The term burnout is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.
While burnout isnt a recognized clinical psychiatric or psychological disorder, there are some similar features between burnout and diagnosable conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders or mood disorders. However, burnout is much more common; for example, its estimated that 25%-60% of practicing physicians experience burnout! Its also less severe, more temporary in duration, and clearly caused by situational stressors rather than a biologically mandated chemical imbalance. (Its kind of like depressions non-clinical, less intense cousin that just comes for a visit and leaves when you reduce the stress in your life.) Classic symptoms include the following:
- Depleted Physical Energy: Prolonged stress can be physically draining, causing you to feel tired much of the time, or no longer have the energy you once did. Getting out of bed to face another day of the same gets more difficult.
- Emotional Exhaustion: You feel impatient, moody, inexplicably sad, or just get frustrated more easily than you normally would. You feel like you cant deal with life as easily than you once could.
- Lowered Immunity to Illness: When stress levels are high for a prolonged amount of time, your immune system does suffer. People who are suffering from burnout usually get the message from their body that something needs to change, and that message comes in the form of increases susceptibility to colds, the flu, and other minor illnesses (and sometimes some not-so-minor ones).
- Less Investment in Interpersonal Relationships: Withdrawing somewhat from interpersonal relationships is another possible sign of burnout. You may feel like you have less to give, or less interest in having fun, or just less patience with people. But for whatever reason, people experiencing burnout can usually see the effects in their relationships.
- Increasingly Pessimistic Outlook: When experiencing burnout, its harder to get excited about life, harder to expect the best, harder to let things roll off your back, and harder to look on the bright side in general. Because optimism is a great buffer for stress, those suffering from burnout find it harder to pull out of their rut than they normally would.
- Increased Absenteeism and Inefficiency at Work: When experiencing job burnout, it gets more difficult just to get out of bed and face more of whats been overwhelming you in the first place. This may be an unconscious defense against burnout, but those experiencing it tend to be less effective overall and stay home from work more often. (This could also be due to increased illness resulting from lowered immunity, as discussed above.) This is part of why it makes sense for workers to take some time off before theyre feeling burned-out, and why it makes sense for employers to refrain from running their workers into the ground; they might not get back up so quickly!
Burnout has many causes. They fall into the main categories relating to job structure, lifestyle features, and individual personality characteristics. For more on the causes of burnout, read the following articles: