From playing video games to educating the leaders of tomorrow—everyone can experience burnout. But who’s likely to be afflicted by such a dilemma? Medical professionals who sacrifice and fight every day for the common people. So, how do we help them cure burnout?
Burnout can change everything about a person, and it’s never for the better. To get your friend or loved one back to normal, that’s probably why you’re here. Dive in to understand the ins and outs of burnout and the best tactics to help someone experiencing it.
How to Help Someone with Burnout
Seeing a friend or loved one suffer because of burnout can be terrible. While you can’t solve a burnout for someone, you can certainly serve as the light at the end of the tunnel. Here are safe ways to support someone suffering from burnout:
Know How to Identify Burnout
If you want to help someone that may be experiencing burnout, you’ll first need to make sure it’s burnout they’re dealing with. You’ve probably heard of burnout in passing, but we have to dig past the surface. Knowing what burnout is and how it works can elevate your ability to help your loved ones or co-workers at a more capable level.
So, what is burnout? Burnout is a syndrome marked by a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. This prolonged stress arises most commonly from work, school, and relationships. Stressors can be singular to one facet of life or multi-dimensional in nature.
The benchmarks of burnout consist of three facets:
- Emotional exhaustion: This is a state where you feel emotionally drained and can lead to physical and cognitive complications like chronic fatigue and drowsiness. Emotional exhaustion is directly caused by over-demanding and constant 24/7 expectations. In burnout, emotional exhaustion is always present.
- Cynicism: Also known as depersonalization, this facet represents an erosion of engagement and increased negativity. Instead of feeling invested in your company, workplace, or personal life—the individual feels detached and negative.
- Inefficacy: Inefficacy refers to a sense of incompetence along with a lack of achievement and productivity. A wall of fear is built up where the individual feels that there is no point since they won’t succeed anyways.
Symptoms of Burnout
To further increase your odds of identifying burnout in others, here are common burnout symptoms to hone in on. They will be separated based on physical, emotional, and behavioral relevance.
Since burnout is all about stress, any physical symptoms that arise from stress will also be present in burnout. These include:
- Intestinal issues
- Feeling tired and drained all the time
- Frequent illness due to weakened immunity
- Changes in sleep or eating habits
As mentioned, emotional exhaustion is a common theme in all burnouts. While a plethora of reasons may cause physical symptoms, these emotional symptoms are more strongly correlated with burnout:
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Loss of motivation
- Feelings of defeat and isolation
- A negative outlook on everything
Here are the behaviour-related symptoms of burnouts:
- Withdrawal from responsibilities
- Routine changes (e.g., no more gatherings with friends, dates, etc.)
- Sudden use of drugs or alcohol to cope
- Projecting discontent on others
- Skipping work and decreased performance
- Taking longer to get everything done
Who is Susceptible to Burnout?
At the end of the day, everyone is susceptible to burnout. In fact, more than three-quarters (76%) of employed Americans are currently experiencing burnout.
However, those that work in intense and stressful industries are more likely to develop burnout. These industries include:
- Social work
- Emergency response
- Other careers with high workloads
But burnout can also extend outside the facet of professional work. Students can experience burnout as well as hobbyists. If an activity causes stress—it can probably cause burnout as well.
Because burnout symptoms are intertwined with depression, it can be hard to differentiate who’s suffering from burnout and who’s not. Unregulated burnout actually leads to depression. Understanding who’s most at risk for burnouts can be used as a guide to understanding what your situation is. Here are characteristics that are associated with burnout risk:
- Being “Type A” personality: The two main facets of this personality are time impatience and being easily angered. Being or working with somebody who is type A can make someone predisposed to chronic stress.
- Perfectionist tendencies: Perfectionists put themselves in stressful predicaments because they are never content. This could increase the risk for chronic stress and inefficacy.
- Pessimism: Seeing the world as threatening is one of the main facets of burnout, and pessimists put unnecessary stress on themselves every single day.
