The Burnout Trap

Rike Aprea
Jul 11 · 4 min read
Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Are you digging your own grave?

According to the World Health Organization, Burn-out results from chronic workplace stress. Symptoms include exhaustion, negative feelings about your job, and a decrease in professional effectiveness.

Burnout does not just mean being tired. And burnout can’t be cured by taking a day off.

Trap #1: Cortisol

When you have burnout, your mind and your body lose the ability to recover. One reason for this is the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in your blood.

In healthy individuals, cortisol levels are higher in the morning and then decrease during the day. This allows us to be alert in the morning and to sleep at night.

However, if the cortisol levels stay elevated due to chronic stress, it’s harder for us to relax and sleep at night.

That’s where the vicious circle starts: if you cannot sleep, your work performance is likely to drop. And as our society is not forgiving when it comes to decreased work performance, you will put more pressure on yourself. Competition is high, and the next candidate might be ready to take your job. Fear of losing your job creates additional stress. More stress, more cortisol, less sleep.

It’s like being in a trap.

There are many reasons for stress in the workplace, some of them due to external factors that you cannot influence such as inadequate working conditions, a leadership style dominated by pressure and fear, or hostility among coworkers.

Trap # 2: Not feeling valued

According to the German sociologist Johannes Siegrist, burnout can also be triggered by an imbalance of workload and the sense of being valued or acknowledged: over the course of 5 years, the risk of suffering from depression increases by 70% if an employee is continuously overstrained and not being sufficiently rewarded at the same time.

If you don’t feel valued, your motivation and engagement drop, which often leads to a decrease in productivity and performance, the less productive you are, the less appreciated you feel. Not just from others, but yourself.

Trap # 3: Lack of meaning

The risk of burnout increases when people don’t experience their work as meaningful anymore.

This trap is a partly a side-effect of Trap #2. If you don’t feel valued, you might think that what you are doing is pointless.

Apart from that, it’s harder to find meaning in your job, when you work against your values, your talents, or your calling.

Both of that will decrease engagement, which might then lead to another drop in productivity and self-appreciation.

How can you protect yourself from falling into a burnout trap?

No 1: Create Balance

Different pillars support our “self” and give meaning to our lives. One of them is work. If we only rely on work to feel accomplished and to have a purpose, we make ourselves vulnerable.

I used to be that kind of person: work was everything. I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, which led to stress, insomnia, and health issues: I was caught in a burnout trap that I created all by myself.

Work is not everything, and it should never be the only thing that defines us. Understanding your value outside of work will make you less vulnerable and probably more effective at your work in the long run.

Who are you without your job? What’s left of you? Ask yourself and ask others. That might help you to find areas outside of work and within yourself that define you.

No 2: Connect with yourself

According to Management Coach Heinz Schenkel, who had suffered from burnout himself, one of the most critical factors in treating or preventing burnouts is to check-in with yourself to understand if what you are doing is still in line with your values and believes.

Do you feel that what you do is meaningful? Or does it at least support your values or is a stepping stone towards something else? My post, “Are you missing your calling?” is digging a little deeper into this topic.

No 3: Listen to your body

According to Dr. Prof. Ulrike Ehlert from the University of Zurich, chances of recovery are higher when you treat burnout at an early stage. That’s why it is crucial to listen to your body and watch out for warning signs such as insomnia, irritability, increased impatience, difficulties to concentrate, persistent exhaustion, or negative feelings regarding your job.

A burnout — like any other crisis — is often a necessary process that pushes you in a (new) direction. Of course, that’s hard to see when you are stuck in the middle of it, but it can help you to reflect your life and your life’s purpose and ultimately lead you to something more fulfilling.

Rike Aprea

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Certified Personal Trainer & Behavior Change Specialist. Let me help you to change your attitude, your habits, and your life.