According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 23% of full-time employees felt burnt out often or always, while around 44% reported experiencing burnout symptoms sometimes. This statistic equates to approximately two-thirds of employees feeling overly stressed out while working. Of course, burnout can occur in other situations, such as school, parenting, or taking care of a loved one. But work usually accounts for a vast portion of people’s stress.
People experience burnout when they get so mentally and physically exhausted that it interrupts their ability to perform daily tasks. Repeated exposure to highly stressful situations, such as being a caretaker for a family member or working long hours, can lead to chronic stress. Some stress can help motivate us. But too much over an extended period can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies.
However, most people don’t recognize the symptoms of feeling burnt out. They might brush off the crippling anxiety as just a part of life, or vow to get the aches and pains in their back checked out eventually. In today’s fast-paced society, people simply don’t prioritize health because they feel that earning money and keeping up with responsibilities takes precedence.
What is burnout?
Coined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout entails feeling highly stressed for long periods, which can lead to a complete nervous breakdown or chronic exhaustion. It differs from chronic fatigue, however, in that burnout describes psychological symptoms while scientists believe physical ailments cause the above condition. One’s mental state can become so impaired that they may not even feel like getting out of bed in the morning.
Who suffers from burnout?
Anyone can feel burnt out depending on their life circumstances, but the people most at-risk tend to work in highly stressful jobs that demand long hours. Nurses, doctors, first responders, and other healthcare professionals tend to experience burnout at higher rates than people in different fields of work. Also, those who care for children or elderly parents have high vulnerability to developing this condition.
One study found that mothers and fathers can feel burnt out just as much as corporate executives and people in healthcare. Also, those who have a “Type A” personality tend to suffer from burnout more often.
Now that we’ve given you a bit of background on burnout, let’s discuss some red flags to watch out for in your health.
Here are six things that happen to your body when you’re burnt out:
You always feel exhausted.
If you almost always feel like you have no energy even after a good night’s sleep, you may have developed burnout. Feeling exhausted doesn’t just mean you don’t feel like getting out of bed, either. It can also mean you feel emotionally depleted, which can mimic depression.
You have trouble sleeping.
People who experience burnout often report having trouble falling or staying asleep. Because of the highly stressful demands of daily life, many people have insomnia due to not being able to shut off their brains. If you frequently toss and turn at night, you may have high cortisol levels, which prevent you from relaxing into a restful sleep.
You suffer from anxiety and depression.
A combination of high-stress levels, lack of sleep, and a dissatisfied mental state can lead to anxiety and depression. However, if you don’t usually have anxiety and depression but suddenly start experiencing symptoms, you might be feeling burnt out instead. Many of the symptoms can overlap, so visiting with your healthcare provider might help clear up any confusion.
You get sick more often.
If you’ve been feeling burnt out, you might start noticing the following physical signs of sickness:
- lower immune system
- frequent cold sores or rashes
- you get colds or flu more often
- more viral and bacterial infections
- frequent headaches
- gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, stomachaches, and digestive problems
- general unwell feelings
Your muscles feel tight and tense.
When you have high-stress levels, your joints and muscles get stiff because your body wants to prepare you for a perceived threat. However, if the stress becomes chronic, you will start to feel muscle weakness and fatigue, which can be a symptom of anxiety as well.
Your risk of developing cardiovascular problems increases.
The American Heart Association links prolonged stress with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. When the body produces too much adrenaline and cortisol over an extended period, blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol increase. All of these conditions can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These risk factors mean you should take burnout seriously if you start noticing symptoms.
12 stages of burnout
You may not even notice symptoms of burnout, because it doesn’t come on all at once like a cold or flu. Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have outlined the 12 phases of feeling burnt out:
- Excessive drive/ambition. People with Type A personality often have a strong work ethic, which can lead to working excessively in new jobs where they feel they need to prove themselves.
- Pushing themselves too hard. As they gain traction and acceptance in their job, they will take things to an extreme to remain on top.
- Neglecting self-care. They may sacrifice workouts, sleep, or eating well to keep up with the increasing demands at work.
- Blaming others for your workload. Instead of admitting that you have created the problem, you blame your company, boss, or colleagues for the amount of work on your plate.
- You make work your life and have no time for anything else. If you decline invitations to hang out with friends or family because it feels more like a chore than a fun outing, you might be feeling burnt out.
- You pick out the faults in those around you to deflect from your issues. Also, you grow impatient and irritated with people more easily.
- You withdraw from friends and family. They start to notice that you’ve become more quiet and uninterested in daily life aside from work.
- Behavioral changes. Loved ones may say you’ve become more irritable and aggressive, having a short temper with them.
- You may feel you have no control over your life and start to dissociate from even your work.
- Feeling anxious. To cope with the anxiety, you may start to depend on substances or thrilling experiences such as gambling or reckless driving.
- You start to feel empty inside and no longer find any meaning in life.
- Nervous breakdown. Feelings of burnout finally become unbearable, and you may need psychological treatment.
As you can see, burnout can appear subtle at first but lead to disaster if left untreated. To prevent burnout, make sure to follow these tips:
How to avoid feeling burnt out
– Exercise at least a few times per week. Working out releases feel-good endorphins that can help mitigate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Even walking outside for 15-30 minutes a day can have a dramatic effect on your mental and physical health.
- Eat a balanced diet. Make sure you avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and seeds. Eat minimal animal proteins, if you choose, such as salmon, poultry, eggs, and milk.
- Get plenty of sleep. Many people today undervalue sleep and don’t prioritize it. However, your mental and physical health will suffer if you don’t give your brain time to rest. Make sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, stay off technology a couple of hours before bedtime, and establish good sleep hygiene.
- Meditate or do yoga to reset your mind. To have a balanced mental state, we need to check out of daily life and tune into our inner beings once in a while.
- Delegate tasks and ask for help. To avoid become overloaded by work, make sure to ask others for assistance. No one can do everything on their own, so don’t feel bad about asking for help. Lean on friends and family during difficult times for support as well.
Final thoughts on what can happen to your body when you’re burnt out
Many people brush off feelings of anxiety or stress, but you shouldn’t take these symptoms lightly. If you experience chronic stress, it can lead to a nervous breakdown or burnout, eventually, which can disrupt your daily life. Make sure you take care of yourself by allowing time each day for relaxing activities.
Don’t make your responsibilities your whole life; while everyone needs to make a living and take care of loved ones, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, exercising, and taking care of your mental state will keep you healthy overall and help you avoid feeling burnt out. This world places a lot of demands on us, but sometimes, you have to forget the world and take care of yourself. If you gain the world but lose your peace and joy, is it worth it anyway?