Burnout | How to recognize the early signs?

Burnout | How to recognize the early signs?

How to Recognize the Early Signs of Occupational Burnout?

The professional exhaustion syndrome, or burnout, can affect many people during their career. For the moment, this syndrome is not yet recognized as a disease in psychiatric textbooks. We all have times when we feel stressed. But when this state is prolonged, it can lead to burnout. It is important to spot the first signs of this burnout syndrome in order to limit its consequences.

A certain level of stress can have a beneficial effect on our productivity at work. Projects can help us push your limits. In times of fatigue or intense emotion, the body releases stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. In the short term, this can momentarily boost your performance.

But excessive stress over prolonged periods has the opposite effect and can lead to a condition known as burnout. Without sufficient rest or recovery, burnout reflects mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.

Cerebral mechanisms

The cerebral mechanisms involved are still unknown, and it is difficult to detect the precursor signs. Using complex mathematical models, the researchers want to understand how certain factors, such as work overload, lack of recognition, lack of control over one’s work, etc. give rise to burnout. And this in order to anticipate and better prevent its occurrence at work.

What is burnout?

The notion of burnout was defined for the first time in the 1970s to describe burnout in the workplace of health and care professionals. It was then applied to all fatigue syndromes, regardless of profession. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four adults will experience fatigue in their lifetime. WHO recently included burnout in the International Classification of Diseases, describing it as a “work-related phenomenon”. In fact, burnout results in decreased commitment to work, with a well-known detachment from everything related to the profession. This results in a mismatch between the worker and his job, which can lead to total inability to do his job and depression.

However, those affected have not lost their desire to carry out activities in private space. Therein lies the difference with depression.

What causes it?

Its origin is most often in the world of work, although personal situations can cause it, especially among the elderly. It is most often associated with professional life and stems from a feeling of discomfort in the office.

There are many reasons for this sensation, they could be:
  • Too much work;
  • Tension between co-workers;
  • Gaps within the company;
  • Unattainable or confusing goals;
  • Job insecurity.

This stressful work environment can lead to burnout.

Faced with an excessive workload, the employee is exhausted and overworked. The person then enters a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion which can sometimes lead to depressive episodes.

What are the signs of burnout?

Burnout occurs in a context of chronic professional stress. It results from a slow process of degradation of the relationship of the individual to his work. It can take weeks, months, or even years to recover from a burnout. Potential symptoms should therefore be detected as early as possible, before they become chronic. Insidious and progressive, the manifestations of burnout are heterogeneous and more or less important. This makes its diagnosis sometimes difficult and it can be confused with other mental disorders or illnesses. However, there are frequent signs that can detect burnout.


A constant state of fatigue not relieved by rest can quickly translate into mental and emotional exhaustion. If you lack energy, you will more easily feel overwhelmed and overloaded. When overworked, it is difficult to rest and regain strength.

Lack of enthusiasm at work

Stress and frustration can lead to negativity and a cynical mindset about work. A vicious circle is created. You lack enthusiasm and distance yourself emotionally, then get up every morning with no desire to go to work. The lack of recognition in your work can make you even more vulnerable to burnout due to devaluation.

Reduced performance at work

You find it hard to concentrate, you forget things and you are less efficient at work. You find it difficult to complete your projects on time. Burnout affects people’s ability to manage their stress. So the more stressed you are, the harder it is to deal with new stressors.

Worry and anxiety

You feel anxiety and worry, especially about your performance at work. Your worries may subside when you get home but come back instantly when you think about your work. Burnout is associated with the development of mood disorders, depressive symptoms and anxiety.

Sleeping troubles

Stress affects your sleep. You may suffer from insomnia or difficulty falling asleep, nocturnal or early awakenings without being able to go back to sleep.

Physical symptoms

Chronic stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches (due to tension) and migraines, backaches, skin problems and other general pains.

Irritability and mood swings

Everything annoys you and you are very often in a bad mood for no obvious reason. Your friendships and romantic relationships can become contentious. To sum up, if your daily life is affected by one or more of these symptoms, we advise you to consult your doctor as soon as possible. If stress at work is starting to affect your private life, take it as a warning.

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6 Ways to control the early signs of burnout

Do you feel stressed at work? Here are some steps you can take to combat burnout.

