Beating Burnout – Industry Trend or Event

Christina Motley

Are you physically exhausted, emotionally drained, stressed to the max, or less motivated than usual? Do you find that you’re easily irritated or more cynical? Are you having difficulty sleeping or noticing health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, or addiction? Are you:

* overly committed and having trouble saying no?

* spinning out of control?

* noticing that your attitude is increasingly negative?

* experiencing low self-esteem?

* fighting for energy?

* looking for a greater sense of purpose?

* feeling detached from relationships?

* daydreaming about escaping from it all?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be fast approaching or currently experiencing burnout. However, you’re not alone. Stress is prevalent in today’s society–in fact, it’s a leading cause of death. And in the United States alone, industry loses approximately 550 million working days annually due to absenteeism, with more than 50 percent of those absences related to stress, according to a study by Elkin and Roach.

The Miller-Keane Medical Dictionary lists the official definition of burnout as “emotional and physical exhaustion resulting from a combination of exposure to environmental and internal stresses.”

Because stress levels are at an all-time high and stress is prevalent in both work and home environments, more people experience burnout today than ever before. But why?

“Because employers expect more,” says Debra White, a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist with the Virginia-based Carilion Health System who presented her first training session on burnout in 1980. “The bottom line is employers are squeezing people to accomplish more with less, and there is a reduction in focus on commitment and loyalty between employers and employees. There also seems to be a loss of values in the workplace, resulting in greater clashes between workers’ expectations and values, and the realities of their jobs. And although technology is speeding our lives along, in actuality, people are experiencing a reduction in leisure time and a lack of connectedness with people or involvements, which truly rejuvenate and nurture them.”

“Even when we’re doing something we love, if we do too much, we get over-absorbed, and that’s when we can lose perspective,” says Donna Douglas, who has worked as both a counselor and a social worker since 1976 for a variety of places across the nation. Douglas now focuses on teaching relaxation, body-centered awareness, and mindfulness meditation.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, “burnout is not necessarily associated with too many things to do, but occurs when the things we do are not really connected in a soulful way with what we are about,” notes Eric Klein and John Izzo in their book Awakening the Corporate Soul. Therefore, burnout can hit people of all ages and all occupations.

Who it affects

Typically, people at high risk for burnout include those who can be described as hard working, highly driven overachievers. Burnout is also prevalent among people whose jobs deal with others’ expectations (service providers such as attorneys, doctors, and social workers, for example).

More specific personality characteristics, some of which are cited in Megan Flaherty’s article “Battling Burnout: Health Professionals Are At High Risk,” on, may include:

* people’s inability to say no to demands on their time and energy

* people who assume added responsibilities when they’re already working at capacity

* people who consistently sacrifice their personal lives for work

* people who lack control in their jobs

* people who regularly suppress their emotions and/or don’t discuss their problems

* people who routinely criticize themselves

* people who haven’t learned to manage stress effectively.

Steps to avoid it

Yes, there’s good news. Burnout can be avoided. If you answered yes to any of the initial questions or can identify with any of the personalities previously described, you should make every attempt to avoid burnout. How? Simply try to follow some of these suggested guidelines.

1. Periodically stop and step back Spend a few minutes alone. Look at your priorities. Evaluate and rank the things that are most important in your life to help you refocus and keep your perspective. Make sure you’re setting achievable and realistic objectives given your existing demands and commitments. And, pace yourself.

2. Strive to maintain a balance between your physical and mental activity levels. Take a brisk walk at lunch, or just go outside for a breath of fresh air. Momentarily stretch in between phone calls. Deliver a memo by hand.

3. Take short breaks throughout your day. Whether it’s to go get a coffee refill, stop by the water fountain, or just take a break, moving away from your computer screen, phone, desk, and work environment will help break up the mundane aspects of a day and might even provide a different perspective.

4. Find something that helps you escape from the professional and personal demands of life each day. Things to consider could include a meditation or spiritual orientation, yoga, or some form of exercise.

5. Turn to humor. Laughter is soul food. Humor will provide a moment of relief and can help spark a new idea.

6. Have some fun. Ensure that something in your life remains fun. Fun, like humor, assists you in keeping your perspective and finding balance in life. If work or another life situation is no longer fun and you can’t seem to get out of a negative rut after giving it time, consider a change.

7. Look for the positives. There are always two sides. Certainly, to keep proper perspective, it helps to identify the positive things in your life. “When leading battered women’s and incest survivors’ groups, I used to tell myself, when feeling overwhelmed, to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness,” says Douglas.

8. Learn and practice stress management techniques. There’s always something new to learn, something new you might implement in your daily life.

9. Take a mini vacation. While leaving might be stressful, a breakaway will certainly help you regroup and gain a different perspective. And if you simply can’t get away now, plan a vacation. Looking forward to something fun always helps.

10. Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect, and everyone has limitations. Even counselors, experts who are trained on the subject, have to go back to the basics once in a while. They, too, must practice what they teach.

Facing it

If you’re in danger of becoming burned out or have previously experienced burnout, you can correct and prevent the situation from worsening. Go back to the steps listed above to avoid it. Also, implement some of these tried-and-true strategies from the experts.

1. Consider reducing your commitments. What can you release from your schedule? Start saying no to additional requests on your time and energy.

2. Follow a healthy lifestyle. That includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and getting adequate sleep and rest.

3. Accept and acknowledge your personal limitations. “It’s easy to forget that we can’t single-handedly save the world or do it all,” says Douglas. Along the same lines, White suggests, “Learn how to distance yourself appropriately from the emotional investment of making things better and accept the limitations of your influence.”

4. Know you always have options. Decisions are choices. Consider all the choices. Think about what’s best for you. Then, make the decision, control what you can, and develop strategies for dealing with those areas over which you have no control.

5. Seek support. Turn to friends, family, loved ones, or even consider professional help because you deserve to be happy.

Despite the fact that burnout is a problem for many people today, there’s good news. Burnout can be avoided, dealt with, and prevented from reoccurring. The bottom-line cure? Remember you’re in control of your choices, you have the ability to say no, and can always step back to regain perspective to find better balance in your life.

Christina Motley founded Serendipity Communications Inc. (, a full-service advertising agency and marketing firm, in 1992, and serves as president. Her work has won more than 100 awards, she has authored one book and her articles have appeared in a variety of national and international publications.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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