In an article about burnout, an illustration of a humanoid match being lit by multiple hands.

4 Unexpected Things That May Be Causing Your Burnout

It is all too common in the workforce. Here are some things that could be responsible for yours, and tips to help!
June 27, 2022
7 mins read

In adulthood, day-to-day existence is typically ruled by various responsibilities, whether professional or personal. It seems that work and relationships can be so consuming that they can quite literally take over a person’s life and lead them down a spiral of debilitating mental and physical exhaustion.

Burnout occurs when a person reaches their limit physically, mentally and emotionally due to incessant demands from one or more sources in their life. It puts the person experiencing burnout at risk of suffering numerous adverse effects, such as irritability, insomnia, fatigue, isolation and panic attacks.

It is generally thought that feeling overworked at a job is the primary reason people may experience burnout. Feeling burdened by responsibilities is an undeniable cause of this type of extreme overwhelm, but there may be other reasons why we reach our breaking points in demanding settings.

Having a Negative Outlook

A highly possible cause of burnout is a negative outlook on your current job. Pessimism about your role at a company or organization, specifically not believing in what they stand for, can make you feel as if being at your job is a waste of time. In extreme cases, this can feel like a direct contradiction to the type of person you are. If someone spends a majority of their week working for a company they disagree with in one or more ways, they may feel as if their life is devoid of meaning.

Because jobs take up such a large chunk of our lives, it is important for us to try to find meaning in them. In some cases, this can be solved by training yourself to view the company you work for and/or your position in a more positive light — chances are, what you do at work helps someone do something important. In turn, this helps keep an important facet of society moving so that the general public can benefit from it.

If after giving yourself a chance to try this you are still having difficulty and do not feel good about your job, it might be best to find a new place of employment. However, if this is the case, it is best to stay at your current job until you find something more fulfilling. Being financially unstable will most likely make your situation feel more daunting, so unless your safety is directly at risk, stick with your current job until you find one that more closely aligns with your interests and what you stand for.

Insufficient Social Support

Finding kinship among colleagues can sometimes help someone find meaning in their job. However, maintaining relationships with coworkers or supervisors is not always possible. People often find themselves feeling involuntarily isolated at work and often lack support from those around them. Feeling this lack of social support is another possible cause of burnout. It is easy to feel overwhelmed at a job when one does not feel supported by their colleagues, particularly their supervisors.

Though some may receive emotional support from loved ones outside of work, it is still likely that a lack of social support within the workplace can lead to feeling burned out. The worker is more likely to feel insecure with their job performance due to a lack of reassurance from supervisors. In turn, workers may start to feel pressure to perform and proceed to work harder than usual, possibly to an unnecessary extent. This could lead to intense feelings of resentment, and they may start to associate negative feelings with work in general. A person feeling like they are overworking themselves for a boss who doesn’t care for their well-being is a surefire way to reach an emotional and mental limit at work.

Being Too Optimistic

Sometimes, a new job can seem too good to be true — it has a mission you stand for, your colleagues and supervisors seem supportive and the pay is great. While these things may all be true in some cases, the reality is that every job will come with challenges, and it could be dangerous to give yourself false hope. Being overly optimistic when first starting at a new job can easily lead to feelings of burnout.

If someone enters a new job expecting things to always run smoothly without being realistic about the challenges they will likely face, the emotional response to inevitable professional hardship can be one of shock. Overwhelming feelings of stress will be twice as severe when the person doesn’t see it coming. Such strong emotions hitting a person all at once could quickly lead to burnout.

This is not to say that people should not feel confident and hopeful when starting a new and exciting job, but it is to say that a certain level of cautious optimism is necessary. It’s important to balance hope and caution in order to be mentally prepared for potential challenges and avoid symptoms of burnout. Rather than always expecting the best or the worst, expect that challenges will arise but with the self-assuredness that you will be armed with the resources to help you push through them.

An Overload of Screen Time

Taking breaks during the workday is necessary in order to prevent symptoms of burnout. Most people feel tempted to browse social media during work breaks, but regular use of social media during the day is likely to make you more suspectable to professional overwhelm. While it is important to take short, frequent breaks throughout the workday, it is equally as important to make sure those breaks don’t mainly consist of social media use. Chances are your workday consists of lots of screen time already and it’s vital that you engage in an activity that doesn’t involve a different form of screen use during those breaks.

While it is inevitable that you will reach for your phone here and there during breaks, you may find yourself endlessly checking your phone every chance you get if you’re not careful. It’s very difficult to peel yourself away from your smartphone and social media once you’ve already started looking at it. In situations like this, the constant staring at screens both during worktime and during breaktime can lead to many adverse physical and mental effects. Excessive screen time has been linked to insomnia, headaches and temporarily blurred and irritated vision, which all can lead you down a road to inevitable burnout. Instead, try taking a walk, looking out the window, chatting with colleagues or munching on a healthy snack.

Feeling productive and having a balanced workload when tackling demanding and time-consuming responsibilities is an important part of maintaining mental and physical stability. It is also necessary that we pay attention to the mindsets and little habits that lead us down roads of exhaustion that are very hard to recover from. Finding meaning in your work, reducing leisurely screen time, and setting realistic expectations for yourself are all vital components of a balanced and clear-minded work life.

Saba Bazzi, Wayne State University

Writer Profile

Saba Bazzi

Wayne State University

Saba is a student and writer who is fueled by coffee and a desire for truth. She navigates the world with a sense of openness and values the power of conversation and written word.

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