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Mental Health

Understanding Burnout

Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.

-Michael Gungor

It is the middle of the work-week and yet you feel tired like you have been working for 5-straight days already. You are unmotivated to go to work because you don’t feel you are accomplishing anything. Questions pop on your head, “Why am I here in this job?”  Also, you feel as if the job you are doing isn’t for you anymore however you know that you still need to hustle in your current company because you need to feed yourself and your family. The cycle makes you feel even more miserable.

Is this what you are going through? If you nod your head in agreement to all that I said, then maybe you are experiencing burnout.

In this blog post, we will dive deeper into the burnout experience. We will discuss what burnout is, what are its causes, ways to prevent and recover from it.

What is Burn Out?

The World Health Organization defines burn-out as:

“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Exhaustion – wearing out, loss of energy, depletion, debilitation, and fatigue (“I can’t take it anymore”)
  • Cynicism – originally called depersonalization, negative or inappropriate attitudes towards clients, irritability, loss of idealism and withdrawal (“Socially toxic workplace”)
  • Personal Inefficacy – originally called reduced personal accomplishment, reduced productivity or capability, low morale and an inability to cope (“Erosion of my soul,” “No future”)

Dr. Christina Maslach created an assessment tool to measure the level of burnout. If you are unsure whether it is burn-out you are feeling, you can take the old version of Maslach’s tool here. Nevertheless, I am also sharing with you the online test I took to assess how high the tendency for me to be burned-out. You can take it here.

Am I Depressed or Am I Burned-out?

I have been working as a counselor in the academe for years now and even though I am greatly interested in mental health, I knew that at some point in my career I also got burned-out. With the situation of mental health professionals in the country where qualifications are high and workload is heavy but very little support is offered, anyone in the field would really be at risk for burnout. This is probably the same with other professionals in the field of health care, human services and social activism who also have a higher tendency for burnout. The prevalence of burn-out in the field of tech industries and customer service is also increasing.

During my last year in graduate school, I felt unmotivated with my career. I even thought of shifting to another field because I felt tired of trying to be qualified for the counselor position. My tasks at work and requirements for my graduate classes drained me. I also feel ineffective because I feel that I do not have the skills yet to be a counselor but I am already working as one. At that time, I remember asking myself what my purpose really is. I thought I was depressed because if you are in that position you would really feel like it.

Depression and burn-out may feel the same because some of the symptoms overlap. For you to be able to tell the difference, I listed below the symptoms of each mental health concern:

Difference the symptoms of Burnout and Depression

Another difference these two have is that depression involves all aspect of life while burn-out is specifically related to the workplace or its requirements. I like Dr. Tracy Marks’ analogy wherein she said that when a one-week vacation to a beautiful island is offered where all expenses are paid by the company, tasks will be done by a willing colleague and compensation will still be given to him even if he is away, a burned-out person will go on that trip and will feel relaxed and rejuvenated while a depressed person may have all of these perks but will still feel deeply despondent.

Whichever concern you feel, whether it be depression or burn-out, it is important to know that there is help available. Here is a list of institutions that you can reach out to. You can also call Hopeline through the contact number below. They are online 24/7.

Hope Line Contact Number

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is caused by being exposed to a highly stressful and toxic working environment which is characterized by: (1) long working hours and high demands; (2) job insecurity and lack of control, and; (3) low social support and work-family conflict.

Another cause of burn-out is Job-Person Mismatch in which six (6) areas need to be considered:

  • Workload – tasks expected to a person
  • Control – autonomy to do one’s work
  • Reward – salary, benefits and social rewards or giving appropriate credits
  • Community – workplace relationships
  • Fairness – fair administration of policies
  • Values – meaning
If one is experiencing imbalance with any or all of these areas, burnout may occur.

How to Address Burnout?

There are two kinds of intervention that can address burnout. It may either through organizational level or through individual/small group level. It would be nice if the company we are working at is considerate with the needs of the employees. However, this is not always the case. There are times that it is difficult to change the existing system and the improvements may take long to happen.

Since we do not have that much control over the system/organization, the best we can do is to focus on addressing burnout on our own level. Besides, the only person we can control is our selves.

Here are five tips you can do to address burnout. I also apply these tips whenever I feel stressed.

