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How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

I thought I was invincible to burnout. But I soon realized how wrong I was. I thought what I was feeling was temporary, like stress. I didn’t know if I was suffering from a short-spurt of emotions or something more. I burnt out, and I don’t want you to go through that.

This article is meant to help you recognize if you’re burning out; or if you’re already burnt out. In the midst of everything you’ve got going on, burnout can sneak up out of nowhere.

Luckily, science provides us with a framework for identifying the root causes of burnout. I’m going to share this framework with you in this article. I’m also going to share my personal story of burnout to help you see it in action.

What Actually is Burnout?

Dr. Christina Maslach from University of California at Berkeley has devoted a significant chunk of her life studying burnout. Her research led to the creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which provides the framework for identifying burnout.

Essentially, the MBI defines burnout as a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.

Let’s look at each of these in closer detail.

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Emotional Exhaustion

People who are experiencing burnout, either in the beginning stages or otherwise, suffer from emotional exhaustion. This is the feeling of being emotionally overextended, emotionally drained and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s work. Dr. Maslach defines this feeling as no longer being able to give yourself to work or others at a psychological level.

Tangible examples of Emotional Exhaustion:

  • Blunted emotions
  • Loss of motivation, ideals and ambition

Depersonalization

Depersonalization is interesting and a bit frightening. Depersonalization is the development of negative and cynical attitudes towards one’s colleagues and clients. Dr. Maslach claims the development of depersonalization is related to the experience of emotional exhaustion. From my personal experience, I believe this to be true. More on that later.

Tangible examples of Depersonalization:

  • Detachment with one’s clients and colleagues
  • Feelings of anger towards one’s clients and colleagues

Reduced Personal Accomplishment

Reduced Personal Accomplishment in burnout is the development of negative feelings towards oneself. This looks like poor self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and an overall negative perception of your abilities. In spite of accomplishments on the job, you’re still dissatisfied with your performance.

Tangible examples of Reduced Personal Accomplishment:

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  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Decreased self-confidence related to one’s ability to perform

The difference between stress and burnout is that burnout is a chronic condition. While stress is fleeting, burnout is constant. When you’re experiencing the three components of the MBI ‒ emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment ‒ day in and day out, you’re experiencing burnout.

What Causes Burnout?

Dr. Maslach’s research has identified 6 risk factors for the development of burnout. When high levels of stress are sustained over time, the risk of falling victim to burnout increases. These 6 risk factors are the leading causes of stress-induced burnout. It’s important to note that not all 6 of these factors need to be present for burnout to occur. In my case, only 3 of these factors caused my burnout experience. Again, more on this later.

  1. Workload: Having too much work, with too little resources, in too short of time.
  2. Control: Being too micromanaged or not having enough influence within your work environment.
  3. Reward: Working for not enough pay, not receiving enough acknowledgement or feeling little satisfaction towards your work.
  4. Community: Working in isolation and experiencing conflict or disrespect with those around you.
  5. Fairness: Being discriminated against or falling on the short end of the stick in regards to favoritism.
  6. Values: Having ethical conflicts with the work or completing meaningless tasks (according to your own perception).

Not all of these factors need to be in play to experience burnout. The key takeaway is that if any of these factors are affecting you for a sustained period of time, the stress resulting from these conditions can lead to burnout.

It might be easier for you to understand this with a story. So, here’s my burnout story.

My Burnout Story

Note: I have nothing against the company described in this email. I was fortunate to work with very successful and smart businessmen, but the opportunity wasn’t for me.

I allude to this in my other work, but I was money-hungry at 21 years old. So money-hungry that I was willing to do what 99% of Americans don’t want to do: door-to-door sales.

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I began my short tenure with this company, which we’ll call The Sales Company (I hope this isn’t actually the name of a company), in May. I was done in August. In my case, the three burnout risk factors that caused my burnout experience were reward, community, and values.

Reward

Like most door-to-door sales positions, the pay with the Sales Company was commission only. Again, my main motivation was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. The commission structure was laid out very well, and I was convinced I was going to make five figures in less than a month.

The problem with a commision-only pay structure is if you’re not selling anything, you’re broke. When you’re broke, you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries. When you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries, you can’t sell. And so the cycle repeats itself. For some reason, I couldn’t sell squat. The result? I was worried about money, which only made my sales pitches even worse.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.1: Working for not enough pay.

Community

The people in the Sales Company are awesome. Smart, caring, and intelligent. But, I was an outside sales representative. This means that for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, I was by myself. Experiencing repeated failure in isolation made took a toll on my psyche. Ultimately, I began to dread leaving my home with 6 roommates for a lonely trek around San Diego.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.2: Working in isolation.

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Values

The Sales Company product is truly innovative and one-of-a-kind for small business owners. Seriously, the value for the price is unparalleled in the marketplace. The only problem is that I wasn’t curious about the product, wasn’t passionate about the product. I didn’t really care about the product. The only thing I cared about was making money. So, after a couple of months without making any money, I became intensely disengaged.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.3: Doing perceived meaningless work.

These three risk factors sustained over the course of four months led me to burnout’s doorstep. I will never forget the feeling of waking up in the morning legitimately depressed because I needed to knock on doors all day. I would drive to a location, walk around for an hour, and then go home early because I couldn’t stand approaching business owners anymore. When I did talk to an owner, I would literally give them reasons to not meet with me.

Here’s how these three risk factors morphed into the three characteristics of burnout mentioned above.

  • Emotional Exhaustion: I would passively update my supervisor on the day’s events without a hint of excitement.
  • Depersonalization: I began to view business owners as dumb people who couldn’t recognize a great offering.
  • Reduced Personal Accomplishment: When I was successful at setting appointments, I wouldn’t want to actually attend them.

The Sales Company took steps to fix the problems listed above, but it was too late. I was burnt out.

What about you?

The purpose of this post is to help you recognize if you’re at risk for burning out, or if you’re already burnt out. It was a strange, weird, and horrible feeling. I don’t want you to experience it. You took the time to read this article, so you might as well get something from it.

If you feel at risk for burning out, try to determine which of the 6 risk factors listed above are hurting you. If you’re in a work environment that can help you resolve these issues, then great, collaborate with your boss(es) or whoever to resolve these issues.

If you’re not lucky enough to work with people who are willing to help solve these issues, you may want to consider leaving the organization.

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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