Stress was defined by Hans Selye in the 1950's as the "wear and tear on the body by anything - either positive or negative."  When Dr. Selye studied stress there was not a lot of research documenting the health problems related to stress.  We now know that stress and the changes in the body caused by chronic stress, in particular, are related to risk for colitis, high blood pressure, ulcers and a long list of other health problems.  The stress response described by Selye includes the release of adrenaline in acute stress and the overproduction of cortisol during periods of chronic stress.  

Burnout is related to stress but somewhat different.  Christina Maslock defined the stages of burnout as including: 1) emotional exhaustion and physical depletion; 2) depersonalization or loss of empathy / compassion fatigue and 3) decrease in the ability to function.  Joan Borysenko, PhD in her book, Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive describes burnout as a loss of spark, creativity and passion.  When we burnout, we can become aggressive, angry, tired and cynical.  Burnout can look a lot like depression but cannot be cured with medication.  

Burnout can have its roots in childhood.  Studies show that children who were bullied, who experienced abuse or neglect, had a parent in prison, lived in a home where there was mental illness, violence, substance abuse or the loss of a parent through any cause were more prone to develop diseases such as emphysema, mental health problems, substance abuse and obesity.   These childhood experiences can predispose to burnout and the associated health and psychological problems in adolescence and adulthood.

Burnout is caused by job stress, electronic and information overload, the uncertainty we experience in our personal lives and in our economy, difficulties with children and any of life's stressors.  Once you burnout though you lose perspective on what matters most to you.  This affects your ability to think clearly about any of your problems and affects overall quality of life.

I have experienced burnout on more than one occasion which is not surprising.  Individuals in the helping professions are at high risk for burnout as they spend most of their time overworking to help others.  Often they are working in a field they are passionate about and are driven by their ideals but can lose sight of other aspects of their life.

You'll know you are burned out if:

  1. things you usually enjoy feel like obligations; you've lost your passion
  2. you feel overwhelmed on a regular basis
  3. you are physically tired and sleep doesn't seem to restore you
  4. you no longer have the ability to empathize with your children, co-workers or spouse
  5. you have difficulty working at the level you are used to

If you find yourself in burnout the first thing to do is STOP and REFLECT.  Spend some time away from the stressful situations in your life.  Take some time out to reflect and restore yourself.  Often being in nature helps. Assess who and what in your life is draining your energy.  You may have friends who are a constant energy drain.  Perhaps it's time to let them go or let go of activities / volunteer or charity work that is draining you.  Learn to JUST SAY NO.  Women especially have a hard time doing this because we've been socialized to please others.  Connect with your authentic self through your spirituality or through nature.  You may need to address patterns or experiences from childhood that make you more prone to burnout.

Dr. Borysenko says:

"Revival from burnout is always about the recovery of lost authenticity.  It's waking up to who we really are and realizing that heaven is not a destination, but a state of mind.  If being fried can bring us to the point where we reconnect to our own true nature, then it's worth every moment of separation to rediscover that heaven that has been inside of us all along."

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