Avoiding Emotional Burnout during these interesting times

Are you noticing that you are feeling physically and mentally exhausted?

Many people use the term burnout in everyday language, but what does it mean in psychological terms?

Burnout is the state of mind that comes with long term, unresolved stress that can negatively affect your work and personal life. Burnout has steadily become a common occurrence in recent years, with the higher work demands of an increasingly busier world.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently announced that it will recognise “burnout” in its International Classification of Diseases (https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases).    WHO defines burnout as being caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been managed.  It is defined as an occupational syndrome resulting from chronic work-related stress with symptoms characterised by feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative in relation to your job often resulting in reduced professional efficacy.

 What causes burnout?

Stress results in common symptoms affecting you physically mentally and emotionally. This may include problems such as trouble staying focused, sleep problems, avoidance, forgetfulness, heart palpitations and headaches. Over time stress becomes all-consuming, leading to exhaustion, feelings of frustration, irritability and anger.  Stress can contribute to lowered levels of motivation, increased fatigue and reduced performance, concentration and memory problems.

The brain fires neurochemicals including adrenalin and cortisol.  Over time stress affects your psychological defences. When your psychological defences are down cracks can appear in painful memories and old hurts normally contained by your brain can start bubbling to the surface and you can become overly sensitive and reactive.  Stress can lead to more serious issues such as relationship stress, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and alcohol and drug abuse.

Typical risk factors for developing burnout

  1. Lack of work/ personal life delineation

Today’s work culture often demands an all-consuming focus on work. There is often an increase in hours as work moves online and takes place from home.  Often productivity is celebrated above all things.  This culture has developed over the past few decades and now with the pandemic and more people working from home, as well as working longer hours it can tend to be more difficult than before to delineate your work life from your personal life, and maintain a work-life balance.

  1. High levels of responsibility

Often people with a high level of responsibility tend to take on more responsibilities and may see themselves as failures if they don’t say yes to the jobs allocated to them.

  1. Lack of assertiveness regarding reasonable workloads

Choosing not to speak up in case others would think poorly of you or see you as being considered “less than” is a common reason that people continue to accept ever-increasing workloads.

  1. Feeling like your work is never-ending

Some work roles can tend to have periods of workflow which can seem never-ending and unrelenting.  The toll of climbing mountain after mountain with no time to enjoy the beautiful view at the summit can be exhausting.

How to avoid developing burnout or addressing it, if it has developed

Psychologists can assist with reducing stress and burnout.  You can learn to implement positive coping strategies such as taking practical steps to support your wellbeing.

You can build your resilience by:

  • learning to switch off
  • set boundaries for your work
  • create a work-life balance
  • improving sleep and exercise.
  • reduce your negative self-talk
  • set clear job expectations
  • improve workplace dynamics
  • increase social supports
  • increase your overall sense of control.

This article was written by Linda Johnson, Clinical Psychologist.

If you would like to book an appointment with Linda or any of our other Psychologists, please contact us on 6381 0297 or book an appointment online via our website.

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