- Excitability: Being excited easily may sound like a fun trait to have, but high excitability is linked directly with stronger and more easily triggered stress responses.
- Pre-existing anxiety disorders: Those with pre-existing anxiety disorders already deal with chronic stress, meaning that less stress is needed to push them over the edge. Only a bit of extra work-related stress may drive them into that burnout state.
If any of these characteristics fit the person you are attempting to help, and they’ve been complaining about work or life in general—it is likely to be burnout.
Burnout vs. Depression
As mentioned, burnout and depression overlap—but how can we tell the difference, and why does it matter? Though burnout is physically taxing, the excruciating stress is often linked to a tangible culprit. Depression doesn’t always have a cause, and even if a cause is solved, the depression may still remain.
The reason we’re making a distinction is because depression typically requires professional treatment before it gets better. Burnout can usually be solved without professional treatment.
Let Them Know You’re There for Them
If a friend is exhibiting signs of burnout and you want to reach out, it’s better to reach out sooner than later. Even if your friend is not ready to accept help or accept that they are burned out, lean into the conversation. Let them know that you are there for them without being forceful or “butting in.” Otherwise, they will pull away from you, and that’s the last thing you would want.
Just giving them the offer to confide in you can go a long way to help them feel less alone. They’ll open up when they are ready—and they most likely will. After all, it feels good to talk to somebody about your problems.
Ask How You Can Help
Letting your friend know that you’re there for them is the first step—asking what you can do to help takes it to the next level. It shows a level of sincerity that will resonate with your friend, and they’ll appreciate it. It’s also harder for your friend to resist your offer when they’re already juggling so many other things.
It can be something as small as picking up take-out for them or watching their toddlers for a few hours. Just make sure it’s something manageable for you as well.
Validate Your Friend’s Feelings
While your friend suffers from burnout, everyone at work remains the same and is still trying to work just as hard as before. That can harm your friend’s mentality because they think all the stress and depletion they are feeling is invalid—that it’s just in their head. Even if your friend told somebody about their feelings, they might have been dismissed.
Not being heard feels awful, and your job is to make sure to listen and validate all of your friend’s feelings.
Perform Little Acts of Kindness
Little acts of kindness go a long way in all aspects of life—burnout is no exception. Remember, burnout sufferers are emotionally drained and are convinced that the world is out to get them. That’s where small acts of kindness come into place.
Something as simple as dropping off donuts during their lunch break or sending them flowers can relight their fire. These small acts of kindness will show them that the world isn’t as gloomy as their burnout paints it to be. Even if only for a brief moment, you were able to help them see the joy in life again.
Guide Them Towards Professionals and Resources
Excessive stress can cause all sorts of problems. If your friend is complaining of constant fatigue or sleep troubles, encourage them to see a doctor. It is most likely burnout, but it could be something more troublesome. Plus, a doctor can recommend expert and quality advice regarding burnout which can be a big asset.
There are other resources out there that can help someone come back from burnout. A great selection of these resources can be found here. Don’t make your friend feel bad about not using the resources or constantly pressure them to do so. They hate the feelings that come with burnout, so they’ll come around with time.
Don’t Give Advice Automatically
Our natural instinct is to help our loved ones and friends when they feel down. But it’s not the time to automatically start spewing out your knowledge. Giving advice makes the conversation focus on you, which is not what your friend needs right now. They need to be heard and validated—not sit there in silence and listen.
But, if your friend steps out and asks for advice, you can enter your nurture mode and start offering realistic suggestions. By realistic—we mean that you shouldn’t suggest for your friend to quit their job or something as drastic as that. They might not be able to quit their job, and it’ll just make them feel worse.
Listen without Judgement
Sometimes, a burned-out person may appear to be throwing themselves a pity party and are being overly dramatic. Never let that type of thought come out through your gestures or voice. Even if you’ve previously had burnout, each person handles a burnout differently, and you never know what your friend is going through.
