Burnout syndrome*, once considered a 'manager's disease', affects people across all industries. A slow-creeping form of exhaustion accumulated over years of perfectionism, stress and overwhelm, burnout is not just reserved for the highest-ranking professionals. It can happen to anyone.
Health care workers are cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) as particularly prone to job burnout. Using an Iranian psychiatric hospital as an example, the WHO found that 96% of all mental health care workers experienced some level of burnout while a full half of the study respondents experienced a high-level of job burnout.
What is job burnout?
Herbert Freudenberger, a German-American clinical psychologist, is said to have coined the phrase "job burnout," defined as "a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward." (African Journal of Agricultural Research Vol. 5(17), pp. 2321-2325, 4 September, 2010) What was once high job motivation sinks to the depths of despair and apathy.
What causes burnout?
The causes can be varied, depending on a person's situation. Not only work-related stress, but also lifestyle issues can lead to a high rate of burnout. Working consistent long hours, having little familial or social support, sleeping and exercising less can hinder the rejuvenation process all human beings require to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Are some personalities more prone to burnout than others?
It is said that perfectionists and pessimists are more susceptible to burnout as it is in their very nature to push harder and harder to reach their goals. Workers that lack the necessary skills to complete their tasks, coupled with a lack of confidence, the inability to relax and so-called Type A personalities, are also at risk.
What are some of the signs?
The Mayo Clinic Web site suggests answering the following questions, quoted below:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
If you have answered yes to several of these questions, you may be on your way to burnout. The important thing is to seek medical advice from your doctor to determine whether the cause of your symptoms are burnout-related or have some other origin such as a malfunctioning thyroid or clinical depression.
How can you prevent burnout?
If you answered 'no' to most of the above questions, but are still concerned that it could happen to you, consider the following strategies:
1. Just say 'no'. Setting boundaries early with others should not be considered walls, but paths to your sanity.
2. Slow down on purpose. Set your own speed limit. Walk slower than normal. Breathe.
3. Recognize your inner perfectionist. If you give 115% every day, you will use up more of yourself than you have. Allow for 80% every once in a while. Use the other 20% you saved for self-renewal.
4. Exercise. According to the German Society of Neurology, even fifteen minutes of movement every day can extend your lifespan by three years.
5. Note your stress points. If you start to feel that cortisol (the stress hormone) tingle move up your spine, identify the situation and write it down for later analysis. The more self-aware you become in stress situations, the more control you can get over them.
6. Make a date with yourself every day. Close the door to your office and just be. Pacing yourself will ensure sustained energy throughout the entire day.
What other strategies have you found useful to embrace the power of slow?
*This post should not be considered medical advice so if you are considered about your mental health, please seek medical consultation immediately.