Burnout, prevent it before it’s too late

One of my greatest missions apart from empowering people to achieve their dreams is to help people recognize and prevent burnout. Why? Because I see the negative effects of it in my daily life and I see how underestimated the symptoms are.

When  I started my coaching practice I immediately knew that one of my signature programs is going to be focused on that.

What is burnout?

The term burnout was actually first established back in 1970’s when a psychologists Herbert Freudenberger described it in one of his studies. Not that before nobody had burnout, they just did not recognize it and treat it. But Freudenberger recognized that it’s an issue among his work colleagues.

His definition is therefore closely connected with professional exhaustion. This is not to say that unemployed people, stay-at-home parents or students can not suffer from it.  But it is mostly seen in connection with work-related stress.

Even though burnout is one of the most commonly present mental health issues in our society, it is still pretty stigmatized. And due to that fact, not treated early enough when it is still rather easy to prevent it.

There are several stages of burnout and the earlier we recognize it and address it, the less time is needed for recovery. Unfortunately, we see so many professionals who wait until their bodies stop cooperating and they need to take a 6-month sabbatical instead of addressing it in the early stages where perhaps 2 or 3 weeks would be sufficient.

Different levels of burnout

Apart from Freudenberger who recognizes 12 stages of burnout, there is another famous psychologist called Christina Maslach who did extensive research and categorization of burnout. Both those categorizations have at least 3 indicators in common:

  • overwhelming exhaustion (emotional and physical)
  • cynicism
  • inefficacy (lack of feeling of accomplishment)

It is not only the presence of any of those symptoms, of course, we all feel similarly from time to time due to various reasons. The important indicator is the frequency of how often a person feels those symptoms. There’s a big difference if one feels like that every second day or if one feels it perhaps 3 times per month.

The 12 levels range from mild to worrisome. If you recognize yourself in more than 3 of them, I advise to seriously consider a therapist or a coach to prevent progression. Too many times I see people close to me ignore them and before you know it, they are not the same people. Raise your standards and put your health before your career.

12 stages of burnout:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
  2. Working Harder: an inability to switch off.
  3. Neglecting Needs: erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
  4. Displacement of Conflicts: problems are dismissed; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery.
  5. Revision of Values: Values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant. Work is the only focus.
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems: intolerance; perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined; social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
  7. Withdrawal: social life small or nonexistent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
  8. Odd Behavioral Changes: changes in behavior obvious; friends and family concerned.
  9. Depersonalization: seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
  10. Inner Emptiness: feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
  11. Depression: feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
  12. Burnout Syndrome: can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

What actions can I take to prevent it?

Clear boundaries: First of all be honest with yourself and don’t underestimate it. It is very common that in the time of pandemic people are working more than usual because there is no clear distinction when the workday ends and private life starts. You decide. Be bold and brave and let your co-workers know that after 5 or 6 p.m. you’re out no matter what.

No: The most powerful word which should be your number one habit that you need to acquire. Start being realistic about your capacity and say no more often. You can rephrase it if you are uncomfortable and say something like:”Thank you for the opportunity, but this time I need to prioritize other things.”

Breathe: I know this sounds plain and simple, but I mean it. Focusing on your breath, even if just for a couple of minutes during your workday can be very beneficial to control your stress levels and ground yourself.

Lifestyle change: I’m sorry if this doesn’t sound too exciting, but the best way to prevent burning out is to change some habits that brought you to it in the first place which means you need to revise your lifestyle. You might be a high-achiever and a workaholic, but it might be a good time to stop the glorification of busyness. It’s fine to be bored from time to time. In fact it’s needed so that our brain can process things.

Find hobbies: Take on hobbies that have nothing to do with your career. This will take your mind off of your work and put you into a completely different mental space. And remember, hobbies can be just fun. You don’t have to excel at them or achieve anything. Just be playful and enjoy it. That’s all.

Values and beliefs: Check in with your values. If one of your core beliefs and values is success and career, you might want to re-adjust the values (yes, you can do that!) and put health first. Because without health, your career is not going anywhere and you don’t need a doctor to confirm that.

Change your career, job: Believe it or not, burnout rates are higher with people who are not satisfied with their careers or they work in a toxic work environment. They might be mismatched but have been ignoring it. Think about this possibility and evaluate whether this could be one of the contributors to your burnout.

Get professional help: I mentioned before that despite burnout still being stigmatized in many cultures, you need to seek help if you feel you can not handle it alone. The more people speak up about it, the less companies will be able to ignore it and will have to acknowledge it. There are some countries where professional help is offered within the basic health insurance, but still many countries have a long way there. We need to bring change about.

Finally, since you are on this page, reading an article that I wrote, you can reach out and we can talk about it one-on-one and assess at which stage are you and what can be done about it.