated: October 22, 2020

So you´ve persevered with your studies, landed your dream job, and worked with burning passion at the peak of your career, what could go wrong, right? Then suddently, one day everything feels exhausting, things appeared repetitive, and you just seemed to have lost all your excitement. Unless you are personally going through some tough times in your life, chances are, you are experiencing a burnout.

If you are someone or if you know someone who might be experiencing a burnout, there are a couple of things you should be aware of. First off, understand that burnout can be managed and it is relatively easy to spot. One surefire way you can go about this is by going straight to the expert: get evaluated, ask a psychiatrist.

However, if you do not know what you’re looking for, you are going to have a tough time spotting a burn out. With that, the next best thing is to inform yourself with the ins and outs of burning out. So read along to know all the important bits there is to know about burnout as well as how it you can manage to escape it.

What Exactly is Burn Out?

First coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, burn out is a psychological term that pertains to the long term exhaustion and declining interest in work. It is a challenging pit where you are stripped of all your self motivation and drive. It is a terrible state where work is nothing but that–work.

The good news, however, is that burnout is not an inescapable void. It is something avoidable and solvable. As with every other problem, the solution for burnout starts with recognizing the signs. The earlier you spot them, the earlier you can plot a way out.

In his book titled Burnout: The High Cost of Achievement, Freudenberger defines burn out as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Simply put, burnout is when you, “just don’t feel it anymore.”

Just recently in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized burnout as a medical condition. WHO has moved burn out alongside other medical condition under its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). In the simplest terms, it is a physical, mental, psychological, and emotional state brought about by chronic stress.

If you have been feeling incapable at the workplace or things are feeling monotonous and helpless, you are experiencing the first signs of burn out. However, burn out is not only due to external work-related stressors, personality traits such as perfectionism also play part.

Stress vs. Burn Out

Everybody gets stressed every once in a while. While burn out and stress have a handful of similar symptoms, there are a few that sets them apart. Here’s how exactly you can tell stress from burn out.

For starters, stress is characterized by over-engagement. People who are stressed usually got it from being overly involved in a business project or a work-related task. Meanwhile, burnt out people tend to suffer from the contrary–disengagement.

Moreover, stress is associated with the loss of energy. On the other hand, burn out is related to the loss of motivation and hope. If someone is experience the consuming feeling of having no purpose or nothing to look forward to, that is a saddening case of a burn out.

Additionally, in the long run, stress can lead to anxiety disorders while burn out matures to more serious stages of detachment and even severe depression.

Being stressed on a regular basis might kill you prematurely, while being burnt out for a long time might make life feel not worth living. Stress is more on the physical side of things while burn out is more on the emotional side of things.

A noteworthy way of differentiating stress and burnout is knowing that stress is short-term, it can be alleviated by a trip to the spa or a weekend karaoke session with your friends. In contrast to this, burn out takes place in a longer time frame—deafening karaoke just won’t do the trick.

The Roots of Burn Out

Despite being commonplace in the work setting, burn out can also affect students, athletes, entrepreneurs, and, though less likely, even kids. In other words, nobody is safe from burning out, everyone should watch out for it.

More often than not, burn out occurs when someone is not in full control of their work. A burn out might happen to an athlete under chronic training stress for years, an employee working a monotonous job for ages, or an entrepreneur who has been turned down a thousand time.

Overwhelming and non-ending responsibilities can also be the cause of a burn out. This is where parents and non-professional caregivers are in great risk of a burn out. The idea that no matter what you do, responsibilities just won’t lighten up is a mental prison that will surely burn you out.

A dysfunctional workplace dynamics can also be the cause of a burnout. If you feel powerless in a work-setting or you are having trouble dealing with a work bully or an unjust boss, you might be at risk of a burn out.

Recognizing the Signs of Burnout

When one is experiencing burnout, they feel an extreme sense of mental tiredness; their brain just won’t shut up. They cultivate an air of cynicism, and they tend to question the meaning of the things they do, which, they end up not finding ample answers for.

Moreover, things like, “Nothing I do will make anything significantly better,” “I do this for 8 hours every single day, yet I do not feel engaged,” and “My work does not satisfy me, I am too tired” are some of the echoing voices in a burnt out person’s head.

