Recognizing Burnout

​Burnout is a word we often use within the helping professions. It has become the topic of numerous continuing education classes, lectures, and seminars and is something that we strive to prevent at all costs. Although burnout is a hot topic within the field of mental health, it is a phenomenon that can be experienced by others who are not in the helping professions as well. Burnout is characterized by three main factors: emotionaland/or physical exhaustion, detachment from or cynicism aboutone’s work, and a feeling of being unable to affect change or accomplish anything substantial. Burnout often occurs slowly over a long period of time and can therefore be difficult to recognize when it happens. When it does happen, it often renders the individual’s work much less effective, if not totally ineffective. Once an individual recognizes that he or she may be experiencing burnout, it is time to take action. One may seek the counsel of a supervisor or mental health professional, begin taking steps towards caring for oneself physically through diet and exercise, and if at all possible, one may take a break from work. Sound familiar? Here are some signs that you may be experiencing burnout.


1. Sleep disturbances: This could include both chronic fatigue and/or insomnia. Chronic fatigue is often accompanied by a feeling of being emotionally drained, loss of energy, and a general dread for the tasks of the day to come. Despite feeling low energy, one might find that they have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep most nights of the week.
2. Difficulty concentrating: At first, one may forget a few tasks here and there, but over time as burnout sets in, one may find that their work continues to pile up due to their inability to concentrate and fully complete a task.
3. Physical symptoms: Some physical symptoms that can be a sign of burnout include loss or increase in appetite, increased illness, unexplained aches and pains, gastrointestinal issues, headaches etc.
4. Detachment and pessimism about one’s work: An individual who is burnt out will detach themselves from their workplace. He or she may call in sick often, fail to return calls and/or emails, or regularly show up late. This individual may also develop an attitude of pessimism and may begin to feel apathetic in that nothing they do is making a difference. One may also begin to feel very negatively towards the work environment and individuals within that environment as well.
5. Poor performance or productivity: As stated above, when an individual is burnt out, his or her work performance will show it. This overwhelming stress makes it difficult to accomplish tasks, and it seems that no matter how hard one works, the list continues to grow.


If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms it is not too late for you! Look for ways to manage the stress in your life in a healthy way. Seek the help of a mental health professional or a trusted friend or supervisor. Take the time to take care of yourself and take a break from your work. If you do not, you will not be able to perform your job to your fullest potential and your physical and mental health will suffer. Burn out is preventable and reversible, and it all begins with self-reflection.

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