Burnout can strike anyone with practically no warning. For decades, burnout wasn’t even regarded as a real disease or condition. It was nothing more than an office buzzword. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has given it its own medical classification. It now finds its own entry in the International Classification of Diseases, the official handbook used by medical providers for the purpose of diagnosing diseases.
Today, burnout is recognized as a medical condition which can strike anyone with practically no warning. Waiters, teachers, bus drivers and nurses, burnout can strike us all leaving the body feeling completely powerless and low energy.
According to a study carried out in 2018, 40 percent of 2,000 employees questioned said they were considering quitting their jobs because of burnout. Additionally, a similar study found that around 60 percent of work absenteeism was as a result of stress induced burnout.
Who is at Risk for Burnout?
According to many reports, burnout strikes perfectionist types more than other personality types. It seems to strike particularly idealistic people who also have strong sympathetic natures and those who work in professions focused on helping others such as doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers.
Feeling increasingly hassled without an accompanying support system seems to add a significant risk. A study involving a group of nurses revealed several factors leading to burnout:
• Working long hours
• Irregular lifestyle
• The burden of carrying a huge responsibility for patients
• Having to keep up to speed with ever changing medical equipment
• Lack of resources and support
Interestingly, studies found that, while there is a high percentage of nurses who succumb to burnout, obstetricians aren’t so equally prone. Although the latter also work long hours and encounter stress at work, it seems the appreciation they receive as a result of helping bring a new life into the world offsets the negative effects of the stress. Hence, it isn’t just stress per se that may trigger an episode of burnout, but rather stress combined with feelings of lack of appreciation and support that may leave one vulnerable.
What are the Symptoms of Burnout?
Signs of burnout may include persistent feeling of worry about going to work, along with chronic stress, fatigue and sleep problems. Someone experiencing burnout may find it practically impossible to leave the house or even the bedroom growing more and more cynical and perhaps even distant with friends and colleagues, while worrying unreasonably about work when physically away from work. They may find themselves irritated by minor things that usually wouldn’t even get a reaction.
Additionally, the far-reaching consequences can negatively impact other areas of life. In an effort to cope and reach out for some relief, someone might even become increasingly at risk for substance abuse creating a spiral of self-destruction.
Getting Priorities Right: A Path to Recovery
What is most important to you?
Is it the work you do or is it the relationship with your loved ones?
Avoid letting others make you feel that your priorities have to be the same as theirs. Not everyone is obligated to feel 150 percent devoted to their career. There are other paths to follow that are equally if not more rewarding. On the matter of getting your priorities in order, you were most likely exposed to an idea that income and possessions are keys to success from a very young age simply by the virtue of living in a consumer driven society. These messages are powerful and reinforced daily. Moreover, many people seemingly allow themselves to believe these messages with few questions asked.
However, many studies have found happiness and success are less likely to be associated with income and possessions than is commonly taught and believed by this highly materialistic culture. It is quite the contrary in fact. Many possessions may contribute to well-being. However, well-being levels don’t rise exponentially with an increase in wealth and possessions, but tend to level off regardless of what we come to have once we get over the threshold of simply having enough.
How to Say NO Respectfully?
Learning to say no doesn’t mean you should never go that extra mile. But, when you have a consistent tendency to never say no and find yourself going the extra hundred miles, you could be storing up a large amount of stress just waiting to burn you out at some point. If saying no involves speaking with your manager, you can do so respectfully and assure him or her that this doesn’t diminish your commitment, but that you feel you are at risk. You may need to rehearse and think deeply about how you can express what you want to say to make the most impact rather than leave it to a chance.
Of course, you must be realistic about what to expect from your employer. You can’t expect the same remuneration from your employer if you work less, but you must take control and determine how much less you can live on. No one can decide for you that your health, well-being and sanity are more important than your income. It is up to you.
Separate Yourself from Your Job
Move away from the deeply ingrained notion that your job is who you really are. If in your mind you have convinced yourself that you are identified with your job, you will struggle to put your work into perspective.
The notion that we are what we do is extremely deep-seated in certain cultures and in many parts of the world. It manifests itself in the language we use when we say: “I’m a nurse”, or when we innocently ask: “What do you do?”, giving an indication that your job is what you do and nothing else. Whereas, in reality, we do many, many things. We are and can infinitely be more than what we happen to do for a living.
So, don’t limit your perception of who you are by what you do. Don’t frame your identity around the way you make money for a living. Having an awareness that you are more than your job makes it easier to control your work, rather than letting it to control you.
Share Your Feelings
If you feel you may be at risk for burnout, talk to someone who can help. Take time to think about your priorities and how to reduce the hours you work. Be prepared to make changes. If necessary, find another job. Based on the most recent research findings, burnout is well-known as a condition. However, more support and counseling are needed for those feeling the energy sapping effects of what has, up until recently, been a largely invisible disease.