What it is: Burnout is the feeling we experience when we are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted as a result of chronic stress, often associated with the workplace or caregiving roles (e.g., parenting, caring for aging or ill family members). Burnout typically manifests in three ways: emotional and physical exhaustion; detachment, cynicism, and perceived pessimism; and feelings of self-doubt, ineffectiveness, or a general lack of accomplishment. Individuals struggling with burnout often feel hopeless about managing their stress or exhaustion, and they frequently report increases in negative emotions towards either the source of the burnout (e.g., job dissatisfaction, resentment of the ill family member) or broad negative emotions in many areas (e.g., increased irritability).
Burnout can be the result of working in a high-stakes job (e.g., hospital, law office), or it can be the result of working in a job with chronic and unrelenting stresses (e.g., excessive time pressure, feeling like you are treated unfairly, little time for vacation or self-care, uncertainty about job security or job role, or feeling unsupported or disregarded by employers). Burnout is a relatively common phenomenon, particularly in certain job sectors: according to the 2019 Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report, approximately 44% of physicians experience burnout. Although burnout is not itself a diagnosable disorder, prolonged burnout can put people at risk for depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
Burnout can also be the result of stress and/or exhaustion associated with caregiving roles, sometimes called compassion fatigue. This can either be the result of working in a helping profession (e.g., physicians, nurses, hospice care workers) or personal caregiving (e.g., caring for aging, ill, or disabled family members). Though the symptoms of this type of burnout can often mirror job-related burnout, additional symptoms such as exclusive preoccupation with the caregiving role, increased desire to control the care or outcome of those you care for, intrusive thoughts or images of those you care for, inability to take care of one’s own needs, and inability to rest or relax may also be present. These symptoms of compassion fatigue may also progress to trauma, anxiety, or mood disorders.
Associated Concerns: Burnout often co-occurs with mood disturbance, anxiety and stress, and/or perfectionism and shame. At times, providers may have had job-related traumatic experiences that contribute to their burnout as well. When individuals have trouble coping with these symptoms, they may also develop difficulties with substance abuse, avoidance, or anger management.