How do you know if you are experiencing Burnout?

Edward Smink
3 min readMay 20, 2019

Recently I was asked, “How do you know if you are experiencing “burnout”?The simple answer is that you know you are. You know because you sense something is out of place. You know when you are exhausted and you take a deep breath, and say, “Ill get through this,” and you find out you can’t that you have no more reserve or energy left in your bank, then you know you are experiencing burnout. That was my experience almost forty years ago. You become bankrupt. I knew in my gut something was wrong, but had no name for it until one day, I realized I needed help. I could not go on. I knew a compassionate counselor and started sorting out what was going on. It was then, I learned what burnout was. So what is burnout? Burnout is one of the sisters of Compassion Fatigue, something all caregivers experience. What follows is some of my research that is quoted in my book “The Soul of Caregiving A Caregiver’s Guide to Healing and Transformation.”

“Maslach (1982) with Goldberg (1998) and Leiter (2003) agree that burnout can be defined “as a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.” Freudenberger identifies burnout “as a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, or way of life, or to a particular relationship that fails to produce an expected reward.” Gentry & Baranosky (1998) seem to capture the essence of burnout as “The chronic condition of perceived demands outweighing perceived outcomes.”

Each of these definitions have one thing in common: a lack of personal fulfillment and satisfaction where the demands of the work do not fulfill the perceived outcomes. I was in a stressful situation filled with conflicting demands, and somehow got lost in the shuffle. So a simple barometer is to ask yourself, do I find joy in what I am doing? Have I lost the sense of self-care, of setting boundaries and of saying “no.” Important also is to realize, even if your might feel it is that you are not going crazy.

“Christina Maslach argues that the symptoms can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. Symptoms of physical exhaustion can be somatic complaints, weight loss or weight gain, gastric intestinal distress, insomnia, and aches and pains just to name a few.”

“Other times, we are emotionally exhausted because we are witnesses to a specific traumatic event or experience vicarious trauma because of the work that we do. Signs of emotional fatigue can be outbursts, emotional instability, anger, suicidal ideation, cynicism, irritability, racing thoughts, sarcasm, poor concentration, violent fantasies, fears and anxiety. When the symptoms of compassion fatigue start rearing their ugly heads, we may isolate ourselves and deprive ourselves of interpersonal relationships that can support us. Relationship problems, becoming isolated, troubled relationships with coworkers, and fears of relating one’s experience with another are such examples of experiencing relationship fatigue. Instead of turning toward a loved one or colleague, one turns to isolation and self- medicating with drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and food addictions.”

“Of equal importance, our spiritual values may be challenged. We seem to be drifting out to sea, experiencing a loss of meaning and purpose caught in a riptide where our spiritual values seem to get lost. Caregivers experience a loss of joy and happiness. They become like robots, appearing at work to do a job but with the loss of the passion they once had. We all know through our own experiences with our peers, that some members are on the precipice of falling into compassion fatigue, burnout, or secondary traumatic stress, even PTSD.”

In summary, how do you know if you are experiencing burnout, is that you know. Eric Gentry suggests three skills to overcome compassion fatigue. The first is to acknowledge what you are feeling. The second is to tell your story and reach out to a trusted counselor, clergy person, confident. You want them to listen not to give advice. The third is to develop skills of self-care. What brings you joy, taking that extra day off, going fishing, or to the gym. Taking that long overdue vacation. Learning to say “no.”