Depressed & Overwhelmed? It May Be Burnout

I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you're giving up that makes you resentful. -- Marissa Mayer

The term “Burnout” was developed by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in a book he wrote about stress in the workplace in 1974. Several recent studies compare burnout symptoms to those of depression -- exhaustion, cynicism and melancholy mood.

Researchers have identified the perfect storm that triggers burnout. This study out of Finland, says, “Evidence exists that high job demands, as well as low job control and social support, increase the risk…”  In other words, if your job assigns you all the blame for project failure and none of the authority or support to ensure project success, you’re on your way to crashing to burning. They continue to clarify, saying, “A mismatch between the expectations and the resources of the worker on the one hand and the job demands, job resources, and possibilities in the job on the other may lead to burnout.”

There is a difference, however, between stressed out and burned out. It mimics the difference between sad and depressed.  Essentially one is temporary and due to circumstances and the other is long term and non circumstantial. Burnout doesn’t just look like pounding coffee for the big stressful presentation.  It looks like you just going through the motions for a paycheck while believing work is meaningless. It also tends to lead to poor cognitive performance and a constant state of exhaustion and cynicism. And worst of all, it will start to affect your health -- headaches, pains, insomnia, weight gain, heart trouble -- you name it.

So what can you do about it?

Sharpen The Saw - When you’re in a good job, but it’s just become overwhelming over time, then the answer may be to do what Stephen Covey recommends -- “Sharpen The Saw.” It’s one of his seven habits, a habit of renewal, which he defines this way:

“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:

  • Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
  • Social / Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with others
  • Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
  • Spiritual: Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

Feeling good doesn't just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself.”

Change Your Perspective - Maybe you’ve got it all wrong. It might not be that bad. The project might need to fail so that they know you’re overworked. What IS the worst case scenario in your latest stressful work situation? Maybe it’s time to delegate, elicit support, and rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work.  

Also talk to your boss -- clarify priorities, run worst case scenarios of undone work by them, and then ask for less work.  Yes, this one will be difficult. But this is your life and if you’re on the verge of burning out, truly, than you’re probably also on the verge of quitting, so they might as well know what you want and need to stay.

Quit Your Job - While none of the self help articles actually say this, that’s kind of what they mean when they say, “assess your skills, consider your values, evaluate your options.” Some workplaces are chronically dysfunctional. Some bosses are hopelessly narcissistic. Sometimes, workplaces are broken beyond repair.  

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited