Brains and computers are both made up of complex circuits carrying electrical signals. They both take in complex information from the world and make sense of it. And they both work best when they’ve been refreshed.
To say computers and brains are similar would be too simple, but the comparison can still help to understand burnout. Think back to the last time you had too many tabs open on your computer.
So, what is burnout? Burnout describes the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by chronic, long-term stress. If left unchecked, burnout can make it difficult to cope with the demands of everyday life.
Let’s take a look at what causes burnout, symptoms you should look out for, and what you can do to avoid it.
What causes burnout?
Burnout is usually linked to long-term stress in the workplace, but it can be caused by factors in every part of your life.ref1
Common causes of burnout are being overworked, not taking time for yourself, being undermined or bullied, repetitive exposure to negative emotions, lack of social support from others, and feeling like you’re not in control.ref2
As stress mounts, burnout creeps in. In many cases, it can be hard to notice, but there are a few tell-tale signs.
What should you look out for?
Burnout can look different for everyone, but people tend to experience a range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.ref3 Here are some of the most common ones:
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping
- Stomach issues
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced sex drive
- Negativity and cynicism
- A feeling of isolation
- Reduced productivity
- Poor concentration
If you’re experiencing these and struggling to cope, make an appointment with your doctor.
What can you do to avoid burnout?
The good news is that there are things you can do that can help prevent burnout. Here are our top five tips.
1. Prioritize yourself now and again.
Work-life balance doesn't just mean getting home on time. Build reset moments into your day to get away from work and social media, take stock, and prevent the accumulation of micro stresses. Make sure you take holidays to get some real downtime.
2. Set boundaries at home and at work.
It’s important to manage unrealistic expectations for your time, efforts, and relationships. If you work from home, try to separate your work and living spaces. If possible, remove work email and communications from your personal phone. Learn to say no.
3. Move your body.
Nothing beats exercise for fighting stress and feeling better. Find the type of activity that works for you – it could be climbing, swimming, walking in nature – build a routine, and stick to it.
4. Talk to someone you trust.
Talking can help put things into perspective and highlight ways you can reduce stress in your life. Talk to a colleague who could help you make positive changes to your work environment.
5. Help create a calm and positive environment.
Look out for colleagues, friends, and loved ones who may be struggling. Listen to what they say and only offer advice if they ask for it. We all play a part in creating positive environments that do not breed stress.
The constant demands of always-on life can take their toll. Thankfully, unlike a computer in system overload, you can avoid and reverse burnout by remembering to stop once in a while, breathe, and take care of yourself.
WHO. “Burn-out an ‘occupational phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases”. Accessed September 10, 2020.
Patient.Info. “Occupational Burnout”. Accessed September 10, 2020.
PLOS ONE. “The Influence of Work-Related Chronic Stress on the Regulation of Emotion and on Functional Connectivity in the Brain”. Accessed September 10, 2020.