Burnout was once a word that we heard a lot - it referred to the "other guy" who had hit work really hard, gave his all and then needed a six month "vacation" to properly recover. It certainly would never apply to us personally would it? We're tough, perfectly aligned, or immune to problems that the rest of our friends or colleagues might experience. Ha!
In the past ten years or so, we have become much more likely to speak in terms of depression and anxiety, or we may run into problems that we ascribe to moral turpitude but I do not often hear the term "burnout". It is too bad if it has run out of common usage, because it's one of those words that actually describes what it means. I witness it on the faces of my clients and colleagues frequently, and have certainly worn the look myself.
One rather official definition of burnout is something like this:
"a state of fatigue brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward" (H. Freudenberger).
There are other definitions, although personally I think that this works quite well too:
"When I devote 90% of my energy to one area of my life, other things are left to share just 10%. When I look around and realize that the leftover bit is suffering horribly, I try to readjust, but it means that I need to tap into some kind of extra reserve in order to keep everything running smoothly. Not surprisingly, this math doesn't work; I cannot be 100% to all things all the time, and when I try, I actually shut down physically and emotionally, and do and be even less." That shutting down is, of course, the burnout part of it all.
There is a continuum to consider that runs from Stress ---->>>> to Distress.
Stress itself is not harmful; it's even normal and healthy. A certain amount of stress keeps us on our toes and alert. Turned on even. Distress, however, can come from many sources, and occurs as we become less able to manage the stress that we are experiencing. Distress can lead to changes in your health, behaviour, and lead to feelings of illness and being overwhelmed.
One of the leading causes of distress people tell me about is a lack of work-life balance. Or is it life-work balance? That whole life/work work/life thing baffles me, because no matter what we call it, we are really talking about a sense of balance period; an integration within our life.
Personal causes of burnout can be:
-a lost sense of purpose (who are you, and what do you stand for?)
-personal issues that are getting out of whack and distracting us from our purpose
-changes or circumstances that we feel powerless to influence
-a choice we've made to stop taking responsibility for the results that we get in life
Work related causes of burnout are sometimes:
-low levels of cooperation, trust and respect
-lack of resources and reward in jobs that have high demands
-limited opportunity for advancement
-a choice we've made to stop taking responsibility for the results that we get in life, and in particular, our work
Signs of burnout
-an inability to concentrate on priorities effectively
-that negative voice inside our head that insults, shames and irritates
-changes to health including persistent minor illnesses and fatigue
-changes to sleep (too much or too little), eating (again, too much or too little), or lack of attention to personal hygiene when there was good attention there before
-making more mistakes than usual
-absenteeism or presenteeism
-self medicating with over the counter or illegal drugs, alcohol, etc
Solutions to burnout
-know who you are and what you are about (your purpose)
-know the organization where you choose to work and what they stand for
-remove yourself from negative, pessimistic people and situations
-look after yourself by including things that you enjoy in your week, manage your time and boundaries, and also give of yourself to people and activities that you love
-look after your career by taking responsibility for where you are at, and where you are going
-accept that there are times when we are exactly where we need to be; the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. A little weeding and fertilizer does wonders for helping the flowers to grow.
Are you feeling a little frazzled around the edges, or completely burned out? What will you do to help yourself get through it and to feeling back on top of the world? Share your ideas here, and perhaps help someone else out in the process.