5 Risk Factors for Burnout

A risk factor is a variable whose presence increases your risk for problems. For example, you are at higher risk of disease if several risk factors are present. This article discusses the risk factors for experiencing burnout.

Burnout is a psychological term for a set of characteristics usually centering around stress and exhaustion, especially in one's career. If you are feeling apathetic, mentally fatigued, having difficulty concentrating or difficulty caring, these could be emotional warning signs of burnout. If you find yourself avoiding work, neglecting your responsibilities, being accident prone and disregarding your appearance, you may be experiencing behavioral signs. If you suffer from insomnia, headaches, fatigue or increased worrying about your health, these may be physical signs of burnout.

Paying attention to these warning signs is vital to avoiding burnout. It is possible to have some emotional, behavioral and physical signs present and you may or may not have associated these signs as signs of burnout. Here are five risk factors for burnout. Are these risk factors present in your life?

Your Perception of Stress

In my stress management workshops I have an exercise where I ask participants to list the things that cause them stress and then as a group, we list them on chart paper. Inevitably, there are some people who will say that they are not stressed by some of the things listed. For example, some people find traveling stressful while others do not. Some people find deadlines stressful while others see it as a motivator. Albert Ellis, a prominent psychotherapist in the field of cognitive therapy, discovered that this is due to our perception of stress. He pointed out that our underlying beliefs and self-talk contribute a great deal to our stress and that changing these underlying beliefs and self-talk are key to reducing stress. If you perceive your current situation to be stressful, you will experience more stress than someone in the same situation who perceives it as manageable. No two people in the same situation view the situation in the same way and this is how your perception of stress is a risk factor for burnout.

Stress at Home

It is difficult to have stress at home and act like nothing is wrong when you get to work. Even if you do not share your troubles with your co-workers, chances are you have a shorter fuse than if you had very little stress at home. You may come into work tired, take longer to focus on work, think about how much time is left before you can leave for the day or the weekend. Whatever is going on at home stays in the back of your mind during your time at work and reduces your ability to give 100% of your attention to work. As a result, your performance can suffer over time.

Environmental Stress

Stress can come from the environment you live in as well. We do not often notice environmental stress because we tolerate them for the most part. Environmental stress can come from traffic, weather, neighbors, crime level, noise, the economy, etc. Sometimes environmental stress can be lessened. For example, if you have a long commute to and from work, you can find a way to change your work hours, work from home, change jobs, or move. Most of the time, we just put up with this form of stress and cease to think about it. The problem with this is that any stress, whether you have found a way to tolerate it or not, is using your body's resources to keep you going despite the stress. That means that you have less resources to handle other stress in your life.

Work Stress

All jobs have some level of stress associated with them and some jobs have more stress than others. But chronic stress that is above and beyond what is considered a given in the profession can lead to burnout. If, in addition to the regular stress associated with your job, you are dealing with a boss with poor leadership skills or the negative effects of low morale amongst your co-workers (i.e. complaining, gossiping), this can lead to increased stress and decreased work performance.

Not Practicing Stress Management

This is a major risk factor for burnout. Stress is everywhere and you can only tolerate so much before succumbing to the effects of burnout. Practicing stress management on a regular basis is vital to counteracting the effects of stress. Stress uses up your body's resources, including your physical, mental and emotional stamina. Just like a car needs gas to keep going, your body needs replenishment to keep going. That replenishment is stress management. You would not expect your body to continue to function at peak performance if you did not eat every day. Yet many people expect their minds, bodies and emotions to function at peak performance without stress management. Eventually your tank hits empty and the road to full can be a long one. Regular stress management practice can avoid this and keep you functioning at peak performance on a regular basis.

What is your risk factor for burnout? Rate your perception of stress on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very little stress and 5 is more stress than you can handle. Rate your stress at home on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very little stress and 5 is more stress than you can handle. Rate your environmental stress on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very little stress and 5 is more stress than you can handle. Rate your work stress on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very little stress and 5 is more stress than you can handle. How often do you practice stress management? Rate yourself from 1 to 5 where 1 is every day and 5 is not very often.

If you scored below 10, your risk of burnout is low. Congratulations.

If you scored 10-15, you are at risk of burnout. As I mention in my book, The Art of Loving Life, one of the 3 steps to controlling stress is to remove what is causing you stress or reduce your stress with one of the clinically proven, time-tested techniques described.

If you scored above 15, you probably do not need me to tell you that you are burned out. Take immediate steps to deal with your stress. A competent therapist or coach who is skilled at stress management can help you.

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