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The Signs of Burnout

Caused by prolonged exposure to stress

Ask yourself the following questions: Do I tend to avoid social interaction? Do my colleagues say I’m negative, sarcastic, or cynical? Does caring about my personal or professional life seem like wasted effort?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be experiencing burnout — the mental and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to stress.

For example, suppose you work with a bullying co-worker. Initially you’re stressed out by their behavior, but you decide to put up with it thinking that they’ll eventually stop. But the sniping and criticism continues for weeks. It gets to the point where you dread going to work, can’t sleep properly, and have little or no appetite. Eventually, you’re completely drained, lose interest in your work, and feel helpless — a classic case of burnout.

The difference between stress and burnout

Note here the difference between stress and burnout. While the health implications of stress are usually physical, the effects of burnout are mostly emotional. Burnout can cause you to feel hopeless, disengaged and despondent, and is characterized by “not enough” — not enough energy, not enough time, or not enough ambition.

In a word, the key difference between stress and burnout is “hope.” People suffering from stress typically believe they can overcome whatever obstacles they’re facing. But burnout sufferers tend to have no hope and think any attempt to improve things would be wasted effort.

But this is a mistaken belief. In the early stages of burnout, simple stress management techniques can help you find balance. Often, complete rest, relaxation, and time away from the source of stress are necessary for recovery — not always an easy thing to achieve if this source is your job.