Discussions about burnout are everywhere. Mostly, burnout is discussed in terms of an individual being “burnt out”. Personally, I find this a most unhelpful concept, as it implies that the fault is with the individual. In fact, burnout is about workplace stress, and much to do with working environment rather than failures on the part of one individual. Up to 40% of healthcare professionals are reportedly suffering burnout, supporting the idea that the burnout epidemic is something that happens as a consequence of workplace conditions. I love this leaflet from a study of GP burnout, I think the art really explains what it's like.
The International classification of diseases description of burnout is helpful:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Beating burnout is complex. If you are in a workplace where chronic stress is all around you, then a variety of strategies will be required to deal with that. You may be able to modify your workplace, or how you relate to your work, or build your own personal resilience to help you manage stress.
Here are a few helpful concepts
Overload: Challenge vs Capacity
Some challenge (in relation to our capacity) helps improve performance, it puts us into the growth zone and is where our best work may happen. Not enough challenge doesn't stretch us and we don't do our best work, and we get bored. However, too much stress or for too long, where challenge is much more than our capacity, can push you over the edge.
Strategies to deal with overload
-Spot overload, by being familiar with what you do or what happens when you are stressed (eg poor sleep, irritability, reduced creativity, indecision, exhaustion, strained relationships).
-Review and reduce your commitments. What can you let go? Focus on what will give the most value, 80% of achievement will happen from 20% of our effort.
-Interval stressing: Accept that short periods of stress can be dealt with, as long as they are interspersed with periods of renewal
-Regenerative break for example exercise, time in nature, social connections
-Say no, to allow you to recover and thus say yes to more important things. Saying yes to one thing (eg someone else’s project) means saying no to another (eg your dream project, time with family). Yes and No are two sides of the same coin.
-Focus on what fits with your values. Do first things first
-Look for help: see strengthening support below
-Prepare for crisis, using your resilience and especially the resilience toolkit
We all face with problems that seem insurmountable at the start. Here are some suggestions to help you solve problems when it seems that there is no way out
-Challenge your view that there is no way out. Remember growth mindset. Start by thinking that there is a way, you just haven’t found it yet
-Develop a tolerance of frustration (see also emotional intelligence), and learn to stick with issues even when there seems to be no progress. Persistence is a strength. Frustration is an indication that you are outside of your comfort zone, and this is where growth happens.
-Think outside the box. Is there a different way of thinking/doing? Can rules be changed?
-Imagine that you have already succeeded. Looking back, tell the story of how it happened, with details of what decisions you made, what strengths / skills you used, what resources were helpful.
Support can come from
-Ourselves. We need to be aware what we already have. We need to learn when and how to ask for help, and how to accept help. This takes emotional intelligence, insight, self-awareness, humility and courage. Practice self-compassion, support yourself as you would support a friend in difficulty. Develop your own resilience. Keep revisiting resilience principles, otherwise the memory fades with time. Remember to savour the moments of effective resilience, as the process of savouring them will help you build resilience for the future.
-Other individuals or group. Draw a map of your support network, to include who supports you and whom you support; what network do you wish to strengthen?
-The environment. What can you do to create favourable conditions that will help you be resilient? What aspects of your environment help to support you? Have gratitude for the environment that supports you, and offer reciprocal support.
-Our values, a deeper / spiritual purpose. What do you feel part of or connected with? What are your roots? What drives you? What do you draw strength from?
Do you need help with burnout? Would you like to discuss ways of dealing with challenges? Do you want to get back to your usual altruistic and enthusiastic self? Book your first (free) coaching session here.