1. Recognize stress stimuli

Because burnout is the piled-up version of the stress we experience daily, we can prevent it if we will be able to identify the signs early on and immediately take action.

We can also identify signs of burn-out in ourselves. Sometimes when we see ourselves being a little too irritated about mundane things or when we just burst out crying because we feel so overwhelmed, these are already signs of stress. There are also times my family or my friends would tell me that I am being too pessimistic or I am quiet. When this happens, I am probably stressed about something. What I will do is to sit down and list all my stressors. I will think of solutions to address each one of them.

2. Reframe your mindset

There is surely something about your company that you like. If you really don’t like it, you must have resigned from there a long time ago. What are the things you are thankful for about your work? Think about these things and write it down on a piece of paper or type it on your phone.

If you can, maybe you can focus more on the positive things that you listed so that you can regain the interest you have with your work. I did this when I first experienced burn-out. I got really tired of all the tasks I have to attend to but I tried shifting my mindset to what I initially liked about my job which are my colleagues, my supervisor and the opportunity for growth.

However, if you feel that the stress is too much and it is difficult for you to see the positive then maybe it is time to consider speaking to your supervisor about your situation so that you can work on the necessary adjustments and make you feel less stressed. But, if you did this and you still feel burned-out because probably none of the six areas mentioned above is getting fulfilled, maybe you need to try to look for another job or apply to a new company which suits you better than your current one.

3. Rebuild your positive habits

When you feel stressed, you tend to fall to the exhaustion funnel. This is a concept developed by Prof. Marie Asberg who also studied about burnout.

Image result for exhaustion funnel

Photo from Google

At first you would feel your life is in the biggest circle in the funnel. You feel your life is balanced and that you are able to do all the things you want. But as you get more stressed, you tend to focus more on the things that seem “important” and neglect the positive habits that you build such as eating healthy, exercising, connecting with other people or doing hobbies you love.

The circle continuous to narrow down as our life also narrows because we only put our attention to work and our to-dos. We have the tendency to give up too many of our positive habits until none of it is practiced anymore. That is when we fall to exhaustion.

So, to get up from the bottom of the funnel, you have to also rebuild the positive habits you have neglected. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can re-build it one by one until you reach the equilibrium you are satisfied of.

4. Reach out to positive people

Talking about your feelings to someone you trust and having the support from them is a good way to relieve stress. Social support is truly important. You may get tips from them on how you can manage your stress or you can also hear their own struggles with burn-out. Be part of like-minded individuals who can relate to you and who can lift you up. Speaking of community, I created a Facebook group for millennials who are experiencing quarter life crisis. I envisioned it to be a place where we can share uplifting resources and be each other’s cheerleaders. I will be launching it very soon and I am hoping to see you there!

5. Rest and relax

Sometimes, the reason for our burn-out is because we have not set clear boundaries. Our home life and our work overlap. You do not have a “relaxation zone” and is continuously in work mode. That is really exhausting. So, put that necessary limits to yourself. If you are at work, focus on your work and if you are at home, focus on your family and your self-care habits.

If you are balancing more than work and home, like for example you are also taking up Graduate School or you have a side-hustle, I understand that finding time to relax is not easy. It is difficult but I believe it is not impossible. Try to improve the way you manage your time and set you priorities. Be sure to allot time for both work and leisure.

Furthermore, avoid too much overtime work as much as possible. I love this video I stumbled upon on Youtube. It shows the importance of work-life balance and setting boundaries even if you are the only one doing it.

Michael Chaskalson, author of the book Mindfulness in Eight Weeks suggested these three things to address stress: (1) do something pleasurable by being kind to your body and engaging in enjoyable activities; (2) do something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, achievement or control such as doing house chores or doing some routine work and; (3) act mindfully. Focus on the present because stress comes from not being fully in it. As what Eckhart Tolle said:

“Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there”

Call To Action

Burn-out is highly related with overwhelm. On my last blog post, I created a downloadable infographic about four ways you can overcome feelings of overwhelm. You can download it here if you are interested. The four tips are also applicable for burnout.

How To Fight Overwhelm Infographic

Like my Facebook Page for more mental health information. I also created an exclusive Facebook group which I will be launching very soon. Stay tuned to that.

For more personal updates, you can follow me on Instagram. If you have any insight, comment, question or reaction you had about burnout, please do not hesitate to comment below or shoot me a DM.

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