Burnout is rising in Canada, with the pandemic and changes to work and personal lives leading many Canadians to feel burnt out at work. But what is burnout?
What are the signs of burnout and how can you avoid it? And crucially, how to recognize when you need treatment?
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. For many people, feeling burned out is caused – or made worse – by problems at work. Other parts of your daily life – such as personal relationships and responsibilities – can also cause you to feel worn out.
But while burnout isn’t exclusively work-related, it does account for most cases of burnout. Feeling burnt out is often associated with high-pressure careers, such as lawyers, physicians, and nurses. And for good reason, clinical burnout is on the rise in Canada.
As a result, this article will focus on career burnout at work.
What causes burnout at work?
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), various factors cause burnout, including:
- lack of work-life balance
- lack of support
- unreasonable demands
- unclear job expectations
- bullying, harassment, & dysfunctional workplaces
Thankfully, many employers are taking steps to better support employees. This could mean anything from better channels of team communication to access to subsidized virtual therapy. So, if you are experiencing burnout, starting a conversation with the appropriate contact could uncover resources to help you.
What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?
Burnout tends to emerge gradually over time. This makes it tough to identify a definitive starting point for signs of burnout.
However, job burnout is associated with the following signs and symptoms:
- feeling drained or exhausted
- experiencing increased cynicism or negativity towards your job
- a growing sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
- reduced confidence and increased difficulty completing work
Anything from frustration, irritability or impatience with co-workers, customers, or clients and difficulty concentrating can be signs of burnout at work. Ultimately, your symptoms may vary.
There can be physical symptoms associated with career burnout too. For example, you may experience disruption to your sleep or appetite alongside back and headaches.
But in general, burnout tends to leave sufferers experiencing hopelessness that amplifies problems at work and can lead to a downward spiral.
Burnout vs depression (and even stress!): What is the difference?
Now that we asked ourselves ‘what is burnout?’ it also makes sense to talk about what it is not! For a start, burnout is a relatively new term. And burnout is not a condition that is formally defined as a medical diagnosis.
But that doesn’t mean everyone from governments to employers are not recognizing there is a problem. In fact, recent research suggests one-third of working Canadians feel burned out.
And while burnout lacks a formal medical diagnosis, the International Classification of Diseases defines burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) back this up and goes a little further, explaining how burnout relates to stress and depression:
“Stress and burnout may be related, but there are differences in how they manifest. Generally, someone who is stressed tends to be over-reactive and hyperactive. Whereas burnout presents more as disengagement and produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness… It can also lead to depression and detachment.”
To put it simply, when stress due to work becomes the norm, it becomes burnout. And if you are experiencing burnout, you may be at risk of developing depression.
How to prevent burnout
The first step needs to be recognizing that we are feeling burnt out! As we already know, burnout tends to sneak up on you. And if you are having a tough time at work, especially if things are busy, you may not catch the initial signs.
There are several ways to prevent you from feeling burnt out, some are related to work, and others are more personal strategies to boost your energy and mood.
Outside work, common strategies for preventing burnout from occurring:
- Regular exercise helps many people cope
- Create a daily routine that allows for breaks and downtime
- Build and commit to work-life boundaries
In the workplace, you should consider reaching out to colleagues and making the most of employee assistance programs before you feel overwhelmed.
Sharing your concerns and working with others to make changes and resolve problems can be effective. Sometimes that may mean having open and honest conversations, which can be scary, but this communication can help.
Other self-care strategies to prevent burnout include practising mindfulness and breathing techniques. These strategies, alongside assessing your weekly priorities, can also be effective at reducing workplace stress and helping you avoid burning out.
When and how should you get help when you are feeling burnt out?
If you are feeling burnt out, you must first recognize that you need help!
Help for most people means booking an appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms. Getting help from a doctor is vital as they have the expertise to properly diagnose you and rule out other potential causes of your symptoms if necessary.
There are other ways to ask for help beyond speaking with a doctor. You may find that informing your boss or a Human Resources professional can help you identify additional workplace support programs. And, whether available through work or not, in-person or virtual therapy with an online psychiatrist or therapist is an option.