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Restless nights. The Sunday scaries. Uncharacteristic bouts of anger or sadness. Fantasizing about inclement weather closing the office. Daydreaming about vacations or quitting your job. Any of this sound familiar? With technology blurring the line between business hours and personal time, it’s no surprise Americans increasingly find themselves feeling hopelessly exhausted and burned out. You may be one of them if you read our last post about the warning signs of burnout and recognized any in yourself. But don’t panic: Burnout is not permanent, and we can show you the way out. In this post, we’ll give you a better understanding of what burnout is and feels like, and in our next installment, what you can do to alleviate burnout.

What is burnout?

You might have uttered the phrase, “I’m feeling burned out” without thinking much about what it means. Historically, burnout hasn’t been clearly defined or well-understood. Last summer, the World Health Organization officially began recognizing it as a medical syndrome, which it describes as a form of unmanaged, chronic workplace stress. This is a huge step in formally recognizing this modern-day epidemic, but it’s still not recognized in the DSM (the bible of psychology/psychiatry). And here at Flourish, we found this definition too vague to be helpful.

We dove deep to uncover the truth about burnout, researching and working with hundreds of burned out professionals.

Our work indicates that while it can have a multitude of causes and a whole constellation of symptoms, at its very core, burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion that leaves you feeling drained and overwhelmed by daily life. It can be accompanied by physical and/or mental exhaustion.

How does burnout feel?

Years before starting Flourish, my co-founder Naveed had landed his dream job traveling the world working to alleviate poverty. It gave him a sense of meaning, but the job’s constant travel demands left him perpetually exhausted. He started making unhealthy eating choices and struggled to maintain important relationships since he was emotionally drained from the road warrior life.

As Naveed’s work life and personal life bled together, he started dreading going into the office. Naveed eventually found himself struggling to get out of bed every morning, hitting the snooze button as many as six to eight times before dragging himself up. Despite achieving all he had hoped for in his career, he felt increasingly pressured, in over his head, and deeply unhappy. This led to a sense of shame since he felt like a fraud. Then the panic attacks hit, and he felt he had no choice but to quit. Only later, after taking time off to recover and reflect, did Naveed realize he had been suffering from severe burnout. It’s important to know that while some burnout sufferers are acutely aware they’re burned out, others don’t yet realize what’s causing their symptoms.

The signs of burnout can feel physical, but it often feels mental and emotional too. We’ve found that the core experience is emotional exhaustion, which creates a multitude of symptoms felt by Naveed and visualized below. Symptoms can vary from person to person, though most who are suffering feel a lack of motivation that can translate to physical fatigue that isn’t cured by rest. In other words, that Sunday Netflix binge session may be relaxing temporarily, but it isn’t enough to cure burnout — and it can actually make you feel worse if you’re just using it to escape and avoid emotions.

Burnout may cause you to express emotions in ways that are outside the norm for you, such as crying spells, angry outbursts, or just being irritable. It’s also common to feel a heavy sense of burden, where even small tasks like paying bills can be overwhelming. Emotional exhaustion can also leave you with a sense of loneliness, and as Naveed did, you may feel ashamed of yourself for struggling and try to hide it. If left unaddressed, it can lead to serious health consequences such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type II diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Common types of burnout

Burnout can have a multitude of causes. But as we’ve researched the ins and outs of burnout, we’ve uncovered the three most common forms of it. If you can understand which category you’re in, it’s easier to understand the source of your burnout and address it.

  • The toxic work environment: We’ve found that about 10% of burnout cases are caused by a toxic work environment. It could be due to a bullying boss, or an extraordinarily demanding work culture such as those often found in finance consulting, or law.
  • The short burst: About 30% of burnout cases we’ve studied fall into this category. It’s when people go into an intense experience for a short period of time, such as starting a new business.
  • The achiever: Naveed fell into this burnout category, as do about 60% of burnout sufferers. This happens to hard workers and high-achievers who, despite outward success, aren’t happy. It’s the most common form, but it can be the hardest to address.


There’s a way to end burnout

If you recognize these signs in yourself, let us reassure you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, and you’re far from alone. According to 2018 data from Gallup, 67% of full-time US employees experience burnout on the job at some point. Plus, according to 2019 data from Stanford & Mayo Clinic, 28% of US employees are currently burned out as we speak.

We get it — when you’re burned out, it’s easy to beat yourself up. You probably wonder why your friends and colleagues are able to easily balance the same things you struggle to keep up with. Bear in mind that you never know what’s going on with someone else internally. With the data showing how common burnout is, it’s likely some of your teammates are also struggling with it but adept at hiding it.

Let us give you a little hope to hold onto: Burnout is temporary. At Flourish, we’ve developed an effective process that helps end your burnout struggle and catch the early warning signs of burnout in the future before it happens again. Our virtual program has helped numerous professionals find their way out of burnout and feel like themselves again.

If you’re willing to do a little learning and introspection, there’s transformation and more happiness on the other side of this experience. Having been through burnout and recovery ourselves, we see you, we get you, and we can help you. Interested in learning more about how Flourish can help end your burnout? Learn more about our program here.

If you want to learn more about burnout before committing, check out our next post in this series, where what you can do to alleviate each of the three common types.

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At Flourish, we've helped thousands of professionals everywhere take control of their burnout and create rich, fulfilling lives with more energy and space for happy, healthy relationships.