Happy Wednesday Beautiful People; we are midway through this week, you got this!!
A few hours ago, I had an interesting Zoom conference with a number of my mental health colleagues; at the beginning, the conversations were spirited; I felt that it was too spirited to the point of feeling "fake" I asked, "ok people, what is really going on here?" What then took place was a conversation that we as service-related professionals rarely talk about-burnout.
I think, for the most part, there seems to be way more conversation regarding self-care than burnout; We spend lengthy amounts of time delving into the science of self-care yet we don't talk much about burnout.....why is that? allow me to shift the narrative from self-care to burnout for today's blog entry.
First, let's define burnout:
Burnout is a syndrome which occurs due to the prolonged emotional strain of dealing extensively with others, particularly in helper and recipient relationships. Burnout is definitely a form of stress however unlike most workplace stress which for the most part impacts the individual physically, burnout's impact is on the individual's emotional state of being.
Though the term burnout is widely known, the influence that burnout has is often misunderstood. Burnout can be a disabling and complex condition; far more serious than feeling tired after a long week at the job. Although any profession at any level can be affected by burnout, there is an increased need for individuals working in fields such as mental health, nursing, and teaching to fully gain an understanding of the symptoms of burnout and more importantly, adopt measures for prevention.
There are a number of key components regarding burnout; it is viewed as a state of emotional exhaustion due to emotional overload, a psychological withdrawal from work as a response to excessive stress or dissatisfaction or the extent to which a worker has become separated or withdrawn from the original meaning or purpose of the work. Regardless of the definition, burnout affects us emotionally impacting the quality of the work we are tasked to do.
What causes burnout?
When it comes to burnout, factors can be either personal, professional, or both. Married couples or those in a non-marital relationship tend to have the emotional support of their partner and are less likely to suffer from burnout; those who are single or divorced are at higher risk of burnout. Those who are dedicated and committed to their role, who may work overtime, take the work home with them (guilty as charged) or work on the weekends, have a higher risk of developing burnout. Personality can be an influential factor with burnout as well; individuals who score highly on neuroticism as a personality factor (such as the big five personality indicator) are more inclined to suffer from burnout as are those who are introverts-as they will less likely talk about feeling burnt out with others.
If there is a primary factor, the workplace environment is a burnout breeding zone. A worker can feel a reduced sense of control over his or her work performance when there is little flexibility in the way he or she can perform the role; this includes instructions from supervisors who dictate exactly what to do when to do it and how to complete the task; the overall amount of effort required on a daily basis may be too much, such as too much information to absorb with too many demands being made. A situation such as this can leave the employee feeling frustrated, promoting feelings of failure, and ineffectiveness. Dealing with co-workers, administrators, and supervisors can be a source of burnout when there is ongoing, unresolved tension which increases emotional stress and reduces the support network needed to prevent burnout.
Lastly, there are organizations that have guidelines that define the scope of the service which can be provided and objectives to be achieved. At times these can seem too rigid, with less focus on a holistic personalized perspective. A "one size fits all" delivery of service can be unsatisfactory for both the helper and recipient.
I have come to realize many moons ago that it does not take much to prevent burnout; there are very simple, yet effective strategies to keep burnout at bay or avoid it altogether.
Keeping expectations realistic-We have a tendency to have an "I'm going to take on the world's problems and save it!" attitude; I know for me as an educator and mental health clinician, that was the chip I had on my shoulder fresh from graduate school; when in actuality the reality of what my clients were dealing with had such a profound impact on me, I found myself internalizing what it was that I was doing wrong which led me to go harder, see the same results, self-question which led to burnout; we must set expectations that we KNOW we can achieve and if it goes above that, awesome, if not, it's ok...seriously.
Reduce your workload-Nothing invites burnout more than working yourself to the ground. We all know our limitations; when it comes to your workload, know your limits; don't try to put in a 15-hour workday (again setting realistic expectations). Sure, you may be able to do it, but at what cost? the quality of your work, your mental health?
Relax at work-I know for some this may never be an option, but try. Whether it be taking a moment to do a 2-minute breathing exercise or quiet desk meditation; it is important to practice relaxation; a de-stressor in of itself.
Take you allocated lunch breaks-I think this is where I struggle most with my staff; a great group of individuals who love the work they do; however, it is pulling teeth getting them to take their lunch breaks. I find myself having to be the one to ensure that everyone takes their hour lunch; I stress (no pun intended) the importance of taking a break because everyone needs a moment to separate themselves from the work to recharge; a lunch break offers that.
Consider a career break or change-When burnout happens to an individual often, the answer may not be a simple strategy such as taking a break or meditation; maybe it is time to re-evaluate your career as a whole and maybe the ultimate solution is changing careers or jobs if it means less burnout and more fulfillment.
Develop and maintain interests outside of work-This is where self-care comes in. We are so much more than the work we do; whether it is painting, going out to the movies, dancing etc.. carve out things outside of your career/job that not only is of interest to you but provides your bliss; it is essential for your mental and emotional well-being.
Recognize your own responses to workplace issues-Now this is where a level of self-awareness comes into play; seek the guidance of your supervisor when you begin to feel that the workload is impacting your emotional function. If the organization you work for offers EAP services (Employee Assistance Program) use it, many EAP services offer mental health support. Advocate for yourself if your concerns are not being heard or addressed. No one should suffer in silence.
"The cost may be too high to overcome, thus it is wiser to avoid them altogether."
-Maslach, The Cost of Caring