Living in a world where technology is a huge part of our day to day lives, it can be easy for the boundaries between work life and personal life to be increasingly blurred. Over the years, burnout has become more prevalent and is a common presenting issue in the counselling & psychotherapy world.
Defined as emotional and physical exhaustion due to excessive stress, burnout is associated with feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, with an accompanying decreased sense of accomplishment. While there are misconceptions in relation to which individuals are most prone to experiencing burnout, it is important to recognize that burnout can happen to anyone.
According to recent studies, it was found that more than half of full-time workers in Ireland are experiencing burnout. Some of the contributing factors leading to burnout include overworking, lack of career growth, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, work-life imbalance, monotony, lack of results, etc.
If you find yourself feeling exhausted, empty, lacking motivation or perhaps feeling that nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated, this blog may be helpful to you.
In order to understand how we can prevent burnout, it is important to become familiar with the 12-Stage Model of Burnout developed by psychologists Herbert Freudenbergerand & Gail North outlined below:
1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: People with the compulsion to prove themselves often experience excessive ambition with the lack of boundary setting.
2. Working Harder: This links with the inability to stop working or switch off, such as working longer hours or answering emails during the weekend.
3. Neglecting Needs: Neglecting self-care, exercise, getting enough sleep, etc.
4. Displacement of Conflicts: Avoiding and dismissing problems, the individual may feel panicky.
5. Revision of Values: Values are altered to accommodate work ambitions. Family, friends and hobbies are deemed as irrelevant as work is the only focus.
6. Denial of Emerging Problems: A person may become intolerant and aggressive in their denial of emerging problems. Their problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
7. Withdrawal: Withdrawing from social interactions has caused social life to be small or non-existent.
8. Behavioural Changes: Obvious changes in behaviour leaves family and friends concerned.
9. Depersonalisation: Loss of contact with self and own needs – seeing neither self nor others as valuable.
10. Inner Emptiness: Using activities such as overeating, sex, alcohol or drugs to overcome feeling empty inside.
11. Depression: Increased feeling that life is meaningless and increased overall lack of interest.
12. Burnout: Complete mental and physical exhaustion.
Burnout can manifest itself in physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms. It is a gradual process and can be difficult to identify in the early stages. It is important to recognize the symptoms of burnout and become mindful of preventing it.
So what are a few tips to help beat burnout?
1) Social supports: Reaching out to those closest to you and engaging in more meaningful activities can help direct your attention and alleviate stress.
2) Re-evaluate priorities: Take some time to think about your goals, hopes and dreams. Are you neglecting something truly important to you? Nourishing your creative side, practising self-care and mindfulness and taking time for relaxation can give you a space to self-reflect on what truly makes you happy.
3) Setting Boundaries: While setting boundaries can be a difficult thing to do, it is a vital act of self-care. Boundaries can help you understand your limits and protect/support your wellbeing, therefore enabling you to give your best. Whether that’s switching your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode after work hours, or simply saying ‘no’ to certain requests.
4) Cognitive Restructuring: Studies have shown CBT is most effective in treating burnout. Thoughts and emotions contribute to stress-related issues. By becoming aware of negative thinking patterns which may lead to burnout, it is important to challenge replacing them with realistic thoughts and beliefs. Similarly, identifying the root cause of burnout, such as the desire to prove oneself or perfectionism which I have written in greater detail in my previous blog ‘When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough’, it can be helpful to prevent and overcome burnout.
Living in a fast paced world can make it difficult to take time to unplug. By normalising putting a pause on the fast pace and tending to your wellbeing, you can build up burnout resilience and mind your mental health in the process. If you recognise any burnout symptoms, it is important to take some time out to rest and recover.
While there might be an urge to keep fighting the tide of work and stressful events, it is okay to admit that you are not a machine. Being human means to check in with yourself and slow down the pace of your busy life to take time to refill your cup.
‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’