Burnout: In the Beginning…
It was a dark and stormy night.
(Classic story beginning…)
No burnout here, you say. But wait! Are you…
- tossing and turning in your bed, unable to find a peaceful and restful sleep?
- having difficulties dragging yourself out of bed in the morning to go to work?
- feeling less engaged in life or less productive at work?
- more irritable with everybody?
- less interested in everything?
- less focused?
- more tired, mentally and physically?
- not motivated?
Having most, if not all, of these symptoms may mean that you are experiencing burnout.
Working to Live or Living to Work?
Already a major problem in many countries before the pandemic, notably in the US, the COVID-19 pandemic has made burnout even a more serious issue as the virus has caused many disruptions in the economy and the workplaces.
Normally the work week is supposed to be 40 hours but like the speed limit which is oftentimes considered to be the minimum speed for some of us, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they regularly clock more than 40 hours a week. According to statistics, the average work week in America is 44 hours but we know that in some sectors of the economy people can work 50 or 60 hours per week and even more.
It is undeniable that work is a cardinal value in America. We are proud to add hours of work after hours of work to our days. We are proud of “getting things done”. The rest of the Western world is trying to shorten the work week.1 Yet, we seem to have no problem working long hours and doing overtime. Here in America, we don’t just work. We work “hard”. It will not be any other way. We call this work ethic. But is it healthy? Is it sustainable? And do we work to live or live to work?
Burnout: A Definition
According to the WHO (World Health Organization): burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been well managed. It has three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity related to one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy.2
Notice that, according to the WHO, burnout is not a medical condition. It’s considered an occupational phenomenon. In other words, it means that it is directly linked to the occupation or activity. It is also linked to work and the ways and conditions under which these activities are performed.
Causes of Burnout
More often than not, burnout is linked to work or, more precisely, the working conditions. People are asked to be more performing, more efficient, faster, and to do more with less. In addition to this (as if it was not enough already!) the frontier between work time and private time has become blurrier and blurrier. How many times have we brought some work home? How about checking our professional email while being on vacation? Speaking of vacations, you would think that all this work would bring downtime to unwind? Right? Think again!
America is the only advanced nation that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation or holiday. 3,4,5 Even worse, when they have vacations, a lot of Americans don’t use them entirely.6,7,8 Incredible, right? According to the Mayo Clinic, other factors contributing to burnout may be:
- Lack of control: An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.
- Unclear job expectations: If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics: Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues, or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.
- Extremes of activity: When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
- Lack of social support: If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
- Work-life imbalance: If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.8
Effects of Burnout
A well-known health principle states that all things should be done with moderation. The consequences of working long hours regularly in a demanding and stressful work environment can be very serious. According to the Mayo Clinic burnout may lead to:
- Excessive stress
- Sadness, anger or irritability
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vulnerability to illnesses
Also, burnout can lead to depression and even suicide. These are not trivial matters!!!
What Should You Do?
Acknowledge the situation/reality check:
- Are you seeing the aforementioned symptoms in your life? If yes, don’t hide your head in the sand and acknowledge that you may be burned out (and no, burnout is not a sign of weakness!)
- You are NOT Superman (or Superwoman).
Get your priorities straight:
- Your company is not your friend (generally). Its purpose is to make money and generate profits. You can be sure that they are not putting your interests first.
- You are replaceable for your company, but not for your family.
- There is a time for everything. There is a time for work but there is also a time for your family and yourself.
- Remember: we work to live, not live to work.
Take charge of your health:
- Remember that you are responsible for your health and no one else.
- Set boundaries to take back some control in your life. There is work and also there is your personal life. Keep them separated and protect your personal life at all costs.
- Learn to say No. You are not Superman (or Superwoman) but you do have a superpower: the power to say No. Use it! If you feel that your life is becoming more and more out of control because of the working conditions, speak to your manager. If your company is not receptive then it may be a sign that it is time to change jobs. Of course, it is easier said than done (unfortunately) but it is better to leave a job that is not fulfilling and is detrimental to your health than stay and become depressed or worse.
- Rest: Contrary to what some people may think, rest is not a dirty word. In fact, it is essential in order to have a balanced life. Give yourself a full day of rest every week to allow yourself to recharge your batteries and have a good time with your family. And, of course, don’t check your email during that day.
- A walk with God: Studies have shown that people with a strong belief in God experienced less depression and also responded better to treatments.
Natural ways to resist burnout:
- Walking and exercising will work wonders on your physical and mental health.
- Massage therapy.
- Essential oils and aromatherapy.
- A good diet: “A healthy mind in a healthy body” the proverb says. We are what we eat. Regular and balanced meals are essential to recover from burn-out.
- Good sleeping habits: Try to go to bed at a regular time and avoid going to bed too late.
- Listen to good music: Music therapy is a good way for improving mental health and balance.
- Talk, talk, talk: Don’t keep everything to yourself. Find someone you can talk to. If necessary, again, find a therapist. Besides this, there are practical ways to improve the quality of your daily life and resist burnout.
- Professional help: If you feel depressed and/or have suicidal thoughts it is important to seek mental health professional assistance.10
- The Internet puts lots of information at our fingertips. Don’t hesitate to investigate and look for solutions that are appropriate for you and your situation.
Do not disregard the seriousness of burnout as the consequences can be dramatic. It is not a sign of weakness as it is directly linked to your working conditions. And burnout is a concern for millions of people across the country.11 Fortunately, there are ways to deal with it and have your life back. But whatever you do, don’t forget that health, either physical or mental, is one of our most important assets. So, protect it and cherish it… Always!
To your health!
Oklahoma Academy Country Store
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Phone number: 1-800-273-8255 or dial: 988