All about burnout syndrome

The modern world (even when it’s in quarantine) moves a million miles a minute. And now, Covid-19 has brought all of our work lives into our home lives. We’re juggling the mental health crisis of an infectious disease rapidly changing the way our world works and potentially harming us or our loved ones, an incredible number of jobs lost across America, and a constant barrage of bad news in the media.

Is it no wonder that some of us aren’t getting enough sleep?

Let’s do a crazy thing here and just…slow down.

Breathe in for four seconds.

Hold for four seconds.

Release for four seconds.

How does that feel?

Are muscles in your face relaxing that you didn’t realize were tense? Are you feeling less antsy about clicking through to the next blog post or news feed? We hope so.

Be honest with yourself and consider the effects of your work environment on your well-being. Lots of people use the term ‘burnout,’ but not everyone takes it seriously. However, the World Health Organization recognizes burnout syndrome as a medical condition. It’s real, folks.

One reason why people don’t take burnout seriously could be that the term “burnout” was only coined about fifty-years ago by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined “burnout” as:

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Let’s start with the mental burnout symptoms: emotional exhaustion, trouble with decision-making, feeling like you’re in a ‘fog,’ and impatience with colleagues or clients. You might feel like you have no control over your work and that you’re unable to cope.

But there are also physical symptoms of burnout; signs of burnout are not just mental.

Your immune system can be suppressed by your chronic stress, which can lead to more often contracting colds, flu, or other maladies. You could even be more susceptible to Covid-19.

Burnout syndrome sufferers experience higher cortisol levels, higher resting heart rate, and higher blood pressure than people whose stress levels are well-adjusted. Burnout sufferers are also more likely to have heart disease, depression, and substance abuse issues. These over-achievers are paying a steep price for their productivity with their bodies.

What are the risk factors for burnout?

Anyone can get burnout syndrome–from stay-at-home moms to politicians to crossing guards. Job burnout develops from the way one gets their work done. For example, do you put everything you plate? Do you not have a reliable support system outside of your work? Are you passionate about hobbies outside of work?

Your risk factor of burning out aligns with your personality type and how agreeable your job environment is to your needs. For example, extroverted, adventurous people may be less likely to burnout in a chaotic job than working a monotonous task.

The atmosphere in your office atmosphere is a factor, too. Introverts can be more likely to suffer from burnout syndrome if they work in a noisy, bustling office with lots of music, people, and passing conversations.

Since many of us have been working remotely during this quarantine, it might be vital for you to identify your personality type and adjust your home environment if needed. Play some music or podcasts in the background as you work if you do better in busier atmospheres. Make sure you find a calm place to focus away from others in your home if you need a quieter environment.

If you’re worried that a colleague might be at risk for burnout syndrome, watch for warning signs such as reduced performance, alienation from the rest of the team, and irritability. If you notice these trends, reach out to that coworker.

Major risk factors for burnout can often arise from dysfunction in the workplace, like unreasonable time constraints and opaqueness around responsibilities. (Basically, lousy managementYou may be able to help your coworker immensely if you’re in a position to give them clarity, relaxed deadlines, and make them feel heard.

How do I prevent burnout?

Self-care. Self-care has to start with knowing your limits and setting up boundaries to avoid workplace burnout. Identify when your work stress is rising and ask for an extension or delegate a few tasks to someone else.

Sometimes it might include something as extreme as switching jobs or occupations so you can find a better work-life balance.

For those of us who are dealing with burnout due to caretaking (childcare or a dependent family member), we know you can’t just take a vacation or apply for a new baby. So it’s even more critical for you to consider how you can prevent yourself from burnout syndrome.

If you can afford it, hire a nanny or caretaker to come to help at least a few hours (if not days!) per week. If you can’t afford it, look into social services in your community that might be able to assist you. Lean on your family and friends whenever possible.

What to do if you think that you have burnout syndrome

The Mayo Clinic has a fantastic list of questions you can ask yourself, such as, ‘Have you become irritable or impatient with coworkers, customers or clients?’ to help you determine the extent of your burnout symptoms.

We know the last thing you want is to add something to your to-do list, but we have to say it: To overcome burnout syndrome, you have to take action.

Start by talking with your significant other, family members, or a close friend who you trust will take your stress levels seriously and empathetically.

You should also talk to your health care providers. Go in for a check-up to see if any health problems have developed from your burnout. Talk therapy will give you a better understanding of why you work yourself so hard. A therapist can identify patterns you fall into with your work-life balance and, once identified, they can guide you to break those patterns.

Find joy outside of your job. A hobby can lessen work-related stress by giving you something to think about instead of work. There’s nothing sweeter than a daydream when we’re stuck in quarantine on Zoom calls all day. Might we suggest exploring a different languageLearning how to code? Go for any new hobby that is totally outside your current work domain.

Your sleep habits are vital to staying healthy. Good sleep, exercise, nutrition–that’s our holy trinity for avoiding burnout syndrome. Take time every day for yourself. Leave both your computer and phone outside the bedroom. Wear blue-light blocking glasses if you must use your electronic devices after dark.

With self-awareness and proper care, you will be able to avoid burnout syndrome. A good first step after reading this article would be to take a minute and consider what adjustments you can make today to regain your work-life balance. We wish you the best of luck.


Note: Depression and burnout syndrome go hand-in-hand: physical exhaustion, mental fogginess, and an inability to find joy in things that once interested you. If you’re struggling and feel hopeless, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number is 1–800–273–8255.

Clear your to-do list, unclutter your life