Burnout: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Discover what burnout syndrome is, its causes, symptoms, and treatment methods. Learn more about this condition.

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  • Psychology
  • Psychiatry

If you've ever felt at the end of your rope, it could be a sign of burnout. Find out what it is, its causes, and how to prevent it.

The numbers reveal an undeniable reality: 1 in 3 people reports having experienced burnout, and the trend is on the rise. This is a significant health issue that affects individuals across various professions and contexts. Discover what burnout is, the signs to watch out for, and how to treat it.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion resulting from prolonged exposure to stress. It was initially described by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and although it is often associated with work, it can also manifest in other areas of life, such as personal relationships and caregiving.

Burnout is a response to prolonged pressures and develops gradually, accumulating over time. This state is not just a temporary feeling of fatigue after an especially tough day at work but rather a severe psychological condition that significantly impacts a person's quality of life and daily functioning. If left untreated, burnout can progress to clinical conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even exacerbation of physical illnesses.


What Are the Main Causes of Burnout?

Burnout can be triggered by several factors, typically a combination of physical, emotional, and environmental factors that accumulate over time. Here are the primary causes:

1. Excessive Workload
One of the most common factors contributing to burnout is excessive workload. Long hours, tight deadlines, and a constant overload of tasks can lead to physical and mental exhaustion.

2. Lack of Control
Feeling powerless in one's work or personal life can significantly contribute to burnout. When people don't feel they can control their tasks, goals, or work environment, they may experience stress, discouragement, and helplessness.

3. Toxic Work Environment
A hostile work environment characterized by conflicts, hostility, lack of support, and ineffective communication is fertile ground for burnout development. Toxic professional relationships harm employees' well-being and motivation.

4. Unrealistic Expectations
When expectations are excessively high or unattainable, individuals can feel constantly inadequate, regardless of their efforts. Unrealistic expectations are often self-imposed, stemming from perfectionism.

5. Lack of Alignment Between Work and Personal Values
When a person's work is not aligned with their personal values, it can lead to a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness. Over time, this causes frustration and burnout.

6. Lack of Recognition
A lack of recognition or appropriate rewards can make individuals feel undervalued and demotivated. Over time, it can affect self-esteem and self-confidence, leading to a cycle of self-criticism and anxiety.

7. Lack of Social Support
The absence of emotional and social support, both in the workplace and personal life, can hinder stress and pressure management. Neglecting self-care, such as not taking vacations, not getting enough rest, or lacking leisure time, can increase vulnerability to burnout.


What Are the Symptoms of Burnout?

Burnout symptoms can vary from person to person but generally include:

1. Extreme Fatigue
People with burnout feel permanently exhausted, even after a good night's sleep. They often report a sense of overwhelm and an inability to cope with work or daily life demands. Activities that were once enjoyable can become draining.

2. Hostility
Empathy decreases, and individuals may display a negative, distant, insensitive, or hostile attitude toward colleagues, clients, family, and friends. This change in interpersonal behavior is most noticeable in the workplace but can occur in other areas of life as well.

3. Decreased Performance
The ability to perform tasks effectively and productively diminishes over time. Often, people with burnout feel ineffective and incompetent, even when they make an effort to fulfill their responsibilities.

4. Sleep Disturbances
Sleep disturbances are common in people with burnout. Patients may experience insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, or frequent nighttime awakenings. Emotional exhaustion can make it challenging to relax and achieve quality sleep.

5. Physical Symptoms
Burnout can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, gastrointestinal problems, muscle tension, and increased blood pressure. These symptoms can result from chronic tension associated with prolonged stress.

6. Social Isolation
As burnout develops, people may start to withdraw from friends and family. Social isolation can occur due to a lack of energy or motivation to interact with others and a feeling that no one truly understands what they are going through.

7. Impaired Cognition
Cognitive abilities can be compromised, leading to difficulties in concentration, memory lapses, and a sense of mental confusion. Tasks that were once simple may seem especially challenging.


How Is Burnout Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of burnout syndrome should be made by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. The process typically involves a comprehensive clinical evaluation conducted by the mental health professional. During the assessment, the patient is interviewed to evaluate symptoms, personal and professional history, as well as any significant stressors in their life. Next, the diagnostic criteria established in the International Classification of Diseases or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are checked. Finally, the mental health professional will rule out other conditions that may underlie the symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.


What Does Burnout Treatment Involve?

The treatment of burnout aims to help individuals regain balance and well-being by addressing physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Therefore, treatment is multidisciplinary and includes:

1. Psychological Intervention
Psychological intervention is a fundamental part of burnout treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used to help individuals identify negative thought patterns and dysfunctional behaviors contributing to burnout. The therapist works with the patient to develop healthy strategies, improve resilience, and promote self-care.

2. Medication
In some cases, medication may be necessary to help control symptoms of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Medications should be prescribed by a psychiatrist and used in conjunction with therapy.

3. Lifestyle Changes
If burnout is related to work, it is essential to address underlying issues that may be causing exhaustion. For example, it may be necessary to renegotiate workload, promote a supportive culture, or implement work-life balance policies. In some cases, treatment may involve temporary or permanent removal from the workplace. When burnout is related to other life areas, a similar restructuring logic may be needed, reorganizing activities and investing appropriately in other interests.


How to Prevent Burnout?

Preventing burnout is crucial for preserving mental health and well-being, especially in demanding work environments and other areas of life with high levels of stress. Strategies include:

1. Establishing Boundaries
Learning to set healthy boundaries between work and personal life is essential. It's important to say no to excessive demands and ensure there is time for self-care.

2. Managing Stress
It's crucial to learn stress management techniques to reduce tension and emotional pressure. Meditation, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and physical exercise can help prevent burnout.

3. Balancing Work and Personal Life
Personal life should have the same priority as work. Set reasonable work hours, take vacations and personal time, and avoid overloading yourself with excessive responsibilities.

4. Open Communication
Maintaining open communication with colleagues and superiors can lead to better understanding and support. If you're feeling overwhelmed, share your feelings and needs.

5. Cultivating Healthy Relationships
Creating and maintaining healthy relationships that provide emotional support, understanding, and a sense of belonging is essential. It not only helps prevent burnout but also strengthens emotional resilience and the ability to face life's challenges. Invest time and effort in meaningful relationships and promote mutual support.

6. Learning to Ask for Help
Many people hesitate to ask for help, often due to concerns such as pride or fear of being seen as incapable. However, asking for help is an act of courage and is essential for preventing burnout.


Joaquim Chaves Saúde, by your side to combat Burnout

It is crucial to recognize the symptoms as early as possible and seek professional help when needed. Burnout is treatable, and recovery is possible with the right support. At Joaquim Chaves Saúde, you will find a team of experienced and specialized professionals who will help you regain well-being and quality of life. Take the first step and schedule your consultation through the personal area of our website or our app.


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Get to know this area of health and find the right care for you.

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