Burnout: Tips You Need to Know
When Penny woke up one morning she knew something was seriously wrong. She felt paralysed, exhausted and utterly disillusioned. Penny is suffering from a common condition called burnout - a syndrome of emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion that often leads to detachment and reduced productivity. Sufferers describe the onset of burnout as sudden, but in reality it develops gradually, even over a period of several years.
Burnout is typically caused by work or personal contexts in which a person is exposed to prolonged and unrelenting stress. Stress often precedes burnout, but these two states are not synonymous. Stress refers to a state of hyperactivity necessitated by too many demands made on a person, whereas burnout is characterised by lack of energy and motivation.
Anyone may be susceptible to burnout in the right conditions, but there are risk factors that place certain individuals in a high-risk bracket. One major risk factor is having a job that requires you to work with people everyday. The high demands placed on care-givers, counsellors, medical workers, teachers and ministry workers leave them vulnerable to burnout.
Another key risk factor that increases vulnerability is being perfectionistic. Perfectionists either strive to do a large quantity of activities very well or zero in on completing one task exceptionally well.
People with the perfectionist personality trait expect a great deal from themselves and others which make them prime candidates for burnout because these expectations are inevitably not met. The result of repeated disappointments of this kind is feelings of being a failure and a cynical outlook on life. It is important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of burnout to prevent the development of full-blown burnout.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of this condition are diverse and fall into four main categories: emotional, physical, behavioural and spiritual. Ten common signs are:
- Feeling tired but unable to sleep
- Struggling with aches and pains, including headaches, back and neck pain
- Being sick more often with colds and flu
- Profound sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling disconnected from people/God
- Loss of motivation and negative outlook
- Feeling trapped and alone in the world
- Withdrawing from responsibilities and people
- Procrastinating and taking out frustration on others
- Questioning whether God has a purpose for your life.
A burnout sufferer might also develop depression as part of the burnout syndrome, but usually the depression is linked to the cause of the burnout, and the depression is therefore not a general depression. However if burnout is left untreated, the depression may escalate into major depression and chemical imbalances may play a role.
Recognise signs and take action
It is always preferable to prevent burnout from developing because recovering from it may take several years and moreover in many cases burnout sufferers do not fully recover their prior levels of energy and motivation. Familiarity with the warning signs of burnout enables you to recognise them early on and take immediate action to reverse the onset of burnout. An important part of the reversal will be to learn effective time and stress management skills and to seek the support of those closest to you. You should focus on building your resilience to stress and actively cultivating a balanced lifestyle by exercising, eating well, participating in creative activities and spending quality time with friends, family and God.
If you are already in a fully burnt out state, like Penny, you need to seek professional help in overcoming this condition. People who suffer from burnout are usually self-sufficient achievers who find it challenging to admit that they need help because they associate their need with weakness. Suffering from burnout is not a sign of weakness but instead that you need to slow down and re-establish balance in your life, one day at a time.
Strategies to beat burnout:
- Scale down on activities and work commitments because you need time to heal
- Seek professional care and enlist the support of close friends and family. This strategy is essential because burnout sufferers tend to slow the healing process by isolating themselves
- Reconsider goals and priorities. The presence of burnout signals that something in your life is not as it should be and is an opportunity to re-evaluate your life plan.
Let us implement these strategies and take up Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”