What's the deal with burnout?

Feeling stressed and exhausted?

What's the deal with burnout?
Source: Pexels/Thirdman

Feeling stressed and exhausted? Sometimes work can be never-ending, and in recent years, it has become a harder problem to tackle because we’re always connected now. It can be tough to switch off from work and keep a work/life balance when it’s so easy to check your emails or Slack messages, leading to our thoughts being centered around work a lot of the time. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress,” with the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or negative or cynical feelings towards it
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Science writer David Robson from the BBC spoke with Anna Katharina Schaffner, a cultural historian and executive coach specializing in burnout, to find out more about what’s going on. 

Schaffner says that people worrying about exhaustion can be traced all the way back to ancient China, with burnout being on the sharp end of the exhaustion spectrum (if one existed). Some people can get so burned out that they feel like their bodies aren’t working anymore. They may even have to change jobs, and it can still take years to get better. 

While there are many studies showing that burnout has become a global issue, Schaffner narrowed it down. “We are struggling with a more precarious and competitive work culture … we tend to overvalue work … we expect so much of work these days: not just status and an income but legitimization,” she says. “We want it to provide a sense of purpose and an opportunity for self-realization.” 

Research from the American Psychological Association shows that the top six causes of burnout are excessive workloads, insufficient autonomy, inadequate rewards, breakdown of community, mismatch of values and unfairness. On top of that, burnout also correlates with our desire for perfection. For example, when we set unrealistic high expectations of what we feel we should achieve or have a harsh “inner critic,” we’re more likely to feel burnout.

But, lucky for us workaholics out there, there are ways to make your life more balanced. Schaffner recommends understanding your core stressors to identify what you can and can’t control to ease your stress levels. Some advice for those who are their own worst critics – consciously note that it’s your inner critic speaking to keep you from getting too caught up in those thoughts.