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Randi Rotwein-Pivnick, M.A., LMFT

Burnout is a cumulative process of continual stress, which can be extremely harmful in large doses. The longer the chronic stress lasts, the more damage it does to your body and the more resources it depletes. Although Burnout can be the result of both professional and personal life, most often it is attributed to the impact of one’s work/career.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger was one of the first to describe the symptoms of exhaustion professionally and perform a comprehensive study of “Burnout”. According to Freudenberger, some of the characteristics of Burnout are physical symptoms such as exhaustion, fatigue, frequent headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, sleeplessness, and shortness of breath (which are also some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety).

In addition to Freudenberger’s definition of Burnout, others have listed the following as some of the symptoms of burnout:

  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Lacking motivation or energy to be consistently productive
  • Having difficulty concentrating, and lack of satisfaction with your achievements
  • Feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities
  • Using food, alcohol, or drugs to feel better or to simply not feel
  • Feeling like nothing really matters (depression?)
  • Experiencing symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations(which are also signs of anxiety)

Burnout is created by extreme, drawn out stress that is different than your ‘every day’ exhaustion.  Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job. And, Burnout doesn’t go away on it’s own and most likely will get worse if you don’t address the underlying issues that cause it. Additionally, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose Burnout, as it often mimics the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Some of the causes of Burnout are:

  • Feeling like you lack control/influence over decisions like your schedule or workload.
  • Lacking a balance between work and personal life, where work takes up so much of your time that you have little energy left to spend time with your family and friends.
  • Feeling a lack of social support because you work from home, or feel isolated in the work place, and/or lack social support in your personal life.

Those who work from home, such as remote salespeople or remote call center agents, are often times more susceptible to Burnout and depression as a result of isolation and lack of balance between work life and social life.  It is important to be cognizant of how you spend your time so that you can take the necessary steps to create a healthy balance.

Burnout is a medical condition that can lead to major health issues. And, although the symptoms often mimic depressive and anxiety disorders, (and sometimes overlap), it is separate from depression and anxiety.  Ultimately, Burnout can lead to fatigue, insomnia, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart disease (it increases bad cholesterol and decreases the good), and type 2 Diabetes.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is highly recommended that you seek the guidance of a medical physician as well as a therapist.  It is important that you rule out anything that might have long term negative implications (sometimes life threatening) as well as getting a plan of action to change courses to a more healthy, balanced way of living.

In the meantime, you can take immediate action, if you are experiencing any of the above, by focusing on the basics of good health and well being by getting plenty of exercise, sufficient amount of sleep, eating a well balanced diet, drinking plenty of water during the day, and creating a healthy balance between work and personal life.  Countless studies have shown that regular exercise helps reduce stress, boosts your mood, improves your overall health, and thus, enhances your quality of life.  Regular exercise along with healthy balance between work and personal may result in immediate relief (although it is still recommended that you seek guidance from a professional healthcare expert).  These are good habits to implement immediately and on a regular basis. Remember, that ultimately, YOU are the boss of you.

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