Burnout – Professional Exhaustion Syndrome


Burnout – Professional Exhaustion Syndrome

What is burnout?

The central symptom of burnout is total exhaustion. It is the result from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Unchecked excessive and prolonged stress can lead to a state of emotional, physical and mental fatigue that is called ‘’burnout’’.  It is a gradual process that creeps up on you very slowly. The symptoms may be subtle at first. It is like little red flags that pop up along the way. If you are aware of what they are and you pay attention to it, you can avoid burnout, if you don’t – it gets worse and you suffer burnout. It is a sign that something needs to change.

Burnout has mainly three components:

  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Loss of confidence

The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases and it is now officially  a recognized mental health concern. Signs of burnout can include insomnia, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, apathy, irritability, anxiety and getting sick more often.

What is the difference between burnout and stress?

Stress is a strong contributor to burnout. High volumes of stress over a long period of time can lead to exhaustion, cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death.

Characterized by over-engagement
Emotions are over-reactive
Produces urgency and hyperactivity
Loss of energy
Leads to anxiety disorders
Primary damage is physical
May kill you prematurely

Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are blunted
Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is emotional
May make life seem not worth living

Source: Stress and Burnout in ministry

What are the causes of burnout?

”Work – Lifestyle – Personality traits”

Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued can get burnout – from moms with babies, workers who neglect to take leave and people in old age. It is not only caused by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Your lifestyle and personality traits can also lead you to develop burnout.

Helpguide.org classify causes of burnout as follows:

Work-related causes of burnout

  • Unmanageable workload. Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
  • Lack of communication and support from a manager.
  • Lack of recognition or reward for good work
  • Lack of role clarity. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations
  • Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging
  • Unreasonable time pressure. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.
  • Unfair treatment.

Lifestyle causes of burnout

  • Working too much, without enough time for socializing or relaxing
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
  • Not getting enough sleep

Personality traits can contribute to burnout

  • Perfectionist tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  • The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
  • High-achieving, Type A personality

How do you prevent and recover from burnout?

You need to know:

  • Burnout doesn’t go away on its own
  • Burnout gets worse unless you address the underlying issues causing it
  • Recovery from burnout is a slow journey

What to  do?

Identify why you’ve experienced burnout.

Something need to change if you suffer from burnout. What is it?

Re-evaluate your priorities. Rethink your hopes, goals, and dreams.  What makes you happy? How can you slow down and reintroduce things that you enjoy and that relaxes you back into your life?

Practice self care

To practice self-care doesn’t mean to treat yourself to a coffee break or pedicure once in a while. It means to leave work daily at a reasonable hour to enjoy time with your family.  Give yourself permission to take time off. Plan vacations or weekends away 3-6 months ahead to get away from work. If you take a break, turn your phone off. Learn to say no. It is necessary to set healthy boundaries between work and your personal life.

Self-care also includes to make sure you get enough sleep, exercise at least 3 times per week and eat a healthy diet. Limit your intake of refined foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Avoid nicotine.

Practice a hobby – something that has nothing to do with work. To be creative is inspiring and is a powerful antidote to burnout. It can change a mundane day into something you look forward to.

Reach out to people around you

It is important to share with people in your life how you are doing. You might feel not to burden them with your problems, but sharing how one feels create a deeper bond between people. Make time to engage socially with work colleagues too.

If you take a break at work, don’t revert to your smartphone, which only isolates you more. It is healthier if you engage with the people around you and build friendships. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.

Limit your time with negative people.

Falling into a negative frame of mind is easy. Practice positive thinking. Joining a good cause is a good way to get involved with something that inspires you outside of work.

Find new friends.

If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.

Find a new way to look at your work

If you hate your job, consider quitting and finding a new one that you like is the obvious solution. But in South Africa with its high unemployment rate it is not feasible to just leave a job you don’t like anymore. Most of us just have to work to pay the bills.

Try to find some value in your work.

For example focus on how your role helps others, for example, or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.

If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work.

Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery. During this time – do not be tempted to answer work related calls. Time out means time out. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.

Source: Helpguide.org

Note: The the easiest way to deal with burnout is to rest. If burnout has left you completely unable to function, you could be eligible for medical leave.

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