Burnout Syndrome: The Modern Day Plague

Today, burnout syndrome is often given the characteristics of exhaustion, depersonalization and performing duties without any satisfaction. Burnout is thought to appear in people who unsuccessfully deal with chronic stress, most commonly in a work environment.

This syndrome has been studied since the 70’s, but no clear definition has been given since. Generally, the term represents the physical and mental response to increased stress levels at work, but as there is no strict framework for the symptoms and causes of this condition, if we can call it that way, there is no way to determine how common or serious it really is.

An American psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger used the term ‘burnout’ to describe how constant strong stress and frustration affect people, especially those whose profession has to do with helping people. Now, every person can experience a burnout. If you are stressed, frustrated, faced with so many obligations at work that you can’t even get the time to turn your head; you are working more and more hours for the same salary, you don’t feel appreciated, your job stopped being satisfying and fulfilling and it became something that overwhelms you and you even don’t feel like getting out of bed when you know that you need to go to work? Sometimes you don’t get to rest even when you come home and would like to spend precious time with your family – but you can’t.

A Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Christina Maslach, introduced an instrument for measuring burnout and the same instrument is commonly used today, and it is called Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI).

But how does a person develop the burnout syndrome? There are some phases people go through before things get too serious. Various sources express different opinions about how many phases there actually are, so we are not going to claim that there is an exact number, as well as there is no exact definition to describe this syndrome.

  • Phase One

In the first phase, a person cannot really be said to be suffering from this syndrome. This is the phase in which a person is happy with the job they perform, they do it happily and enthusiastically, and the work fulfills them. A person does the job almost effortlessly, goes home filled with positive thoughts and attitudes, and gladly comes back to work the next day, ready to give their best once again.

  • Phase Two

The next phase is the phase when our person, (let’s make it a woman, and call her Lucie) realizes that the job she performs is not that satisfying anymore. This is when reality strikes and this is when the purple sunglasses come off. The assignments become more and more difficult and Lucie really gives her best to do them well, to continue being good (if not the best) at what she does. But after a while of working hard and not achieving much, our dear Lucie becomes frustrated. Day after day, the frustration grows and this feeling becomes a habit. A habit that turns Lucie into a darker version of herself – a dissatisfied, frustrated, tired self. And all that overtime work – she feels like she’s doing it for nothing – she is not paid for it, it keeps her away from her family, she becomes more and more tired and realizes that this job no longer makes her happy. Quite the opposite, it works for her neither financially, nor personally. Now this is when things become more serious.

  • Phase Three

When Lucie got to the third phase, she was already disappointed in almost every aspect of her job. She became nervous, anxious, irritated and she started experiencing some mood swings. This usually leads to overeating or inability to eat, thus making a person lose or gain a lot of weight in a very short time. This is the phase where our Lucie begins having trouble sleeping because stress is keeping her awake. She becomes angry at her superiors and colleagues, and blames them for her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Lucie becomes so frustrated that she begins taking it out on her coworkers. She becomes utterly negative and maybe even depressed. She never seems to come to work in a good mood anymore, let alone happy. She begins feeling helpless and powerless and as if she doesn’t have control over anything anymore. All these negative emotions often make her physically sick.

  • Phase Four

In the final stage, Lucie is completely burnt out, both mentally and physically. She now feels like she isn’t good for anything, she can’t do anything right. Self-confidence = zero. Now, this is the most dangerous phase, because this is when Lucie hits rock bottom and doesn’t see any point in working (and maybe even in living) anymore. This is the time when it is absolutely necessary to seek help as a person probably won’t know how to get out of this state alone.

Burnout doesn’t always have to happen. You can prevent it from happening to you by adopting a healthier lifestyle and adjusting your nutrition so that it satisfies the needs of your body and not your mind. The most important thing is to rest enough, spend quality time with your family and friends and find meaningful things to do outside of work. Try to eliminate the activities that make you miserable (or as many as you can) and learn how to stand up for yourself. These are the steps for staying sane and avoiding burnout.

So, do you have any of these symptoms? If yes, it might be time to do some heavy duty thinking about your goals in life.