The ABCS of Burnout | Center for Growth Therapy

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The ABCS of Burnout

Margaret Fromuth

MFT — Therapist, Website Manager

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Burnout can affect anyone at any time. It can happen as a result of pressures at a job, increase stress at home, fatigue for caregivers, and many other areas of a person’s life. It’s hard to sometimes identify burnout as it affects people in different ways.You may experience burnout through feelings of anger or depression. You may feel physically exhausted or keyed up. You may hyperfocus or find yourself procrastinating more often. Therefore, identifying how burnout uniquely affects YOU helps facilitate the process of soothing or preventing burnout from occurring in your life. It becomes harder and harder to get out of a state of burnout once you’re already deeply in it, so it’s important to identify and intervene on burnout as soon as possible. With the exercise below, you will be able to identify your burnout while it’s happening and work towards identifying when burnout symptoms begin in the future.

This exercise uses the “ABCS” of burnout symptoms in order to organize and categorize ways of identifying your individual relationship with burnout. ABCS is an acronym for Affect (feelings), Behavior, Cognition (thoughts), and Somatic (sensation). Affect, behavior, cognition, and somatic sensation all have interactive effects on each other. For example, someone’s thoughts may affect how they behave in a particular situation. To dive in further, here are more specific definitions and examples of each category:

  • Affect- is the collective term for experiences of feelings, moods, and emotions.
    Ex. I feel angry.
  • Behavior- is how one reacts externally to their environment.
    Ex. pacing back and forth.
  • Cognition- is the process of gaining knowledge and comprehension. Cognitive processes include problem-solving, thinking, and understanding the world around us.
    Ex. I think that I won’t ever get anything done.
  • Somatic/Sensory- is the relation between the body and the environment around it.
    Ex. My skin crawls and my palms get sweaty.

For this tip you will need a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Divide the paper into four sections. You can do this by drawing a line from the center top to the bottom and the center left to the right. Then title each of the sections with four categories: affect, behavior, cognition, and somatic. Under each section, try to answer the following questions:

  • Affect (emotions)- how do my emotions change when I’m burned out?
    Ex. I get angry at small things much faster or I feel a lot of anxiety about getting things done on time.
  • Behavior- what do I do differently when I’m burned out?
    Ex. I tend to pick at my fingernails or I stay up later to get my tasks done.
  • Cognition (thinking)- how do my thoughts change when I’m burned out?
    Ex. I think that I’m not doing enough or I think about how I’m never going to get anything done.
  • Somatic (sensory)- How does my body feel when I’m burned out?
    Ex. My body is a lot more tired/achy or I get headaches.

Try and identify at least two symptoms in each category. The more information you can decipher, the better you’ll be able to identify when you’re starting to feel burned out. This is a living document so as you find yourself in a place of being burned out reflect on these questions again, adding more symptoms. Additionally, symptoms of burnout can change over time, making it important to check in and edit on this document to see if the symptoms are still relevant.

Once you have begun to identify your symptoms, you can then use this as a tool to check in with yourself to prevent future burnout. You can hang it next to your workplace as a reminder or you could write these symptoms in your journal and look at it from time to time. The important factor in identifying these symptoms is to create an easy checklist for you to come back to.

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