Living in this fast-paced society, we are vulnerable to burnout. Yet, if you can spot out the early symptoms of burnout, you can nip the bud and prevent a complete burnout, which otherwise is going to hinder your personal and also your professional life.
Have a look at the following list of early signs of burnout. If you have got some of these, very likely you are experiencing a burnout which you have not yet noticed!
Some obvious signs of a burnout
- Difficult sleeping: you have trouble falling asleep; or worse, you stay awake all night.
- Loss of appetite: you find yourself skipping meals as you do not feel hungry.
- Negative feeling: you occasionally feel hopelessness, sadness, guilt, or self-worthlessness.
Some lesser-known signs of a burnout
- Repulsion of social situation: you feel uneasy or even angry when someone is trying to talk to you.
- Loss of enjoyment: you feel not wanting to go to work or to school; you even no longer enjoy spending time with your friends and families, or doing the things you once liked to do.
- Underperformance: when failing to carry a project or to finish the task on time, people tend to think they are incapable. However, apart from low ability, it may be you are dragged behind by the burnout. The chronic stress is hindering you from being as productive as you were.
If you are having one or more of the above symptoms, you may be amid the middle of a burnout without your notice.
How burnout is defined from a medical perspective
A burnout is not just an emotional state, but it is actually a medical syndrome.
According to Dr. Ruotsalainen and his colleagues, a burnout is a type of psychological stress. It is characterised by exhaustion and lack of enthusiasm, and reduces efficacy within the workplace.
And according to the doctor of psychology, Sherrie B. Carter, a burnout can cause the following three problems:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Cynicism and detachment
- Feeling of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
The causes of burnout
A burnout very often stems from one’s job. However, besides the career, other aspects of life can also contribute to a burnout.
The following list tells all the possible causes of a burnout: 
Job-related causes of a burnout
- Doing unchallenging work
- Working under a high-pressure environment
- Facing demanding expectation
Lifestyle causes of a burnout
- Lacking supportive relationship
- Lacking sufficient sleep
Personality traits that cause a burnout
- Pessimistic about yourself and the world
- The need to gain control
Dr. Ruotsalainen and his colleagues summarize that a burnout is a consequence of one’s inability to fully cope with a stressor; a burnout is not easily recognized, and will grow slowly, until it becomes severe.
To tackle burnout, try to identify the root cause of it first.
A burnout after all is the signals sent by your body to remind you that you need some rest. Before it is too late to prevent a burnout from getting serious, it is best to recognize the root cause of a burnout.
5 whys is a helpful tool at hand.
5 whys, developed by Sakichi Toyoda, is a an interrogative technique aiming to explore the cause-and-effect relation.
The primary goal of this technique is to keep asking the questions “why” until one reaches the heart of the problem. Each answer of the previous “why” provides the foundation of the next “why”.
For example, you may start the practice when you recognise the burnout stems from your job.
Problem: My job causes the burnout
- First why: why my job causes the burnout?
because it is too stressful!
- Second why: why is my job stressful?
because the deadline of the project is due this Thursday.
- Third why: why do I find this project stressful?
because it is my first time to lead a project.
- Fourth why: why do I feel stressful for being the first time to lead a project?
because I want to impress my manager by nailing it, and I can’t fail.
- Fifth why: why do I want to impress my manager so eagerly?
because I hope to get a promotion so that I can earn more to support my next coming second new born.
Now, after a sequence of analytical interrogation, you finally reach the root that causes your burnout: the stress from your job is just a disguise; what you are really scared is the financial burden accompanied by your coming new born.
As illustrated here, 5 whys is a great tool encouraging you to avoid assumption and logical flaw before you reach the cause and effect of a problem. By finding the root cause of your burnout, it will become easier to tackle it.
Then, break down the big issue into smaller manageable actions.
To break down big problem into smaller ones is a mental technique called compartmentalisation. It is widely applied by many successful entrepreneurs.
The primary goal of compartmentalisation is to isolate the problems from each other, and tackle them one by one. It encourages us to separate our focus into several sessions, and devote each session of focus into one problem only.
To start with, you can list all the things you have to do, for example:
- Discuss with the HR regarding the coming recruitment
- Call my son’s teacher discussing his examination’s result
- Plan for the upcoming exhibition
- Go to the pharmacy to buy supplement
After you divide the work of today, you should then allocate time for each task.
- Discuss with the HR regarding the coming recruitment (within 30 minutes)
- Call my son’s teacher discussing his examination’s result (within 30 minutes)
- Plan for the upcoming exhibition (within 1 hour)
- Go to the pharmacy to buy supplement (within 30 minutes)
And after you have planned the time, stick to your plan, and focus on one task each time.
Let’s admit that life is full of struggles. However, if one focuses too much attention on one single problem, he or she will forget there are also other important issues demanding their attention. It is neither good if he or she stuffs all the problems simultaneously into his or her head.
Compartmentalisation is then a great technique for you to tackle the problems more effectively, preventing you from being exploded by stress.
Re-evaluate your priorities too, because burnout is a sign that something important in your life is not working.
In a nutshell, a burnout is a warning sign that something important in your life is not running smoothly.
No matter what, it is always not too late to devote some time to pondering upon your hope, your ambition, and your future. Ask yourself seriously: Are you neglecting something important? Are you doing it just because? Or are you doing it because you do want to do it?
In this light, a burnout is a good opportunity for you to reflect upon your life.
To help you re-evaluate your priorities, we have the following advices:
- Say NO to things you do not truly want to do.
- Nourish your creativity by learning skills you always want to learn.
- Sleep well as sleeping is the most crucial hours for you to heal.
- Turn away from technology and take some real rest!
|||^||Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, Mariné A, Serra C: Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers|
|||^||Psychology today: The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?|
|||^||HELPGUIDE.ORG: Burnout Prevention and Recovery|
|||^||Forbes: 5 Steps of Compartmentalization: The Secret Behind Successful Entrepreneurs|