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"Burnout is a sign that something needs to change…but you may not want to or don’t know how to change it!"

Need to recognise burnout
One of the concerns with burnout is that it can go unnoticed for quite a while until it is too late. The burnout symptoms can increase gradually, amongst a great deal of denial, until it becomes very obvious and more difficult to resolve.  These signs and symptoms of burnout exist along a continuum. It begins as chronic stress but eventually, it can become burnout. Therefore, the earlier you can recognize the signs, the earlier you can begin to alleviate it. As they say, prevention is better than a cure.

The difference between burnout and chronic stress

Symptoms

Chronic stress

Burnout

Definition

Responding to demands

Pulling away from demands

Physical

Feeling tired, less energy

Emotional and physical exhaustion

 

Regular sleeping problems

Insomnia most nights

 

Headaches, take more sick leave

Often sick with flu, high blood pressure, breathing or digestive problems

Cognitive

Forgetful, preoccupied

Difficulties concentration and focusing, memory problems

 

Overthinking problems, worrying, over-planning

Avoiding, seeking distraction from problems

Psychological

Motivated

Losing motivation: dread doing anything

 

Challenged

Giving up, disengaged

 

Impatient

Irritable, intolerant

 

Sense of urgency, feeling rushed and pressured for time

Sense of helplessness

Emotional

Feeling restless, agitated

Feeling numb, empty

 

Mood swing, excited, emotional

Flat mood, no joy or  no satisfaction

 

Guilt

Shame

Attitudinal

Increasingly pessimistic

Cynical, nothing will work

 

Over-engagement

Disengagement

 

Dissatisfied

Bored, cynical

 

Being critical of self and others

 Blaming, disliking self and others

 

Feeling inadequate

Feeling worthless

 

Dread going to work

Hate going to work

Behavioural

unwind with alcohol or tobacco, TV or social media

Addicted to alcohol, tobacco, TV or social media

 

Reactivity and over-reactions

Blunted and distant emotions

Relationships

Go out less often or take a fewer lunch breaks

Avoid other people

 

Tension, frustration with co-workers              

Angry, resentful of co-workers

 

Conflict

Hostility

 

Being with friends and family is an effort

Avoid friends and family

 

Feeling burdened by responsibilities at home

Neglect responsibilities at home

 

Feel unsupported

Feel lonely

Spiritual

Role in line with values

Role not in line with values

Self-talk

Sense of some control:

“If only I’ll do more than it’ll become easier”

Losing sense of control: “There is nothing I can do, it’s useless, hopeless”

 

 

“I should do more, be more efficient”

“I am trapped, I am useless,  I have no options”

 


After reading this table, if you find that you are experiencing many signs of chronic stress or especially burnout, promise yourself to see things as they are, to avoid denying there is a problem or that you are doing fine… it is what it is.  You can start making changes to reduce your levels of stress. And if you are not sure whether the stress you’re experiencing is normal or chronic, makes an appointment to talk to a doctor who can help you to assess the situation more clearly. In times of great stress, we need to reach out to communicate to gain realistic perspectives and re-define success.

If you are feeling burnout in your workplace there may be also other co-workers who are suffering from similar symptoms. Maybe it is time to talk to your employer to discuss ways that the workplace can become more supportive to prevent loss in productivity and a high turn over. There are well-known effective workplace strategies to prevent burnout.

Preventing Burnout in the workplace
Preventing burnout in the workplace requires leadership. You can help your co-workers with the following strategies.
•    Look out for warning signs of burnout in others such as notice if they are often lacking focus, or appears feeling tired, over-worried or depressed, angry, resentful and have a pessimistic and helpless attitude.  
•    Set boundaries on workloads by coming together deciding what is realistic and unrealistic demands. For instance, setting a viable limit on working hours and deciding not to send emails after hours.
•    Increase sense of control by clarifying expectations, listen to one another views, appreciate and praise one another for the good efforts and achievements even small ones.
•    Help and support one another by avoiding the feeling of competition or rivalry, knowing that you will thrive better if you cooperate with one another. Ask for help when you need it.
•    Promote open communication because the difference of opinions will always arise so what is important is to negotiate and resolve conflict.
•    Focus on learning together for effective ways to do the work by sharing what you know or inviting an expert to discuss relevant topics.
•    Build a team spirit by encouraging courteous respectful behaviours and celebrating birthdays or other special personal events
•    Organise collective relaxation time, such as doing fitness  or mindfulness exercises together
•    Become self-aware of the impact that we have on others. We can realise that when we complain, criticise or blame we need to also bring to the table viable solutions otherwise we bring down the moral of the whole team. Its easier to work alongside someone who is a problem solver rather than someone who only focuses on the problems.

What we can do to alleviate Burnout at a personal level
Burning out doesn’t mean that you are weak, incapable or a failure. It means you are human and like all of us, we all have our limitation. It also may mean that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Learn what you can from the situation and search for a way to do this job or another job where you can have a sense of satisfaction and meaning while being able to maintain a work-life balance.
If you find that you are suffering from chronic stress and possibly burnout there is much you can to alleviate it at a personal level.
•    Prioritise self-care: eat well, sleep well, think well and exercise.  Relax more, setting aside each day time to practice mindfulness or meditate. Switch off especially from technology in the evening.  Take time to engage in an activity that is fun and replenishing.
•    Setting boundaries: see how you can avoid overextending yourself, stay within your line of expertise, delegate and at times learn to decline in polite ways.
•    Communicate in a positive and effective way for what you need, for what is important for you but also listening to others, respecting each other’s views.
•    Focus on the positive relationships you have at work to counter the negative one
•    Being realistic in your expectations of yourself and others, realising that we are all struggling, being impacted by stress and having similar needs of being supported, accepted and valued.
•    Asking for help when you need it and being open to helping others.
•    Re-evaluate goals, by talking with colleagues, family and friends or health professionals
•    Finding another job or rearranging the duties in your role to gain more control can be helpful.
•    Limiting self-criticisms and self-blame; being realistic in your expectations of yourself. Recognise your strengths, assess what is working and not working and focus on the positive while much as you can remedy or avoid what is not working for you by seeking additional training
•    Explore perspectives to buffer the negative impact of chronic stress.  
•    Seeing the good in ourselves and in others: The daily practice of gratitude always changes our brain for the better. See what went well today for you and for others, soak in the good.  Appreciating and savouring the good moments.
•    Being realistic: accept what you can’t change and change what you can
•    Practice mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion; focus on being present during the task, avoid multitasking or rushing through the day, listen to others, be curious, avoid being unduly judgemental of yourself or others.
•    Practice loving-kindness for yourself and others to promote inner goodwill. Throughout the day often have positive wishes for yourself and co-workers, in your mind repeating “may I be happy, may I have peace” and wishing similarly for your colleagues: “may you be happy, may you have peace”.
•    Seeking a health professional can also be an opportunity for gaining insight and strength. Talk to your doctor or a psychologist for an assessment

Conclusion
When we are in burnout mode we are in the mindset that the problems are insurmountable, and we are feeling trapped. Thinking this does not make it a fact. The feeling of being overwhelmed is a signal, it indicates that it is time to do something, to make changes starting with ourselves. If this seems impossible, it’s time to talk to friends, family, doctors or psychologist to explore different perspectives that would uncover solutions for you. Making a change may seem a fearful option, but if you keep on this road you are heading for a likely crash. Become curious, rather than reactive to begin to explore the options towards a healthier lifestyle with a good home-work balance.