How to Avoid Burnout – guest blogger Steve Sykula

WHY DO WE STILL BURNOUT!

The term “Burnout” was first used in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Dr. Freudenberger studied overworked healthcare professionals who were “burning out”. He found that these healthcare workers were working too long, not taking time off and were suffering as a result. This caused an array of symptoms such as headaches and body pains, insomnia and a variety of other physical troubles. This lack of balance in their lives leads to a withdrawal from family, friends and social life.

The burnout sufferers became cynical, hopeless, helpless and depressed. Many also became addicted to drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate. Today’s psychologists have a new name for Burnout… Compassion Fatigue. But whatever it’s called, the effects are the same. It’s also interesting to note that burnout looks a lot like depression. In fact, a study in 2014 found that 90% of the symptoms of burned out workers were also present in individuals diagnosed with depression. Could it be that “burnout” is just a different name for depression? Here’s the good news. If you think you’re suffering from “burnout” or “compassion fatigue,” you are probably depressed. But that’s not a reason to panic.

There are many treatments and self-help techniques that can be used to alleviate your symptoms and restore your mental health. Since the origins of burnout are associated with prolonged stress, extreme workload demands, and isolation leading to exhaustion, helplessness and hopelessness, many of the interventions are designed to help an individual regain balance in life both at home and at work. You are probably already familiar with many of these remedies. These include proper diet, rest, exercise, hobbies and recreation, spending time with family and friends, and creating reduced workloads or breaks which allow you to regain balance at work and at home.

Other activities which have been shown to reduce burnout and depression symptoms include yoga, breath work and meditation, counseling, mindfulness training, and addiction interventions if needed. Even though we are aware of the good news solutions, applying them can seem like a monumental challenge because human nature works against us. It’s our nature to survive and somehow overworking, for those suffering from burnout, became associated with a way of surviving. These actions became habits, which can be hard to break because they relieve stress in the short run, but prolong and worsen it in the long term. Finally, when we are in distress we experience the fight-flight-freeze response and in most cases withdrawing and freezing are most likely to occur – again resulting in survival, but not leading to resolution. So we must get past our human nature to fix burnout. There are many strategies that have been discovered to help us get past human nature survival patterns when they aren’t really working to protect us.

The first step is to become aware that thoughts and feelings are just that… thoughts. They are not YOU. They cannot hurt us unless we become over-focused or obsessed with them. Look at them as if they are just passing through. Second, make a plan and to encourage yourself to engage in a balanced life. Third, recognize that social support is important to our survival. Social support helps us meet our goals, buffer stress, and improve our mental and physical wellbeing. If for some reason you are alone and without friends, or friends don’t seem to be enough, see a therapist or counselor for support and guidance. Awareness, Focused Engagement and a balanced and value-driven life along with good social support are the key antidotes to depression, anxiety, stress, and yes, burnout. With these tools, you can regain your happiness and lead a balanced and productive life once again.

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