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More and more people are wondering if they are burned out.  And indeed, rates of burnout are at an all time high.

But what is burnout exactly?  And how do you know if you are experiencing it?

Different definitions of burnout exist but the most widely accepted is the one developed by social psychologist Christina Maslach and her colleagues.  Burnout in their description involves three main elements (although a person does not necessarily need to experience all three features to be burned out):

  1. Emotional exhaustion or a depletion of energy
  2. Negativity or cynicism about one’s job, or a sense of depersonalization or distancing and withdrawal from the job
  3. A feeling of ineffectiveness or lack of a sense of accomplishment

A scale developed by Maslach and colleagues can help determine if a person is burned out.  This scale is very helpful for research projects, but for individuals trying to combat burnout, it can be more helpful to learn to recognize your personal, early warning signs of burnout.

Past research from the field of burnout and my professional experience suggest the following 20 symptoms or problems are often associated with burnout.

20 Warning Signs of Burnout

The 20 signs fall into six main categories of problems: emotional, somatic (or physical), substance use, social and interpersonal, and job-related problems.  Here are the 20 warning signs:

  1. Feeling depressed (Emotional Signs)
  2. Anxious
  3. Irritable
  4. Helplessness
  5. Trouble sleeping (Somatic or Physical Signs)
  6. Headaches
  7. Gastrointestinal  problems
  8. Increased alcohol use (Substance Use)
  9. Drug use
  10. Increased tobacco use
  11. Social withdrawal (Social and Interpersonal Signs)
  12. Increased conflicts with family and/or friends
  13. Lower marital satisfaction
  14. Greater impatience with others
  15. Feeling dissatisfied with work (Job-Related Signs)
  16. Higher absenteeism
  17. Job performance problems
  18. Negative talk about work
  19. Diminished organizational commitment
  20. Thinking about quitting.

People who are struggling with burnout rarely show all 20 warning signs.  Most often, people have their own particular subset of symptoms that signal burnout.

Further, our individual warning signs often appear in sequence, one after another, in a pathway that leads from feeling more modest stress all the way to full blown burnout.

Knowing your personal signs is great for self-awareness.

But the most important implication of being aware of common symptoms is that you can learn to recognize your own, personal symptoms of early burnout as warnings signs—and then take positive action to combat burnout and restore your well-being.

To do so, it also helps to recognize the particular events that trigger stress and burnout for you.

And most important, it helps for you to learn and practice effective coping strategies and skills—such as those taught in the BREATHE program and the Overcoming Burnout series–that help to overcome burnout and prevent its reoccurrence.



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