Set limits
  • Start and finish work at reasonable times.
  • Take regular breaks during the day.
  • Every day, give yourself time to disconnect from your phone, your computer, your e-mails and your social networks,
  • Take a vacation and cut yourself off from work in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Learn to refuse something when you feel too much pressure in your work environment. Delegate your tasks when possible for better stress management.
Maintain your work-life balance

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to forget spending time with friends and family or doing things you love. But it is important not to abandon other activities and your social relationships. We are not able to handle stress over an extended period of time. Maintain a work-life balance so you can disconnect when needed. These are essential moments to recharge your batteries.

Take a step back from a stressful situation

It is very likely that your level of demand vis-à-vis yourself is high. But ask yourself the following questions in order to take a step back from a situation that worries you: does everything have to be perfect? What’s the worst thing that would happen if you didn’t put so much pressure on yourself? The consequences may not be as catastrophic as you imagine. To achieve this perspective, help from a health professional can be useful.

Maintain your health by eating well

What you eat has a huge impact on your mood and energy level. Doctors on Livi recommend that you eat the right foods to help your body handle pressure better.

  • Avoid processed foods, carbohydrates and caffeine;
  • Eat fresh, healthy foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins like chicken and fish or eggs and dairy products for vegetarians, tofu, beans and legumes for vegans;
  • Consume foods rich in vitamin C, including green vegetables, citrus fruits, kiwis and red fruits. Vitamin C helps reduce cortisol levels;
  • Consuming enough magnesium is essential for energy production and can have a soothing effect. It is found in green vegetables, nuts, seeds, vegetables and whole grains. You can also take it as a dietary supplement. Read also: Foods Rich in Magnesium Important for Our Health
Learn to manage your stress

An excessive workload can easily lead to a stressful situation and therefore promote the risk of burnout. In order to take care of your mental health at work, it is therefore important to master a few relaxation and stress management techniques at work.

Breathing exercises are an excellent way to reduce daily stress, fight against anxiety disorders and therefore avoid exhaustion.

Don’t be ashamed if you need help

If these symptoms seem familiar to you and you fear burnout, talk to your doctor. No one is immune to presenting a burn out one day or another. You can do a lot of things on your own, but it’s often difficult to do it alone. Medical care is therefore essential to restore a personal and professional balance.

A GP doctor can advise you and refer you to your doctor for appropriate care. In case of deeper psychological distress, he can offer you support with a psychiatrist in teleconsultation. In case of dark and/or suicidal thoughts, you must consult urgently.

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What to do in case of burnout?

If it’s already too late and you’re already experiencing a lot of burnout symptoms, it’s important to take some action. While the duration of a burnout varies for everyone, recovering from it can sometimes take several months. Here are the first steps to get out of it.

To rest

Rest. You may be prescribed a work stoppage. Professional life being one of the sources of your problems, detaching yourself from it for a while allows you to take a step back. Try some relaxation exercises to combat stress and prevent burnout.

Be careful though: withdrawing from professional life for too long can make it difficult to return to it.

But how do you know when it’s time to get back to the office? Just as your body will be able to alert you and send you signs of physical exhaustion, you should also sense when rest has been beneficial to you.

Ask the right questions

Burnout is the result of the sum of problems affecting you on a daily basis. In order to get better, it is necessary to identify the sources of stress and the origin of this discomfort using simple questions:

  • Why am I stressed?
  • Can I do something to fix it?
  • Can my employer fix it?
  • Is this job for me?
Follow an appropriate treatment

The prescription of a work stoppage is most often necessary. Its duration will be adapted to the situation. Stopping work should allow you to take a step back, accept the burnout and above all recover with rest, relaxation or a sporting activity.

If antidepressant treatment is not always necessary, non-drug treatment is essential. It is based on psychological care through psychotherapeutic or psycho-corporal interventions (cognitive-behavioral therapies, relaxation, mindfulness meditation, etc.).

In the event of severe burnout, the attending physician who coordinates the treatment may refer the patient to a psychiatrist. It is also important that he gets in touch with the occupational physician (with the patient’s agreement) so that the working conditions are analysed.

The return to work does not happen overnight, it must be prepared in collaboration with the occupational physician. It depends on the country of where you live, a pre-recovery visit with the latter is compulsory after more than 3 months of sick leave, and strongly recommended in the event of a shorter sick leave. It will make it possible to propose job adjustments or professional training with a view to redeployment if necessary, for example.

Sources: PinterPandai, World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic

Photo credit: Berger-Team via Pixabay

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