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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kay Cole, PhD

How to Recognize Burnout Before You're Burned Out

Many of us know what burnout feels like. Joplin is a great place to live, but we're not spared the stress of life. Psychologists define burnout as "the feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from the stress of working under difficult or demanding conditions". It is a condition that robs us of our motivation, creativity, and energy. It is insidious and sneaks up on us in a way that can prevent us from recognizing and fighting it before it sets in. Left unchecked, burnout leads to cynicism and depression. Unfortunately, burnout is common. According to Kenneth Rogan, the author of the attached article, we have simply accepted overextension as a way of life.

Stress contributes significantly to our burnout vulnerability. Psychologists identify money, workplace demands, and family responsibilities as the three major sources of stress in US adults. Without active prevention efforts, the juggling act of adulthood can put us into a state of mental and emotional burnout. A number of our clients come to therapy without a specific trigger. Instead, they pursue counseling to address symptoms of burnout without knowing exactly how they got to their current state. They seek counseling in response to isolation, irritability, overeating, and insomnia. Their burnout is so familiar to them, they don’t register it as a problem in and of itself. They identify their problem as a collection of symptoms rather than the situations and demands that created those symptoms.

Burnout is not just a mental health problem. It is a significant physical health problem as well. Seventy-seven percent of Americans report physical symptoms of stress. People often approach physicians rather than psychologists with their burnout symptoms. Our bodies struggle to fight off colds, headaches, and fevers when under stress. Most alarming, stress affects us at the cellular level. The enzymes at the end of our DNA wear down when we are under significant stress. That makes us vulnerable to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other serious diseases. While that information can elevate stress, I choose to view it as a motivator to address stress and prevent burnout.

The attached article identifies some of the early signs of burnout as well as ways of preventing it. As you review your own experience, be mindful of what you have accepted as normal and consider whether it is actually healthy. Ask yourself how the way you live now will affect your health and well-being in the future. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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