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Job burnout (employment burnout) is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. “Burnout” isn’t a medical diagnosis. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are behind burnout (Mayo Clinic).
Employment burnout or burnout was first attributed to cases of physical and mental collapse caused by stress and over-work in 1974. But 2019 will go down in history as the year when none other than the World Health Organization included “burnout” in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11.
The ICD-11 describes burnout as: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Notably, they provide a list of what is excluded from this description as well, such as adjustment disorders, disorders specifically associated with stress, anxiety or fear-related disorders and mood disorders. Burnout differs from simple exhaustion. When you are exhausted, you stop. Burnout happens when you go on and on, far beyond the point of exhaustion.
This is the first time that burnout has been described as a result of chronic work-related stress, different from mental health conditions such as depression. In other words, burnout is an occupation-related issue that can require the person to seek care and professional help, even though it is not considered a full-blown medical or mental health condition.
How to Recognize Symptoms of Burnout
According to an article by NBC News, stressful jobs account for 120,000 deaths each year and cost US businesses up to $190 billion in health care costs. The impact of a stressful job can be much greater on minorities with low levels of education, who sometimes have no choice but to work in unhealthy environments that can drastically shorten their lifespan.
Then there are some of us who are so driven by aspirations and career goals that they sacrifice everything else in life and just focus on work. And, what if you are in a job that is not to your liking? That would lead to stress as well.
The first step is to learn more about the symptoms of burnout so that you can recognize them early on and take the necessary steps to regain your mental equilibrium. Some of the key symptoms of burnout include:
- Sleep irregularities: Trouble going to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night with work-related worries on your mind.
- Feeling anxious: Strange feelings of reluctance to begin another stress-ridden day, accompanied by intense brooding about work issues.
- Feelings of energy depletion: Feeling exhausted or “just not up to it,” accompanied by a mental distancing from one’s work, even negativism or cynicism related to the job.
So strong is the feeling of energy depletion that it can suck the joy out of other aspects of your life too. The most drastic is the day when you roll over in bed and refuse to go to work, feeling curious about the fact that getting fired no longer bothers you. That’s a dangerous space to be in and exactly when you should get help immediately.
According to Linda Charnes, a leading psychotherapist in New York, most people consider counseling when they finally feel they have exhausted every other solution to their problem. Some people suffer the impostor syndrome, trapped into working extra hard just to cover the feeling that they are not as good as others might think. Don’t wait for the inevitable mismatch between what you can do and what you are asked to do. Recognize burnout from the smoke and not the eventual fire.