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When it is not "Just Stress". Recognizing Burnout

The very first step in addressing burnout is recognizing it. The topic of burnout is mentioned in passing a lot but typically in the context of prevention. We are told that we have to avoid burnout at all costs without being told why. We are told the way to avoid burnout is "#SelfCare!" without anyone clearly defining what self care involves. The whole conversation about burnout is superficial and provides few or no tools to actually prevent the problem.

First, I want you to know that being diagnosed with burnout is not the end of the world. We create more stress trying to prevent this temporary condition then is justifiable. In other words, the pressure to avoid burnout may be doing more to cause burnout than prevent it. A lot of the doom messaging around burnout comes from industry because it costs them money when employees burnout (if they can't work an employee to the point of exhaustion, they make less money). But burnout is fixable.

Second, haphazardly buying wellness products is not going to help either. Nor will social media or random personal care acts (like taking a bath or going to a spa). These things can come into play later if they are of value to you. We need to start with securing a strong foundation before we decorate with these minor things. The reason I bring this up is because industry is using the fear of developing burnout as a means to advertise to people hoping to avoid it. Advertisers are always looking to exploit vulnerabilities, this is no exception.

So what does burnout look like?

People don't start with burnout. They usually start with some stress, that builds with time becoming chronic stress and then with more extreme exhaustion and a lack of reward or accomplishment, burnout ensues.

The General Symptoms of Burnout

  • Feel tired or drained all the time (this may present as fatigue or "lack of energy")*

  • Changes in appetite and/or sleep

  • Muscle pains

  • Recurrent headaches

  • Frequent illnesses or general decrease in immune function

  • Feelings of self doubt or hopelessness*

  • Feeling trapped or defeated

  • Detachment from others, feeling alone, lose of empathy for others

  • Loss of motivation

  • Becoming cynical*

  • Overall dissatisfaction, lack of a feeling of personal accomplishment*

Is there a test for Burnout?

There are validated questionnaires. These are questionnaires that were investigated to make sure that people who had burnout and people who tested positive on the questionnaire actually match up. The burnout questionnaire I typically use has a helpful break down in the scoring to allow us to determine where the lack of balance is so we can more effectively target the problem and bring a patient back into balance.

There are no blood tests that prove a patient has burnout. Cortisol tests are not useful here. Sometimes lab work is run to rule out conditions with similar symptoms but that is very patient dependent.

So How Do I Figure Out If I Have Burnout?

If you feel burnt out and you have some of the symptoms listed above, you can book an appointment and we can figure that out together. I don't send out questionnaires over email because if you do have burnout, I want to make sure you have a plan forward and leave you on a positive note. Knowing you have burnout is helpful but it is more helpful to have a way to actually address the burnout and get it under control.

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