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Preventing Burnout - Strategies for Creating Work-Life Harmony

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Burnout is a state in which one gets physically and mentally exhausted, which in turn extracts joy out of one's career, family, and friendship.

Written by

Dr. Ssneha. B

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati

Published At September 8, 2023
Reviewed AtSeptember 8, 2023

Introduction

Anyone continuously exposed to elevated levels of stress at work, relationships, or those who experienced tragic situations or incidents can experience burnout. This can result in isolation, depression, and exhaustion. The term' burnout' was coined by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. Burnout is usually linked with chaotic or stressful workplaces, but it can happen in any stressful situation. For example, healthcare professionals, nurses, and those who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic faced severe burnout. The three main features of burnout are exhaustion or lack of energy, poor performance, and negative feelings.

What Are the Implications of Burnout at Various Levels?

The following are the implications of burnout at various levels:

  • At the Organization: The implications of burnout at the organization are that there will be less productivity, decreased morale, attrition, turnover, poor quality of work, frequent absenteeism, and poor commitment to the organization.

  • Interpersonal Level: The implications at the interpersonal level are weakened communication, loss of concern for others, distancing from clients, emotional separation from relationships, and reduced empathy, collaboration, and attention, which affects client satisfaction.

  • Individual Level: The implications of burnout at the individual level are headaches, fatigue, insomnia (inability to sleep), gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, hypertension, social withdrawal, feelings of boredom, despair, hopelessness, irritability, isolation, and inability to maintain control over emotions.

Who Experiences Burnout?

Anyone who is persistently exposed to increased levels of stress can experience burnout. The most vulnerable groups are the healthcare professionals like doctors, first responders, and nurses. Parents taking care of their children can also face burnout. Certain personality characteristics like perfectionism and the need to be in control can also result in burnout.

What Are the Different Stages of Burnout?

The following are the 12 different stages of burnout given by the psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North:

  • Too Much Drive or Ambition: This applies to persons who are on a new venture or undertaking a novel task and those with excessive ambition.

  • Neglecting One's Needs: Neglecting good sleep, diet, and exercise and getting busily engaged in one's work or other activities can result in burnout.

  • Pushing Beyond the Limit: One's ambition pushes one to work harder. Excess stress and neglecting one's health to achieve their ambition can cause one to face burnout.

  • Displacement of Conflict: Instead of accepting the fact that one pushes oneself to the maximum, they blame their colleagues, boss, or the nature of the job for all their frustrations.

  • No Personal Time: The priorities are more towards work, and less time and attention is given to one's family, friends, and hobbies.

  • Denial: One gets impatient and irritable with others, and instead of taking responsibility for one's actions, they start blaming others and consider them lazy and incompetent.

  • Withdrawal: A tendency to withdraw from friends and family kicks in. Social activities like going to a party, movie, or other functions may seem frustrating rather than enjoyable.

  • Changes in Behavior: Those on the track of burnout may turn aggressive and get irritable with others for no specific reason.

  • Depersonalization: One begins to feel detached from life and feels to have poor control over life.

  • Depression: Those facing depression start to feel hopeless and believe that there is no meaning in life.

  • Anxiety or Feeling Empty Inside: Due to anxiety, one might indulge in substance abuse, overeating, or gambling.

  • Physical or Mental Collapse: One experiencing burnout no longer has the ability to cope, and their mental health may be severely affected, which demands the need for medical treatment.

How Can Burnout Be Identified in Individuals?

The signs of burnout are as follows:

  • Physical Signs: Physical signs of burnout include:

  1. Reduced immunity.

  2. Frequent headaches, muscle aches, or back pain.

  3. Feeling fatigued (tired) most of the time.

  4. Alteration in sleep habits or appetite.

  • Emotional Signs: Emotional signs of burnout include:

  1. Decreased motivation.

  2. Self-doubt.

  3. Feeling hopeless as well as helpless.

  4. Increased negative thoughts and outlook.

  5. Detachment.

  6. Less satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment.

  • Behavioral Signs: Behavioral signs of burnout include:

  1. Isolation.

  2. Staying away from responsibilities.

  3. Overeating, substance abuse, or alcohol to deal with stress.

  4. Procrastination.

  5. Exhibiting frustration towards others.

  6. Children refrain from going to school, and adults refrain from going to work.

What Are the Strategies for Maintaining Work-Life Harmony?

Stress cannot be avoided, but burnout can be prevented by following the below-mentioned strategies:

  • Exercise: Exercise is good for physical health and also rejuvenates mental health. One need not spend hours at the gym to exercise. Short walks and mini-workouts can do the trick and keep one fresh and active.

  • Balanced Diet: Omega-3 fatty acids act as natural antidepressants. Including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil can boost mental health.

  • Good Sleep: The human body needs sufficient rest to reset its functions. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that following a relaxing bedtime routine, refraining from caffeine intake before bedtime, and staying away from smartphones before bedtime can help establish sound sleep hygiene.

  • Professional Help: Recovering from burnout can be easy if one seeks professional help. Therapy need not always include medications. Therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy helps one deal with their problems by altering the way one thinks and behaves. Sharing one’s problems with close ones or a medical professional itself can solve the problem to a certain extent.

  • Letting the Support System Know: If one feels burnt out, they must share their feelings with those who are close and trustworthy so that they can extend their support and offer solutions. If there are no such friends or family members, then one can inform their therapist about the same so that the therapist may suggest a support group.

  • Convey What One Needs: One way to recover from burnout is letting others know their preferences, like requiring alone time during lunch or dinner, a free space in the house to perform one's hobbies, and so on.

  • Scrutinize the Stress Levels: Observing which situations make one stressful can help one chart out solutions.

  • Stress-Management Techniques: Various stress-management techniques like box breathing, forest therapy, yoga, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, adaptogen supplementation, vagus nerve stimulation, and Epsom salt baths can be taken to reduce stress.

  • Set Boundaries: It is important to set boundaries at work or in relationships, and one must learn to say 'no' to certain things to maintain mental peace.

  • Do Things That Bring Joy: If there has been a long break from what one has enjoyed doing, then the burnout phase is the time to start such activities. It can be any favorite hobby, watching a movie, traveling, and so on.

  • Self-Compassion: It is common to empathize with close friends or family members who have failed in a few things or are facing difficult situations. Similarly, one should practice self-compassion, and one must remind themselves of the fact that not everyone can be perfect, and it is fine to take a break.

How Long Does It Take for One to Recover From Burnout?

The duration taken to recover from burnout depends on various factors like the extent of burnout, the situation that caused the burnout, and how soon one reaches out for support. Depending on this, the time taken can range from a few months to a few years. The support systems and healthy coping mechanisms that one has will not prevent the incidence of burnout but will aid in the recovery process.

Conclusion

Exposure to persistent stress can result in burnout. Burnout need not necessarily be related to one’s occupation or workplace but can arise as a result of any stressful situations. Recognizing and obtaining help at the earliest is what determines the progression and speedy recovery of burnout. Burnout can be prevented by incorporating self-care as a part of one’s daily routine. This includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good sleep. If close ones are suffering from burnout, then one can extend a helping hand by patiently listening to their worries, validating their emotions, and offering the needed support. Simple self-care measures can prevent burnout and keep one mentally healthy and active.

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Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati
Dr. Vipul Chelabhai Prajapati

Psychiatry

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burnout syndrome
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