The signs are numerous and easy to spot: distancing oneself from work, lack of concentration, chronic fatigue, continuing mental tiredness; insomnia, heightened irritability, inner worry,
difficulty in concentrating and making decisions; decreased performance in the workplace....
If you personally recognise more than half of these symptoms you could be at risk of burnout. Looking out for the signs, and recognising them before breaking point, is key. Leave it any longer and it becomes extremely difficult to stop it taking control .... After all, the body's response to prolonged periods of stress is simply to shut down. It's almost like an emergency button, created by mother nature, and activated in response to extremely stressful situations. One morning your body doesn't want to function any more. It no longer wants to give in to the ongoing demands of your uncontrollable mind which is threatening it's very survival. And emerging unharmed from this physical and mental shut down is not easy as it grinds down our self-confidence and shatters our belief in our own abilities. Eventually our mind-body balance is pushed to far, so much so that it can take the body several months, if not years, to fully recover.
The particular nature of burnout is such that it happens so slowly we are often not aware of its emerging presence. Consequently any warning signs are simply ignored or pushed aside. Another reason why it's so successful at taking hold is due to the belief that “it only happens to other people” or in any case you just need to learn to 'deal with it' to get the job done. Finally, there is quite often a lot of shame and embarrassment associated with admitting you are suffering from burnout. Often it becomes easier to deny its existence than have to admit it to yourself and other people.
Scientists agree that burnout syndrome manifests itself after prolonged periods of stress, when two different sets of factors start co-existing side-by-side on two different levels. On the first level, there are common external factors which cause stress (repeated structural reorganisations, lack of resources, conflicts with managers and co-workers). On the second level, there are factors relating to our personal make-up which often serves as a breeding ground for burnout syndrome. For example, amongst people who expect too much of themselves in the workplace. This is essentially linked to a heightened fear of failure. Equally, it affects those who have an intense need for recognition or self-affirmation. For example, people who find it hard to say 'no', and those who go to great efforts trying to please everybody, often going above and beyond the call of duty in their work.
But burnout is not inevitable and it is possible to break the vicious circle. Stress is everywhere in today's society; sometimes heightened, sometimes less so. We carry it with us throughout our professional lives. The challenge comes in learning how to control its impact before it takes over completely. It is possible, well before reaching the limit, to come up with preventative and constructive methods to transform difficulties into learning experiences.
Working on yourself allows you to put into words the daily challenges you are faced with: How are things in the office? How am I coping? What can I not cope with, or put up with any more? How is this affecting my relationships with those around me and my family?
This personal reflection time gives you the opportunity to spot these internal mechanisms: “What am I putting at stake with this job? Why is it so important for me? What would happen if I said no”?
Lastly this personal support mechanism allows you to develop alternative strategies for managing stress and to pick up where you left off before it takes hold: “How could I do this differently? What do I need to work effectively without falling victim to pressure? What choices do I have? What shall I decide”? Ultimately, you can be the one in control and with the power to choose the way you react to, and deal with, life's daily challenges.