‘Even though burnout is one of the most widely discussed mental health problems in today’s society, it is still disputed and not officially recognized as a mental disorder in most countries.’ (Heinemann and Heinemann: 2017)
Stress Can Be Positive
While stress can have a positive impact on our lives and can be extremely motivating when channelled positively, for example, to meet deadlines, speak in public, and push ourselves outside of our comfort zone; it can also have an extremely negative impact, resulting in a sense of overwhelm, causing our mental and often our physical health to deteriorate.
Stuck and Vulnerable?
During your lifetime, especially at this incredibly difficult time of COVID-19, you may have encountered periods of extreme stress, possibly resulting in a lack of energy, motivation and enthusiasm. During these times of stress, you may also feel stuck, flat, empty, de-motivated, and increasingly vulnerable. You may find it difficult to function and to go about your everyday business. These feelings might be predominant at work—even when you are working from home—and might also affect your personal life and your relationships. If these symptoms persist, and you don’t feel like you are able to get them under control, then you might be suffering from burnout. #burnout #stress
Stress can Result in Burnout
Burnout is a type of mental, and often emotional and physical, exhaustion caused by a build-up of stress, resulting from a number of external factors, such as a demanding job, complicated relationships, life changes, and a global pandemic; and a number of internal factors, such as, irrational and pessimistic thoughts about yourself and the world. Burnout, like COVID-19, is undiscriminating. Anyone can experience it at any time of their lives.
Origins of Term
The term ‘burnout’ was coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in his article, ‘Staff burn-out’ (1974) in which he described the state as, ‘becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources in the workplace’. Freudenberger said that it was most likely ‘…the dedicated and the committed…’ who experienced burnout. After all these years of burnout being the subject of many academic studies, according to Heinemann and Heinemann, ‘…it is still not completely accepted as a mental disorder in its own right in the academic field, especially in clinical psychology and psychiatry, and scientists have repeatedly asked whether burnout is a useful diagnosis or just “psychobabble”’ (2017). Nevertheless, it is clearly an ongoing cause for concern in the mental health arena.
You are probably showing signs of burnout if you are feeling inexplicably helpless, hopeless, alone, and exhausted more often than not. If you find yourself questioning your life’s purpose and are experiencing physical symptoms, such as, tiredness accompanied by difficulty sleeping, frequent colds and sickness, feeling run down, headaches, and achiness, you might need to start listening to these burnout warning signs.
An even more telling sign of burnout in the workplace is if you have stopped caring about your job, especially if it’s high pressure and your senior managers expect you to be available at anti-social times of the day to attend meetings or respond to emails. This might be magnified while you are working from home. Your relationships might also be suffering, and you might have stopped caring about what people think of you. Increasingly, if you can’t see a way forward and are feeling detached, unhappy, and isolated, then chances are that stress has become burnout and you will need to start to listen to your body and to take action.
Seven Ways to Combat Burnout
The great news is that, if you catch yourself feeling this way, then there are many things you can do to turn this feeling around and achieve positive outcomes. Here are 7 tips to help you tackle burnout.
- The first hurdle to combating burnout is recognizing that it is burnout that is making you feel this way. Once you acknowledge that you are burnt out, it is time to do something about it.
- Share how you are feeling with your support network of friends and family. They are there for you and always have been, proving that you don’t have to deal with these challenges alone.
- Tell your line manager how you have been feeling and seek out sympathetic co-workers who can provide amazing support. They are in a unique position to understand what you are going through. They might even be feeling the same way.
- Take some time out from your job to gain perspective.
- Surround yourself with positivity as much as possible. This is difficult right now, but try to avoid contact with people who have a negative impact on you. (Think about that great expression [I wish I could find who said it first!], ‘Gravitate towards radiators and away from drains’.)
- Share what you have been going through with likeminded people at (virtual) meetups and community groups. Sharing your story helps you and others.
- Seek a supportive counsellor, therapist or coach to work with to provide a non-judgemental space for you to discuss your symptoms, build resilience and find more balance in your life.
Pivoting Towards Good Health
Once you are on a trajectory of improving your mental health, you can make use of some of these quick-win techniques to build your resilience further. These quick wins might include:
- Limiting your exposure to email and social media.
- Taking more frequent breaks throughout the day.
- Thinking about saying ‘No’ more often. Presenteeism is never rewarded.
- Creating stricter boundaries, especially in the workplace, around what you are prepared to tolerate in the workplace and outside of it.
- Introducing a routine of daily exercise into your day. Physical exercise is a great distraction from worrying thoughts churning through your mind.
- Introducing some methods of relaxation, such as mindfulness and yoga, to nourish your soul.
- Engaging in some creative activities to feed your creative side.
- Making sure you don’t forget to have some fun and laughter in your life.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet to lift your energy levels and improve wellbeing. We are what we eat!
Think About A Career Change
Once your burnout starts to dissipate and you gain a wider perspective on what you have been experiencing, it might be time to think about whether you still enjoy the work you do. Take stock of where you are professionally and think about whether your current role is satisfying and meaningful enough to continue without changing anything. Think about the positive aspects of your role as well as the negative ones, and maybe draw up a list of pros and cons of staying versus leaving your job. If the cons outweigh the pros, then it might be time to change careers.
The opposite of burnout is engagement! When you are feeling well, take time to reflect on your values and whether you are honouring them in your personal and professional life. Contemplate your life goals and think about whether they are being satisfied. If you are no longer aligned with your values, and your life goals aren’t being fulfilled, then now is the time to engage and think about what you need to do to get on track. If that thing is changing careers, then a career coach or counsellor can work with you to help you find a new career path that brings you professional joy.
Despite burnout not being recognized as a clinical mental health disorder, these days it is taken very seriously by mental health practitioners, especially if there are underlying causes related to chronic stress. If you find that none of these tips and suggestions are working for you, then you might be experiencing a depression. In this case, it is time to seek help from a mental health professional who can work with you to help you find appropriate strategies to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
Author: Alisa Salamon, Life Coach at InsideOut
- Linda V. Heinemann and Torsten Heinemann (January-March 2017: 1–12), ‘Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis’, Sage Open Access.
- Freudenberger, H. J. (1974) ‘Staff burn-out’, Journal of Social Issues, 30, 159-165.