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Stress

Updated 05 August 2020

The telltale signs of burnout you should look out for

Maybe it is a disease - or maybe you are just working too hard for your body to cope.

  • Burnout is a condition of chronic stress generally associated with workplace stressors.
  • There are three core symptoms of burnout - fatigue, emotional disconnection and low confidence.
  • It is important to be aware of the signs when working in high-stress environments.


It is amazing what stress can do to the body - and it is easy to forget this when you are suddenly feeling like you are hanging over the edge of a cliff.

When you are constantly on the go, it can be difficult to see the many red flags signalling potential burnout - which can take a while to recover from.

Add a pandemic where a slight fever could have you spiralling into a panic, fearing you have contracted Covid-19 - and you are stuck with a deadly concoction that can only encourage burnout. 

But how can you tell the difference between a disease and working too hard?

WATCH | Struggling with working from home? Here's how to make a success of it and avoid burnout 

What is burnout exactly?

It is the state of chronic stress where you suffer emotional or physical strain for long periods of time.

While mostly work-related, it can also be triggered by personal trauma events like death of a loved one or a relationship break-up.

According to Psychology Today, it is also not something that happens overnight. It is a gradual decline that will reach a point where its effects on your mind and body cannot be ignored anymore. 

The three pillars of burnout

According to an analysis of burnout studies in World Psychiatry, the three core symptoms of burnout are extreme exhaustion, cynicism and disconnection from work activity, and a sense of incompetence and inability to achieve success.

From these three, other symptoms spiral down that collectively make up the condition of burnout.

"The significance of this three-dimensional model is that it clearly places the individual stress experience within a social context and involves the person's conception of both self and others," write the psychology researchers.

This means that burnout is differentiated from traditional mental health issues because it is driven by the external factors of a stressful job - although it is not to say that burnout cannot be linked to underlying psychological conditions.

Understanding these core symptoms makes it easier to spot what burnout looks like.

READ | What you can do to avoid burnout 

Constant fatigue

In burnout mode, your body just does not know how to shut down, constantly draining the last bit of your strength. It is important to watch out for a drop in energy levels and treat it as a sign that you should slow down.

In an ironic twist, while feeling tired, your sleep could be affected. You may find that you are rolling around until the early hours of the morning unable to enter dreamland.

If you are getting more sleepless nights in a week, start hitting the brakes, and start taking care of yourself before it gets too bad. 

Job dissatisfaction

When the idea of dragging yourself to the office (or work-from-home setup) fills you with dread and anxiety, ask yourself a few questions about what it is about your job that might be causing this reaction, especially if you previously enjoyed your work, says Mayo Clinic.

Ask yourself if there have been any changes in the quality of your work, and if there have been any external changes that could have made you more cynical or disillusioned with your work. 

WATCH MORE | Avoiding burnout: Rediscovering the art of doing nothing

Emotional problems

Burnout also impacts your brain functioning and may lead to lack of concentration or remembering key tasks or events, feelings of depression and a certain disconnect from the world. 

It can also make you feel incompetent at work and irritable about the smallest things. If you feel your mood has shifted considerably for an extended period of time, it could be burnout.   

Socialising

While the pandemic is probably turning all of us into hermits, and if you are feeling especially antisocial when getting your hundredth Zoom party invite, or cannot even bring yourself to interact with your immediate family, try to establish what is causing this kind of reaction.

It is also important to listen to colleagues, friends and family if they have noticed a change in your social interactions and not dismiss them outright. Personal interactions can be severely impacted by burnout, and those around you could spot the signs faster than you yourself.

If you suspect burnout, talk to a medical professional or contact an organisation like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) or TherapyRoute if you feel you need help.

READ | Burnout can raise the risk of a dangerous heart disorder

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