The signs of burnout can come in countless forms. Some symptoms are emotional while others are physical and psychological. Though it varies from person to person, there are a couple of common denominators that draw the line from someone who’s not burnt out and someone who is. Here are a few:

  1. Feeling alienated

    People who are burnt out usually start to see their jobs as increasingly stressful during the set off. They are more likely to feel distant from the people they work with and the job they perform. The feeling of numbness and loss of autonomy to one’s action are also signs to watch out for.
  2. Deteriorating physical performance

    Similar to most medical conditions, burn out also takes a toll on physical well-being. Some physical symptoms of a burn out includes frequent headaches, stomachaches, intestinal issues, insomnia, and fatigue. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, burnouts increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

    If you are feeling unusually tired and a good night’s sleep just doesn’t work, you should be on the look out for you might be on the onset of a burnout.
  3. Declining emotional health

    In terms of emotional well-being, burnout has strikingly similar symptoms as depression. These symptoms include changes in appetite and eating behavior. However, unlike depression, there are no medications prescribed to people who are experiencing burnouts.
  4. Experiencing a decline in cognitive abilities

    If for some reason you feel that you are constantly tired and you are losing a few IQ points, you might be at the verge of a burnout, or worse, you might be experiencing it already. Burn out affects your ability to focus and pay attention.

    Ultimately, this leads to decline in work-related performance. Moreover, a person who is burnt out has a higher tendency to be forgetful on a regular basis.

Spotting a burnout early on is highly advisable. If you think you are on the brink of a more serious burnout, take a breather already; do not let yourself go down the rabbit hole any further! Prevention is always better than cure.

How to get out of a Burn Out

Being burnout does not mean the end of the world for you, there are things you can do to get back up inspired and hustling. If you are quite positive that you are experiencing a burn out, here are some of the things you can do to maneuver a way out:

  1. Do not fear slowing down

    Sometimes the fear of slowing down is what keeps hustlers hustling. The idea that things will drastically decline is perhaps why you are brushing your teeth in the shower and making business calls while driving. If this is you on a daily basis, stop at once.

    Your first ticket out of a burn out is accepting that nothing bad will happen if you take a breather. Yes, you might not be as efficient with work as you want, but that is okay, the sun will still rise and set.
  2. Do the math
    If you are having a hard time slowing down, as counterintuitive as it sounds, doing the math might be a big help. Do this by strategically looking at your work and personal life on a larger scale.

    Start by asking questions such as, “Am I biting off more than I can chew?” It is extremely important to be as honest with yourself as you can. If you think you can get by with your monthly bills without that extra overtime, you should definitely consider giving it up for some time out.

    Also, do the same with your time. Lay a clean schedule and pile everything out and see firsthand where your time goes. It is highly advisable to free yourself as much time as you can.

    Free time can be used for things such as recreational activities, a personal side project, catching up on your favorite TV show, or having a weekend trip. Doing the math in this sense is doing an inventory with your time and money—it is more like budgeting your life.
  3. Share it with someone

    Just to be clear, this does not mean you should share your “burnout” with a friend or a relative. Sharing it with someone can be just by talking about it. As boring as it sounds, it is extremely helpful if you are not battling burn out alone.

    Talk about how you are feeling with a good friend, your mom, or a therapist. Burnout is not contagious, plus, the people in your life might have a couple of tricks up their sleeve to ease things up for you.

    You can also share it with your boss, be transparent with what you are feeling. Who knows, if your honesty is taken positively, you might score an extra day-off.
  4. Do not care too much

    Regardless if you are an employee or you are self-employed, work is work. Unless you are on a tight spot business-wise, you should not stress about work as if your life depends on it. Chances are, calling a sick-day or two won’t have that much of an effect to your work but a significant effect on your well-being.

    Not caring too much about work is best practiced by sticking to the old-school rule of segregating work from personal life. Personal problems are not to be brought in the workplace as work is not to be brought home.
  5. Switch up your routine

    As mentioned, burnout is characterized by chronic mental tiredness. It is also the feeling of monotonous and declining self-motivation. One way that might help with this is changing things up a bit.

    Start little, switch the morning quick oats with some toast, eggs, and fruits. Eating a diet comprised with healthier foods are scientifically proven to improve the mood and general well-being.

    Ditch the car and bike to work if you can. Shop a few wardrobe essentials. Give your workspace a little makeover. Order something different for lunch. There are hundreds of other things you can do to make something feel “new” in the workplace.

These are just some of the things you can do to escape the saddening loop of a burn out. While there are absolutely more extreme measures such as quitting your job, going back to college, or switching careers, these are the more realistic approaches.