Skip to Main Content

Identifying and Addressing the Modern Burnout Experience

Emma White | August 1, 2022

You’re exhausted and sluggish, but a full night’s sleep doesn’t seem to help. You’re overwhelmed by even simple tasks, and you find yourself easily irritated and getting angry at the smallest things. This might be more than just stress — you may be suffering from burnout.

What is burnout?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), burnout is “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.” Sometimes it happens when your work-life balance gets out of sync or when you’re a person who likes to stay busy. The APA also states that burnout is the product of “performing at a high level until stress and tension from extreme or prolonged physical or mental exertion or an overburdening workload take their toll.”

So how do you recognize when “busy” has turned into “too busy?”

The symptoms of burnout

One of the most harmful aspects of burnout is that it affects your self-awareness, making it difficult to see burnout setting in. As you take on more work, activities or social commitments, your body is coursing with adrenaline and primed for action. But what should be short sprints of activity actually become long periods of intense focus and exertion without the intermittent rest needed to properly recover.

Therefore, the key to preventing burnout is catching it before it starts. Some of the early warning signs include:

  • feeling overstimulated with basic tasks
  • believing you can’t say no to work or social obligations
  • easily becoming irritated or angry
  • getting sick often
  • feeling helpless, trapped or defeated
  • experiencing decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Different types of burnout

Over the years, our understanding of this phenomenon has improved. One development has been the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the first clinically based measurement of burnout, which considers this condition along three different dimensions:

  • exhaustion — feeling constantly depleted
  • cynicism — feeling detached from your job and the people around you
  • ineffectiveness — feeling that you’re never able to do a good job

Everyone suffering from burnout experiences it in different ways, although it most commonly incorporates a mixture of these three aspects.

Recovery takes time

Breaking the cycle of burnout and starting down the path to recovery is different for each individual, but one constant is that recovery takes time. Your body needs time to ramp down the prolonged stress response that is a key component of burnout. While taking a day off doesn’t hurt, it may not be enough to break the cycle and help bring your body and mind back to more normal levels.

Burnout prevention

A great way to get out in front of burnout is to set healthy boundaries for yourself in your personal and professional life. Understanding and protecting your limits can help prevent you from becoming over-extended and moving into those burnout-inducing cycles.

Other simple ways to keep burnout from taking hold include:

  • Tending to your mental health — Speaking to someone who’s impartial and trained to give effective feedback, like a therapist or mental health professional, can help you get clearer insight into the cause of your burnout and strategies for your recovery. Organizations offering on-site well-being advisers can help direct you to available services and professionals providing the care that suits your situation.
  • Taking breaks — Build breaks into your work schedule and your personal life.
  • Exercising — Even though a burnout-inducing schedule consumes a great deal of energy, the health benefits of regular, moderate exercise can be an excellent coping tool. Some companies offer on-site fitness centers to help get endorphins flowing.
  • Practicing mindfulness — Even something as simple as a few minutes of deep breathing and relaxation exercises can make a big difference. If your workplace has a green space, you can take a minute to sit and decompress with some easy grounding exercises.

Creating and maintaining a strong work-life balance is ideal to protecting your physical and emotional health. By employing strong tools and a dose of self-awareness, you can build a healthier, more resilient lifestyle.

To learn more personal and professional success tips, visit the Paycom Careers Blog.

About the author
Author picture, Emma White
Emma White
As an employer brand marketer at Paycom, Emma White helps broaden the employer brand and increase brand awareness. Emma is a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University, where she earned degrees in marketing and management. Her work on Paycom’s recruitment marketing team includes company culture, careers and social media content. Outside work, Emma's hobbies include art, reading, exploring new places in OKC and spending time with friends.