What is Burnout?
Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress and is characterized by 3 main dimensions, which are:
- cynicism (less identification with the job), and
- feelings of reduced professional efficacy.
Put simply: if you feel exhausted and irritable, start to hate your job, and feel less capable at work (when even simple tasks feel overwhelming), you are showing signs of burnout.
Burnout is caused mainly by stress from your job, but it could get exacerbated by your overall lifestyle. Perfectionism and pessimism, for example, are personality traits and thought patterns that might contribute to this stress.
Burnout may also occur when the lines between work and your personal life balance are blurred. This has been more common in the last few years, with the rise in remote work, and technology, plus the uncertainty from the recent pandemic.
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Burnout
Burnout looks different for everyone, and although burnout isn’t a diagnosable mental illness yet, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:
- Alienation from work-related activities – feeling apathetic or dissatisfied with work, feeling less competent at work, lacking a sense of purpose or joy from your role
- Physical symptoms – headaches, stomachaches, or intestinal issues
- Emotional exhaustion – feeling drained and unable to cope
- Reduced performance – feeling negative about tasks, having difficulty concentrating, lacking creativity
- Significant changes to your diet or sleep patterns
Burnout vs. Stress
Stress is usually short-term, and it is often caused by a feeling that work is out of control, like when you are under a tight deadline. When the situation changes or the problem is solved, normal stress usually goes away.
Burnout, on the hand, is a prolonged period of stress that comes with feelings of emptiness, apathy, and hopelessness, it may be indicative of burnout. Over time, these feelings lead to cynicism, exhaustion, and, sometimes, poor performance and reduced ability to do even simple tasks.
Burnout vs. Depression
According to an article by Informed Health Online which is the patient-centered health information portal of Germany’s national health information website:
“Certain symptoms considered to be typical for burnout also occur in depression, including:
- extreme exhaustion,
- feeling down, and
- reduced performance.
Because the symptoms are similar, some people may be diagnosed with burnout although they really suffer from depression. [Therefore], it’s important not to diagnose burn out too quickly. Doing so could lead to the wrong treatment: For instance, advising someone with depression to take a long vacation or time off work. People who are “only” exhausted because of work can recover if they follow that advice. But if people with depression do so it might actually make things worse because the kind of help they need is very different, such as psychological treatment or medication.
Some characteristics of burnout are very specific, though. For instance, in burnout most of the problems are work-related. In depression, negative thoughts and feelings aren’t only about work, but about all areas of life. Other typical symptoms of depression include:
- low self-esteem,
- hopelessness and
- suicidal tendencies.
These aren’t regarded as typical symptoms of burnout. People with burnout don’t always have depression, but burnout may increase the risk of someone getting depression.”
Common Causes of Burnout
People experience burnout for different reasons. However, some common causes are:
- long working hours
- unsatisfying bureaucratic or administrative work
- work-life balance issues
- poor flexibility or lack of control over a person’s work or working environment
- lack of support from a manager or leadership team
- doing a job that conflicts with a person’s values
- a toxic or unsupportive working environment
Natural Interventions for Burnout
- Examine Your Boundaries
Recognizing that you have burnout is often the first step to recovery. You might not necessarily recognize burnout at its early stages, so it is important to pay attention to your feelings (what exactly you’re feeling and what causes them to arise) so that you can manage them before they balloon into burnout.
2. Examine Your Boundaries
Usually, when your workload is too much, it is because of you saying “yes” to commitments without anticipating how much work, time, and energy they would take to finish. By exercising more control over our time and resources (through saying “no”), we are less likely to feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
3. Have Hobbies Outside of Work
Having interests and activities outside of work is an important part of work-life balance and can help you get through stressful times at work.
4. Keep Work at Work
Try to create and stick to a work schedule that allows you to divide your work life and your personal life in a way that feels balanced to you. For example, you can do this through physical boundaries, such as having your workspace in a separate room, or not having your work email logged in on your personal devices.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Making a habit of checking in with yourself can have a powerful effect. You can set a reminder on your phone or schedule some breaks in your day to reset and re-center yourself.
6. Spend Time in Nature
Spending time in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. A change in scenery is a great way to get the creative juices flowing again, and nature offers stimuli that you won’t find while staring at a screen. Scenes in nature also offers the benefit of calming your nerves and making you feel more connected.
Take time to switch off your devices and do screen-free activities instead. When we are constantly glued to our devices, we are overstimulating our brains and senses and all the information we see and hear takes up our attention and mental space. Even a few hours off the screen can make a big difference in how you feel.
8. Ask for Help
Burnout often results from demanding workloads, but it can also arise from needs that have not been expressed. It is important to ask your family, team members, and leaders for some help and support if you are struggling with something.
When we are stressed, we begin to breathe quickly and shallowly. When we do this frequently – as we may when we’re close to burnout – we can develop moderate hypoxia. This occurs when the body’s tissues have low levels of oxygen, which can result in anxiety and a reduced ability to cope with stress.
Knowing how to fully breathe ensures that your body, brain, and emotions receive all the nutrients they need to properly function. When you’re feeling tense or anxious, put your hands on your waist and take a slow, long inhale, focusing on expanding your ribcage. Then slowly exhale, allowing your body to relax. Try doing this exercise six times on a regular basis to get the most out of it.
