“My candle burns at both ends/it will not last the night.” —Edna St. Vincent Millay
Burnout resists simple definition because it affects so many aspects of an individual’s life. In their book, Beyond Burnout, authors David Welch, Donald Medeiros and George Tate, describe burnout as a condition that affects us physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
One of the first physical symptoms of burnout is fatigue. Intellectually, there may be a loss of creativity and sharpness in problem solving; cynicism may replace enthusiasm. Emotionally, the loss of dreams and expectations can result in feelings of helplessness and depression. In the social realm, isolation overtakes feeling of involvement, and spiritually, the person experiencing burnout may feel a lack of meaning or purposelessness to her life.
According to a recent study, one in three Americans is expected to burn out on the job in the near future and, in the two years preceding the study, 14% of the work force quit or changed jobs due to job stress. How can you avoid becoming one of the burnout statistics?
First, recognize the warning signs:
- Feelings of frustration and never being caught up
- A feeling of lack of control about how to do your job or what goes on in the workplace
- Emotional outbursts
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Dread of going to work
- Frequent sickness or health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs or food consumption
- A desire to quit (or run away) but a fear of doing so
Taking a few days off or a vacation to Tahiti won’t contain the burnout. Neither will simply leaving one job for another. Burnout has more to do with attitudes, work styles, and behavior than it does the specific job situation. In other words, burnout may be primarily an act of self-immolation.
How to Avoid Burnout
Take the time to set goals and objectives, review them with others, make sure they’re attainable and clear.
Know your own responses to stress and develop a plan to manage it. Exercise, take breaks, eat healthfully, leave work at work, make time for play and rest. Discover what works best for you and your body and practice good self-care habits.
Family, friends, co-workers, professional organizations—all these support systems can help in times of stress.
Look for challenges and opportunities to learn new skills and participate in activities that use your natural skills, talents and abilities. Rather than becoming stagnant, you’ll be able to grow.
Seek a balanced and well-structured lifestyle. Avoid boredom. Determine what’s important to you and create a lifestyle that embraces and supports you.
Replace negativity with optimistic thinking. Helpless thinking is a major contributor to burnout.
Look for a different approach to the same problems or to unpleasant situations. Break free from your everyday routine. Let your workspace express your individuality.
Humor and playfulness
Humor reduces stress, promotes physical healing, is essential for mental health and can add years to your life. No wonder they say humor is the best antidote. Enjoy yourself.