Ever heard the saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? How about, “The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately”? It turns out that this go-getting mentality comes at a steep price when it comes to your job.
In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” They included it in the revised International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), a diagnostic handbook referenced by clinicians and healthcare providers worldwide.
What is burnout?
In 1974, psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced the term in a medical journal. He described the “significant changes in mood, attitude, motivation and personality” among his fellow volunteers at a free mental health clinic. In the decades since, the term expanded to apply to other facets of life. However, WHO’s classification limits burnout solely to issues stemming from work.
According to ICD-11, burnout manifests in several forms. It results from the mismanagement of chronic workplace stress, and is defined by three main components:
- Lack of energy or exhaustion
- Negativity, cynicism, or increased mental distance from one’s job
- Reduced efficacy at work
It’s also worth noting that burnout is a syndrome rather than a disease. Before diagnosing burnout, doctors must first distinguish it from potential psychological disorders. These include anxiety, situational depression, and other disorders related to stress, mood, and fear.
Why is the new classification important?
The official recognition of burnout is a major milestone. First, it legitimizes the epidemic of work-related stress. In 2011, a German medical magazine published a review on the topic with the undermining title, “Burnout: a fashionable diagnosis.” (To its credit, however, the review pre-dated successive studies that thoroughly investigated burnout.)
Second, it brings greater awareness to the issue. It can help people decipher if they or their loved ones suffer from burnout. From there, they can take measures to offset adverse effects on their personal and professional well-being.
Third, it carries huge potential to incite significant, lasting changes in workplace culture and expectations on employees. Going forward, WHO plans to develop evidence-based guidelines for mental well-being at work. The best-case scenario? Employers around the world will take active measures to prioritize the health, happiness, and harmony of their workers.
Effects of burnout
We already know about the negative effects of stress. But what about burnout specifically? Conclusive research is still underway, but recent studies are emerging that identify some seriously harmful effects of burnout.
One 2017 study found that the phenomenon is associated with occupational issues like job dissatisfaction and absenteeism. Even further, it outlined alarming psychological and physical consequences. Potential health hazards range from fatigue, insomnia, and depressive symptoms to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even early mortality. Another study suggests that burnout can potentially lead to substance abuse.
With such massive repercussions, it’s crucial to recognize if you suffer from burnout.
Who’s at risk?
Much of the existing research on burnout focuses on people with high-pressure occupations. A 2019 survey found that 44 percent of the 15,000 physicians polled experience burnout. A number of other studies have confirmed the epidemic’s prevalence among medical professionals. Other public health and safety workers—like paramedics, counselors, and police—are also at increased risk due to the high-stakes nature of their respective professions.
However, burnout can affect anyone if chronic work stress isn’t properly addressed and managed. Ask yourself: Am I spreading myself too thin? Do the demands of my job—whether assigned or self-imposed—negatively impact my well-being? If so, start taking measures to avoid burnout.
How to prevent burnout
There’s no quick fix for burnout. However, you can adopt healthier habits to establish a more functional work-life balance. Consider the following tips to prevent burning out:
- Take regular breaks throughout the day to reset your mind and body. Research shows that breaks can boost productivity, spark creativity, and offset aches and pains.
- Resist increasing your workload if you’re already overwhelmed.
- Establish boundaries for addressing work issues after office hours. One 2018 study found that even the expectation of checking work emails at home negatively impacts workers and their families.
- Seek support when you need it, whether it’s from HR, a physician, and/or a friend.
- Consider searching for a new job if your current role/workplace feels toxic, draining, or misaligned with your values.
- Get your fair share of zzz’s. Sleep deprivation weakens immunity, productivity, and mood, and can even cause loneliness.
- Become more resilient to stress, by practicing breathwork, meditation, or yoga.
- Break a sweat, as per the sage advice of Elle Woods:
- Prioritize self-care as a necessity rather than an indulgence.
- Supplement your diet with a natural remedy to reduce stress and support adrenal health.