Last month I looked at how our work can make us ill, but I then realised that if stress isn’t dealt with properly it can lead to burnout – which is something very different to stress.
Burnout is often the outcome of stress and the pressure from your job. This could caused managerial changes, new staff or an overload of work.
Burnout is also a serious psychological issue leading to exhaustion, which can be physical, emotional or mental, or a combination. Burnout has three distinct stages, emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and finally being ineffective as we have mentally detached from our life. It’s pretty easy to see how this leads us to change our attitudes and behaviour to a very negative stance and this has consequences, especially at work.
When we get to burnout we are hypertensive, depressed and become cynical about everything. It is when we feel completely overwhelmed and unable to fulfil demands constantly. Add to this the changes in sleep patterns, and the initial insomnia will increase to that 3 hours sleep becomes a good night for us.
The physical symptoms will increase which could be chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and headaches. These become a regular occurrence. Appetite can decrease and we often lose weight during the burnout period. We become angry in the latter stages of burnout too, often having outburst over the slightest thing and this affects our whole life.
The cynicism and detachment often go unnoticed at the start of the burn out process and the loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, like wanting to go to work late or being eager to leave. Then this could extend to all areas of our lives, which may impact on time and input into family and friends. We feel disconnected from people and our work, isolating ourselves from others, not answering emails and calls, going home early with a variety of excuses or taking time off sick.
Our negative or critical voices will increase their volume, creating self-doubt and fear in most things we do. We lose trust in ourselves and then after a while in everyone else. Paranoia can set in for us at this point.
We can tell the difference between stress and burnout easily as stress makes us anxious and guilty but burnout makes us depressed and impatient. Stress makes us tired while burnout makes us feel utterly exhausted. Stress will create a loss of motivation whilst burnout saps our physical energy, dissatisfaction becomes cynicism and a lack of concentration becomes acute forgetfulness.
When we hit the point where there is no meaning to our work, life, friends or family and we have no purpose, we have now seriously burnt out.
So now we need to STOP, go sick, go on holiday or even leave, if needs be, but we must stop and not pressurise ourselves to carry on. We are not weak, unable to cope or just mardy, we are ill. We need to get the help we need and see our GP as soon as we realise what is happening but not for medicines etc but for support and help.
Then we need to take stock of what is driving our burnout, what makes us stressed, empty, fearful and anxious? How much of that is in our control?
Then we should look at what meaning was attached to the role we have and where it has gone? Is it too much paperwork, silly targets, not the job we thought it was, lack of autonomy, no support, reputational risk, the list of reasons is endless and none of them are frivolous.
We have to say “no” to extra work, or going back before we are ready, or requests from friends and family that will stress us out when we need to relax.
Turning off our devices from time to time will bring us some well needed peace and quiet to review what we do next
Most importantly we must rediscover our passion and find a way to connect with it, whether we need a new job, a whole new career or a hobby.
But we need help and support from burnout, from family and friends and when we get this far – professionals too.
- Elaine Bond is a counsellor based in Gedling. You can visit her website here: http://www.nottingham-counselling.co.uk/
- She also has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ElaineTerryCounsellingServcies/?ref=bookmarks
- You can email here firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07769 152 951