–Avnish Mishra, Counseling Psychologist, BetterLYF
‘It was better if I hadn’t grown-up”, haven’t we all thought about it at least once if not more? We have, right? But why do we have to? After all, all our childhood, we wanted to grow up and now that we have grown up, we want to remain a child, intriguing and strange. When we are faced with situations we did not expect or did not want to be stuck in, we feel overwhelmed, we feel we are in the middle of a storm and we are the eye of that storm. “I can take it; What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
A couple of statements we hear every now and then but what’s interesting is that despite knowing all of this, we do find ourselves feeling tired, exhausted, and drained out. It seems like all our energy is being sucked into trying to live by these phrases of motivation and strength. And that might be termed Burnout. Are Burnout and depression the same? Or even close?
In 2019, the Department of Educational & Social Policy, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece conducted a review, the aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to examine the relationship between Burnout and depression. Additionally, given that Burnout is the result of chronic stress and that working environments can often trigger anxious reactions, they also investigated the relationship between Burnout and anxiety. The findings revealed NO conclusive overlap between Burnout and depression.
What is Burnout?
So, what exactly is Burnout? Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. It is a psychological syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and reduced personal accomplishment. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.
What might be the causes of Burnout?
- Expectations- Setting up unrealistic expectations with yourself and not just by the employer or by someone else with you. Unexpected, unrealistic and untimely tasks that come our way or we take up (because of whatever reasons, inability to deny being one), lead us to feel burnt-out.
- Communication- Poor communication often leads to Burnout because there is so much that we want to convey and so little that we actually are able to. At work as well, either we are giving or taking instructions, a communication gap there creates a lot of stress pertaining to that particular task.
- Workplace setup- These days, we’re all (most of us) in a work from home setup. People thrive and forge connections with people when they meet them for casual chit chat. In-office coffee conversations are more productive than maybe hours of team building activities online. WFH takes away that belongingness from us.
- Management- Micromanagement to be precise is a major letdown for people, be it at the workplace or in their personal lives. If they have to justify their actions every now and then, or when we feel out of control of a situation that we are in, we are more often than not likely to experience Burnout.
What is it that all these have in common when it comes to symptoms of Burnout? There must be some similarity that leads us to where it does, right? Why else would we feel similar in all situations when experiencing Burnout.
Burnout is said to have three dimensions (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996; World Health Organization, 2019):
- Feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion- This represents the basic individual stress that we go through from our personal as well as professional life making us feel overextended and drained of emotional as well as physical resources.
- Feeling increasingly distant/negative/cynical about one’s job- Referring to the depersonalization aspect of Burnout, this dimension deals with dissatisfaction and an extremely callous and detached or distanced response to various parts of one’s work.
- Reduced professional efficacy/decreased self-evaluation of output/performance- Self-evaluation of our work and referring to ourselves as incompetent and redundant for the job that we are doing leads again to feelings of Burnout.
What does Burnout look like or how do you identify someone who might be experiencing Burnout?
- It usually starts with complaints about feeling exhausted and tired on a regular basis. No matter what they try doing, no matter what the workload is, they’ll still be feeling tired and exhausted and by the end of the day, drained out of all the energy that they had.
- Someone experiencing Burnout would often see the negative side of the story. They tend to hold onto a more pessimistic view of their life, their work, and themselves as well. It does not have to show every time, we might have to look for signs like feeling demotivated, disinterested, less communicative over time, et cetera.
- Decision fatigue is another sign of Burnout. While it also plays a role in causing Burnout, it might as well become a sign for the same. When someone is experiencing Burnout, they more often than not are unable to make the simplest of decisions be it in their professional life or their personal life.
- Look for signs of irritability, anxiousness, inattentiveness, lack of concentration. Those who are going through a Burnout phase would find it very difficult to practise any of the above, they can’t control their irritability, they can’t seem to be attentive or concentrate or manage their anxiety.
How do we avoid feeling Burnout?
- Boundary establishment- It is imperative for us to form healthy and strong boundaries at both personal fronts as well as professional fronts to avoid getting Burnout pretty easily. Nurturing relationships is important, being there for others is important, caring for others is important, working out the deadlines is important but not more than our own selves, is it? What is more important than all of this is to be able to say NO to something that might lead to Burnout and not feel guilty about it later. We might as well schedule regular breaks in order to give us some much-needed relaxation and distraction from all that has been happening.
- Time Management- One of the most common experiences of an individual going through Burnout is that of not having enough time for all the tasks that have been lined up for them. 24 hours do not seem enough? Planning your day and planning your breaks might be the hack here. Taking out 15-20 minutes from the day to plan your next day or maybe taking out just 100 minutes from the 5-day week to plan the next week would take you a long way in managing your time pretty much as required.
- Physical Movement- Owing to the fact that most of our work is limited to a 15-inch screen sitting on a chair that may or may not be as comfortable as we want it to be, physical movement becomes imperative to practise. It is very important for us to get up and take a stroll on the terrace if not a park for a few minutes to re-energize and focus on what we were doing. Stretching the body and loosening the muscles that get stiff sitting in one positive would help us make it through the day.
- Healthy eating- Feeling stressed, grab a coffee. Yes? For how long? It is important for us to resort to some healthy eating habits as well. Healthy eating takes us a long way not just in terms of our physical health but mental health as well. Eating timely, right, and light is the key to carrying through the toughest days as well.
- Care for yourself- Self-care is one of the most helpful ways in avoiding or fighting against feelings of Burnout. Self-care does not mean being rude or being selfish, it just means that we care for ourselves and that’s about it. It doesn’t have to have any other meaning associated with it. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking a day off when everyone else was working. Take a day to yourself and do what you have always wanted to do without thinking about what you are required to do.
In the words of Michael Gungor, “Burnout is what happens to you when you try to avoid being a human for too long.”
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