Burnout at work is a common phenomenon, but it’s still one that mental health professionals don’t completely understand. Why do some people eventually become emotionally exhausted by their jobs? And is this a workplace problem or a mental health problem?
Psychologists don’t even agree on whether burnout is the same as depression, or whether it’s a separate condition. But researchers have been able to uncover some of the factors that put certain people at higher risk for burnout. These findings suggest steps we can all take to decrease our likelihood of experiencing burnout.
1. Find a work environment that fits you
Many of the studies done on burnout have looked at people working in challenging professions like teaching or medicine, where burnout is common. One example is a 2015 study of 205 teachers in Poland. It showed that those who experienced burnout tended to perceive a worse match between themselves and their environment.
Of course, there are some questions about causality here. Maybe experiencing burnout caused teachers to take a less rosy view of their work environments. That said, making it a priority to find a workplace that fits with your strengths and your personality certainly can’t hurt, and there’s a good chance it’ll lower your likelihood of experiencing burnout.
2. Develop self-compassion
Self-compassion is a running theme on this blog for a reason: research has consistently linked it to a variety of positive health outcomes. No surprise then, that self-compassion also turns out to protect against burnout.
A 2015 study by researchers at Ohio State University found that in a group of medical residents surveyed, 40 percent had at least one symptom of burnout. One of the factors that set the residents who had no symptoms of burnout apart? They had higher self-compassion.
This finding suggests that learning to treat yourself with more kindness and acceptance, and with a less judgmental attitude, might lower your risk for burnout.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the sibling of self-compassion. It has been linked to many of the same positive mental health outcomes, and practicing mindfulness may actually increase people’s levels of self-compassion.
So it makes sense that the study of medical residents mentioned above also found mindfulness as a factor that protected against burnout. Creating habits centered around mindfulness is a technique that can increase self-compassion, and more generally a practice that might help ward off workplace burnout.
4. Seek mental health treatment
Burnout is sometimes thought of as a workplace issue, and there’s truth to that: the place you work does impact your risk. But burnout is also a mental health issue, and it involves people’s mental health more generally.
Work by researchers at University of Zurich has shown that people with mood disorders and anxiety disorders are at higher risk for burnout. Seeking treatment for any mental health conditions you have could make a difference in whether you develop burnout down the road. In other words, taking care of your mental health more generally is always a good thing from the perspective of fighting burnout.
If you do find yourself becoming emotionally exhausted by your job, understand that you’re not alone. Burnout is a common problem, and it’s one where mental health treatment can make a big difference.
Image: Flickr/Kiran Foster