Burnout can cause us to repress all sorts of emotions and thoughts that need to be released. To avoid burnout, practice moving your body by stretching, running, dancing, or any unstructured movement. We tend to hold a lot of tension in our muscles, so any sort of movement that encourages letting go can help.
11. Get Regular Quality Sleep
Sleep is important because it strengthens our immune system, lowers stress, and improves memory, reaction, and learning. During sleep, your body continuously releases hormones that promote cell turnover and renewal. Sleep allows us to ‘clear away’ old cells, process emotions, events, and new information, consolidate learning, and refocus our li. To help you sleep better, consider going to bed at the same time every night to ‘train’ your body into a new rhythm.
12. Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy (RLT), also known as photobiomodulation (PMB), is an innovative biohacking treatment that uses red and near-infrared (NIR) light to supercharge your cells and, as a result, boost overall health and wellness.
When red and NIR wavelengths of light are absorbed into the skin, it affects the body’s cellular health, improving an individual’s health and longevity from the cellular level. These wavelengths of light have been shown to have significant benefits on the body since they are able to penetrate into the skin much deeper.
As a natural, non-invasive option for mental health, NIR wavelengths may be more effective in near-infrared wavelengths are scientifically proven to effectively aid in anxiety, depression, and burnout, because they can reach deeper into body tissues than red light to reach the brain and affect brain cells directly.
How Red Light Therapy Can Help with Mental Health
In a recent study, researchers found that red light therapy offers a promising treatment for major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury. Red light therapy is also effective for dealing with day-to-day stress and anxiety.
Other significant benefits include:
- Can help soothe depression
- Can reduce chronic stress and anxiety
- Remission of despair
- Might improve mental health
Red Light Therapy for Managing General Anxiety
One of the ways red light therapy can support your mental health is by stimulating areas of the brain that are linked to certain types of depression and anxiety.
Red light therapy can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve mood by:
- Increasing your bodies energy
Once red and NIR wavelengths are absorbed into your body, it essentially stimulates your cells to increase energy production and anti-inflammatory responses. Red light therapy increases the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is used to fuel every bodily function.
It also creates hormesis, which is a low-dose temporary metabolic stress that causes both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses in our cells. Hormesis creates the same body response as exercise. As a result, red and NIR light therapy can improve cellular health, boost immunological response, reduce inflammation, and improve cell regeneration.
- Harmonizing circadian rhythms
The ups and downs of our circadian rhythm are determined by the amount of blue and red light we receive. Blue light, like that found in sunlight, keeps you alert and sends a “wake up!” message to our brains, no matter what time it is. All-day, we position our devices we are constantly exposed to blue light (from indoor lighting and our devices), which mimics daylight. This confuses our pineal glands, suppresses melatonin release, and effectively disrupts our circadian rhythm. Blue light exposure at night has also been shown to increase cortisol levels.
Red light therapy can help balance our circadian rhythm because, unlike blue light, red light does not act as a stimulant, and instead, helps you relax. Its low color temperature has a calming effect on the body, and it’s the best wavelength of light for getting a good night’s sleep. Using red light at night can help your body naturally transition into its sleep cycle.
- Reducing inflammation
Red light therapy alleviates chronic inflammation by increasing blood flow to the damaged tissues, and it has been found in numerous clinical trials to increase the body’s antioxidant defenses.
- Reducing oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. While our bodies’ cells regularly die and get replaced, prolonged damage by oxidative stress has been linked to a variety of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, inflammatory conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress also contributes to the aging process and can affect the skin’s collagen production and elasticity, causing wrinkles.
Red and NIR wavelengths of light promote ATP production, which boosts energy transport within cells, leading to increased cell proliferation. This boost in the body’s natural healing cycle helps reduce inflammation and promotes the healing of damaged tissue.
- Improving neurogenesis and synaptogenesis
Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain. Red light has been shown to stimulate the regrowth of neurons. In one study in 2016, researchers showed that near-infrared light therapy could be safe and effective for people suffering from acute and chronic traumatic brain injury, as well as neurodegenerative disorders.
Synaptogenesis, on the other hand, is the formation of synapses between these neurons. A 2017 study co-found that red light therapy stimulates synaptogenesis, which in turn, influences the brain’s neuroplasticity, or its natural ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.
It is important to note that red light therapy should not be used as a replacement for professional help and prescribed medication if needed. However, it does offer an alternative for dealing with burnout and anxiety that is safe and easy to use at home for optimal self-care.
Burnout may be a workplace issue primarily, but its consequences can significantly impact your personal and family life. If you have ever experienced burnout, you know how terrible and debilitating it can be.
It is important not to underestimate your ability to take action. Burnout isn’t something that happens to you by accident. You have the power to control the factors that contribute to your burnout as well as the power to make changes to improve your situation. Make your physical and mental health a priority, recognize your own part in burnout, and get help if you need it.
Sample Application: How to Use RLT for Anxiety
- Device to use
- Our Model 1 Pro is the ideal device to use, because of its size and coverage area. Shop the Model1 Pro and our other RLT devices here.
- 12 minutes is the optimal duration
- We recommend positioning the device 2 inches away from your face.
- For optimal results, we recommend 850nm (NIR light).