It’s hard to come to terms with something like burnout. The whirlwind of emotions is never-ending, and your friend may have been in this hectic state for weeks or even months. Don’t yell or push them too hard to let them confide in you. Forcing them to open up is the last thing you should do. Instead, be patient, and they’ll talk when they’re ready.
By checking in on your friend or loved one regularly, you’ll be able to monitor their progress. With all their swirling emotions, your initial offer to help may have been lost somewhere along the way. By checking in regularly, you are gently reminding them that you’re still ready to lend an ear and help whenever you can.
Encourage Them to Practice Self-Love
At the end of the day, self-love is something that your friend will have to do on their own—and it’s necessary if they want to heal from burnout. Your role is to gently nudge the person towards practising self-love.
Part of self-love is to take care of emotional and physical health. Perhaps, you can even incorporate these activities during times you are together with this person. Here are common ways that a person can care for their emotional and physical health:
- Take breaks: Ideally, taking time off from work or going on vacation would help with burnout. However, that’s not possible for everyone. That’s where frequent mini-breaks come into play. Incorporating small half-hour breaks where a person can relieve stress and be in a safe space can go a long way.
- Get involved in the community: A sense of community counteracts that sense of doom and gloom that comes with burnout. Spending time with loved ones can help a person regain their sense of confidence and motivation to work and prevent burnout in the future.
- Practice mindfulness: Practices like yoga, meditation, and journaling are proven to reduce stress. By reducing stress, certain symptoms of burnout like poor sleep and appetite can be alleviated. Getting better sleep and eating well could reduce physical symptoms like headaches.
- Exercise: Exercise is a great way to decrease stress while promoting increased energy, motivation, and general health. Even something as little as a five-minute dance to your favorite song can help a person feel better and reduce burnout symptoms.
How to Help Someone in Burnout Denial
The stigma behind burnout is that “only lazy and weak-minded people experience it”—even though those who are burned out will continue to push themselves to get out of that state, only to spiral deeper into it—so you may run into the issue that your loved one simply doesn’t want to acknowledge they have a problem.
If this is the case, here are some ways you can get through to them:
- Develop a safe relationship: Without a safe environment, the person may want to reach out to you but be reluctant to do so. Even if you tell them that it’s a safe environment, make sure your tone and subtle body movements mirror that inviting offer.
- Inform: Share facts about burnout and stress and why their symptoms are not just in their head. If the denial does not go away and your friend is getting worse, it may be time to bring out a burnout test. It’s also critical to share information that destigmatizes burnout.
- Engage emotionally: Questioning and leaning into your friend’s emotional state can make you seem more authentic and genuinely care. Dig past surface-level emotional words like “sad” and “guilt” and instead ask about their fears. Then, share your own fears to validate them and show them that they are not alone.
Is it Possible to Really Help Someone with Burnout?
Burnout is typically seen as a self-healing journey, but as mentioned, you can help others with their burnouts. In fact, you might be the support pillar that gets someone out of a chronic burned-out state that they do not see themselves.
To help someone with burnout, you must bring burnout to their attention and then genuinely listen to them and remind them that they are not alone. Why are these two points necessary for helping someone with burnout?
- As hinted above, people may not realize that they are dealing with burnout—opting to believe that they are merely feeling under the weather or overwhelmed by work and other commitments. Because of this unawareness, they may never truly heal from their burnout. With an outside view, you are more likely to catch their burnout than they are.
- Active listening is critical to make the individual feel validated, heard, and most importantly, not isolated. Just offering to lend an ear whenever they need it can make all the difference for a person suffering from burnout.
It’s hard when we see our friends and loved ones suffering. Luckily, there’s a pivotal yet simple way to help them overcome burnout. All you need to do is listen. Offering to listen to their problems and frustrations can relieve pent-up stress and lead to recovery.
Wanting to help your friends and loved ones heal from burnout is a wonderful and noble endeavour. Reach out and take it slowly—and know that things will work out with time. Just remember that you need to take care of yourself so that you don’t end up feeling burned in the process!
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