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Burnout: Putting Your Wellbeing on the Back-Burner

This occupational phenomenon has permeated our culture. It is not a wonder that as it has become ubiquitous, it also does not discriminate: we are all at risk of burnout. Statistics delineate the burnout rate at 59% as of 2022, which is an increase from previous years, (1) indicating that it continues to pose a serious threat to not only our individual well-being but to the well-being of society and the home we call planet Earth. Burnout stems from workplace stress that is not being effectively managed, chronically over a prolonged period of exposure, resulting in a demand on an individual’s wellbeing that exceeds the individual’s ability to cope.  Freudenberger, the man who originally coined the term burnout, defined it as such, “it is an exhaustion born of excessive demands which may be self-imposed or externally imposed by families, jobs, friends, lovers, values systems, or society, which deplete one’s energy” (2). This experience does not start out as an all-encompassing fire, but a collection of embers that grow and grow until it is a wildfire. The implications of this include that burnout cannot be ignored; the fire cannot be put out on its own and it can feel impossible to contain if left to its own devices. Burnout is characterized by the following, (although this list is not exhaustive):

  • Feelings of fatigue, energy exhaustion; insomnia
  • Mentally distanced from the job; detachment 
  • Cynicism and resentment surrounding the job
  • Reduced sense of self-efficacy and diminished self-worth
  • Decline in healthy habits in areas of eating, exercise, sleep, etc. 
  • Physical discomfort such as stomachache, headache, muscle aches
  • Increase in escapism such as drinking
  • Increase in negative-oriented feelings such as irritability, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Diminished ability to emotionally regulate

In our culture, we are taught to work hard, give in excess, and meet the demands and needs of the job; a society focused on achievement and people-pleasing, where our self-worth is tied to what we do and how we contribute. Burnout tells us a lot about work culture and the stigma of self-care. From a societal standpoint, this can make it increasingly difficult to combat this affliction, given the demands of the workforce  or your life might not continuously respect the need and space it takes to keep the embers from catching fire. Burnout cannot simply be fixed on an individual level with enhanced self-care or change in lifestyle. This suggests the importance of understanding that if you take on full responsibility for burnout it implies you should be doing better or being better, which is likely to only exacerbate the problem. This is a demands problem, not just a you problem.  Even Freudenberger succumbed to this state of exhaustion. In his Times obituary, it was stated, “He worked 14 or 15 hours a day, six days a week, until three weeks before his death” (3). His personal experience of burnout, even amidst his work on studying burnout, indicates the pervasiveness of the phenomenon and reveals the fact that we are all susceptible to falling victim to it. This leads to the importance of discussing prevention and recovery as our lives are made up of more than giving and creating a hungry void that cannot be fed. Below are some tips for burnout prevention and recovery to keep your battery charged and make burnout less likely. The fire might still be burning, even after employing use of the following skills as it takes more than just occasionally throwing water on the fire to extinguish it.

Tips for burnout prevention

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Identify the source of burnout!

Reflect on what might be contributing to the burnout. What part of the burnout you are experiencing do you contribute to? Once you have found what is in your control, work towards identifying replacement behaviors, ways to eliminate the stress, or how to reframe the way you look at your stressors.

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Use your pockets of “free time” to regulate!

Listen to music or a podcast on your way to or from work. Call a trusted individual during your commute. Practice deep breathing before going into work or returning home. Engage in positive affirmations that boost self-confidence. Journal on your lunch break.

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Identify changes that can be made!

Get together with co-workers and identify small changes to reduce burnout within your place of employment. Identify and replace people-pleasing tendencies with thoughts and actions that prioritize self-care. Chunk tasks down, even ask for help for smaller tasks that can be done by others, like putting the kids down for bed or reassigning a project that can be done by someone else.

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Identify and establish boundaries!

Set aside venting time so that it does not consume your whole life. Say no when you are not capable of taking something else on (if this feels impossible, start a discussion with those in your life, be it your boss or your partner, about your stress load). Communicate openly about your needs and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Set aside time to relax and engage in something you love, even if it is for ten-fifteen minutes a day. Learn to leave work at work so that you can recharge your battery for the next task.

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Reassess and reflect!

Review your values and see if what you are giving your time and effort in ways that adhere to those values. Find what gives you meaning and purpose in life. Does this align with how you are living your life? Go back to what makes you happy. Identify what in your life is not working and dive more deeply into your hopes and dreams that might have fallen under the weight of demand. Slow down to reflect and debrief as you might find how you interact with things in your life, such as friends, work, family, and society, only pull from you instead of giving to you. Reflect on your priorities and if you are allotting the appropriate time to each one.

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Seek Support!

Connect with your community, whether it be a support group, a social group, or a professional association. Talk with a therapist to learn how to reduce the effects of burnout and live a life worth living. Confide in trusted loved ones so that they can support you and contribute to solutions. Share your burnout with those involved, whether it be work, partner, and family.

References: 

  1. 20+ alarming burnout statistics [2023]: Stress and lack of motivation in the workplace. Zippia. (2023, May 12). https://www.zippia.com/advice/burnout-statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20extensive%20research,program%20to%
  2. Freudenberger, H. J., & North, G. (1986). Women’s burnout: How to spot it, how to reverse it, and how to prevent it. Penguin Books. 
  3. Martin, D. (1999, December 5). Herbert Freudenberger, 73, Coiner of “Burnout,” Is Dead. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/05/nyregion/herbert-freudenberger-73-coiner-of-burnout-is-dead.html

Meet The Author

Michaela Quinley, Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health

MICHAELA QUINLEY

MC, LAC

Meet The Author

Michaela is a Clinical Counselor at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with teen, couples, and adult populations. Michaela specializes in treating  anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. 

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