If you’ve ever seen the movie Office Space, you’re familiar with Ron Livingston’s comedic turn as Peter Gibbons, a burnt-out office worker who has stopped caring about his job. Although the movie is a comedy, it’s clear the subject matter struck a chord with viewers who recognize that burnout is a very real phenomenon.
The term “burnout” has been used since the 1970s to describe a type of work-related stress that leaves sufferers feeling exhausted (mentally and physically), harboring negative feelings toward their job, and experiencing a reduced feeling of effectiveness or sense of accomplishment.
What is Burnout Syndrome?
Despite the history of the term “burnout,” it hasn’t always been taken seriously (likely due to a murky understanding of what exactly burnout is), until now. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an “occupational phenomenon.”
The WHO defines burnout as a syndrome characterized by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” There are three main components to burnout:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
How Can You Tell if You’re Suffering from Burnout Syndrome?
If you’ve worked at a job for any length of time, it’s likely that you have experienced some negative feelings toward your job at some point or another. That’s normal. But is that burnout? Maybe, but not necessarily. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following questions may help you identify if you’re experiencing burnout:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
Is it Burnout or Depression?
A lot of the earlier confusion surrounding burnout was related to a lack of clarity around the difference between burnout versus depression. How are burnout and depression different? Are they different? With the new WHO definition, there is a clear distinction between depression and burnout.
- First, when diagnosing burnout syndrome, health professionals must rule out other mental health disorders, such as anxiety and other mood or stress-related disorders.
- Second, the feelings of exhaustion, negativity, and listlessness are solely work-related.
How to Combat Burnout Syndrome
If some of the above questions hit close to home, you may be experiencing burnout. But short of quitting your job and retiring early (not an option for most of us), what are the best ways to deal with it?
Five Ways to Beat Burnout
- Practice self-care. Like any mental health disorder, burnout is exacerbated by a lack of sleep, physical activity, and unhealthy food. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy foods.
- Nurture your hobbies. Keep up with those hobbies that you’re passionate about: rock climbing, knitting, playing a musical instrument, whatever gets you in the zone and out of a work mindset.
- Enjoy a change of scenery. Most workers today feel the need to go, go, go. And there’s nothing wrong with being productive. At some point though, if you don’t take a break, it will catch up to you. You need to recharge your batteries. Use that vacation day to go on a hike, book a spa getaway, or spend a day with friends.
- Disconnect. In today’s highly connected world, it’s wonderfully convenient to be able to log in at any time from anywhere. It can also be detrimental to your mental well-being. It’s hard to escape work stress if you’re constantly connected to your job. Designate certain times “technology-free” and unplug your computer and turn off your phone.
- Consider a change. You have more power over your situation than you may think. Start by setting some boundaries at work. That could mean a conversation with your manager about your workload and priorities. If you’ve tried that already and nothing has changed, it may be time to look for other opportunities.
Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Burnout?
Although burnout is a national phenomenon, Philadelphians in particular are experiencing burnout at a rate almost equal to the national average. If you’re a Philadelphian who suspects you may be experiencing burnout syndrome, take note: before burnout snowballs into something more serious (like depression), seek help from a medical professional. To find a participating behavioral health provider, Independence members can search our Find a Doctor Tool.