Stop me if this sounds like you: a feeling of dread creeps in each time you make your way to work. You have been avoiding and resenting coworkers for some time now. You experience headaches, fatigue and a growing sense of apathy about your daily tasks on the job. You become irritated at office occurrences that previously seemed manageable.

You, my friend, are experiencing burnout. Just like a tired, overworked lightbulb flickering to stay on, your system “just can’t even” anymore. It happens to the best of us and doesn’t necessarily mean that we are bad workers. In fact, new research suggests burnout may originate from a fundamental mismatch between our unconscious needs and our jobs’ daily demands.

A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology evaluated responses from 97 participants on what motivates them at their job. Some people are drawn to “power motives,” or negotiation, being responsible for others and maintaining discipline. Others are compelled by “affiliation motives,” such as seeking trust and belonging from forging positive relationships with others. If either group does not have those unconscious needs met in their work life, burnout can be a natural consequence.

The first group tends to experience more of the physical sensations associated with burnout, such as headache, shortness of breath and even chest pain. The second group tends to feel the strong emotional effects—which we know can be just as painful. Either way, co-author of the study and University of Leipzig senior researcher Beate Schulz states that “burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation.”

The mechanism that is likely behind many forms of burnout is a physiological one. Heightened states of arousal are essential to our survival when faced with threats, but they are never meant to be a constant way of living. Clinical psychologist Vincent Passarelli told The Huffington Post how the factors behind burnout could very well lead to long-term physical health risks if these heightened states do not return to normal. “Whether it is being on call to respond to after-hour emails or finding a way to suppress your thoughts and feelings at a job where there is a notable mismatch, constant states of arousal are required to maintain both.”

So, how can you tell if you are on your way to burnout? Certain fields, like healthcare or any type of helping profession, often carry a higher risk, as well as being a caregiveroutside of your career. If you have been noticing grumblings of job dissatisfaction, ask yourself:

  • Am I avoiding coworkers, clients or even friends and family more often?
  • Do I feel less enthusiastic, or even apathetic or resentful, about my job duties or mission?
  • Do I feel tired and unmotivated more often at work?
  • Am I plagued by headaches or other physical symptoms without a known cause?
  • Do I fantasize about leaving and doing a job completely different than what I’m doing now?

If you do feel like burnout is creeping in, look out for more signs and try out some of thesetechniques to help get back on track. And, if your job isn’t meeting your needs, perhaps it’s time to think outside the box and pursue something that will invite more happiness into your life.


Back to Top