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Burnout – when your professional duties leave you mentally frazzled

Burnout – when your professional duties leave you mentally frazzled

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Most people have dealt with workdays that were so long and stressful that they would come home too tired to do anything. Rest usually helps, but if this fatigue lasts for an extended period of time, another health issue could be to blame. Exhaustion on the job is one of many symptoms of burnout.

Professional burnout is a condition that typically originates in the workplace, and involves extreme tiredness and deterioration of mental health. It differs from ordinary fatigue, because where burnout is involved, no amount of rest seems to alleviate the stress that has built up in the mind of the person suffering from the condition. Indeed, insomnia is a common symptom, making adequate rest an unreachable goal.

Professional burnout has only recently gained recognition in the modern world. Even up until this year, it was recognised as a syndrome that is prevalent in employees, but not necessarily a serious health concern. In the minds of many, a blurry line still existed between understanding professional burnout as a contemporary interpretation of fatigue from work, and an actual medical condition.

Job Burnout as an Officially Recognised Syndrome

In May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) put the debate to rest by deciding to include burnout in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases handbook (ICD-11). This categorisation encourages doctors around the world to diagnose their patients with burnout if they exhibit the following three symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism/cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Some of these symptoms resemble those of depression, and the two conditions are indeed very similar to each other. Yet the immediate and underlying causes of depression and professional burnout are fairly distinct.

How to Spot the Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Those who work relentlessly under immense pressure are most vulnerable to professional burnout. Relevant professions include but are not limited to lawyers, executives, and doctors – often the very people who are accustomed to achieving success by working hard through demanding situations.

The syndrome typically comes about when hard-working people are continuously expected to perform well even as they are given little time to recharge between periods of pressure. Oftentimes these occupations also require them to tackle difficult tasks whose outcomes have large stakes. Professional burnout is a consequence of how these stress-inducing expectations are combined with a restless work life.

To make matters worse, the syndrome essentially punishes responsible and otherwise admirable behaviour. People who love their profession easily fall victim to this syndrome, because their dedication to work sets the stage for their stress levels to rise above safe limits. When professional burnout sets in, the same people may begin to feel worn out, lost, or mentally distant from their jobs.

There are multiple symptoms to look out for regarding professional burnout:

Symptoms of burnout include insomnia, which can compound sensations of fatigue and the inability to function efficiently.

➤ Continuous Exhaustion

This factor is distinct from an ordinary feeling of tiredness, because the exhaustion from a burnout does not go away after a bit of rest. Sufferers are tired every morning when they wake up, and this feeling persists throughout the day. The feeling of exhaustion could even result in an inability to get out of bed, or simply not caring to do so. If you start to lose touch with your motivation to work, or if start to think, “what’s the point?”, such moments could be a serious indicator of professional burnout.

a woman is feeling irritated and facing mood swings in the workplace.

➤ Changes in Mood, or an Increase in Negativity

This may apply to you if you frequently feel irritated and cynical towards your peers. If you notice that you are arguing with your friends, families, and colleagues more often than you have before, this behavioural change may be a sign of professional burnout manifesting itself. This symptom is not to be confused with just having a bad day in life, or even a bad week. It is a persistent quality that develops in an individual, alongside the accumulation of stress.

a woman is feeling irritated and facing mood swings in the workplace.

➤ Decreased Effectiveness at Work

Overall performance, creativity and judgement are worsened by feelings of exhaustion and a negative temperament. As professional burnout intensifies, cognitive efficiency will also deteriorate. This results in a positive feedback loop: Increased stress intensifies the symptoms, making the sufferer feel more burned out, which in turn leads to them falling even further behind in their work.

Consequences of Burnout, and the Road to Burnout Recovery

The consequences of burnout go beyond mere short-term concerns. Research has shown that burnout has adverse effects on a person’s overall health prognosis. For example, emotional exhaustion and negativity can change a person’s brain in ways that decrease their ability to deal with stress in the future.

Additionally, studies have identified brain similarities between those diagnosed with burnout and those suffering from trauma. Related research has found that burnout leads to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Of course, these are only some of the physiological consequences of burnout. Psychological effects often include developing depression, insomnia, and increased reliance on drugs and/or alcohol.

Since the symptoms of burnout closely resemble those of depression and other mental illnesses, the recommended treatments for both syndromes are likewise similar:

➤ Make a Significant Lifestyle Change

While depression is open to many medical treatment options, burnout is best treated in the long term by avoiding the problem of overwork. On its own, this method would certainly take some time for the syndrome to completely vanish, due to the patients having gone through a long period of accumulated stress which eventually resulted in burnout. As part of a combined treatment approach which incorporates effective calming psychological therapy alongside wellness activities, burnout recovery can be achieved much more quickly.

➤ Address the Main Causes Right Away

Those experiencing only minor professional burnout can start by taking a step back from their work. It can then be helpful to explore the source of their negative feelings towards the job – for example, the duties that don’t outweigh the rewards, the unfriendly workplace environment, the amount of workload, or the unappreciative boss.

Once you get to the root, it can be helpful to list the possible solutions, which can vary from changing your perspective on the ideal work/life balance, delegating some work to others, working from home one or two days a week, or changing your occupation entirely.

➤ Avoid the Pursuit of Perfection

Many people want to deliver the perfect project to their customers and clients, have time for their family, hang out with their friends often, and stay in shape – all at the same time. Sometimes it’s impossible to achieve everything, and when people fail to accept that outcome, they push themselves harder until they fall victim to professional burnout. Remember that sometimes, the best thing you can do is to take it easy and be kind to yourself.

Treating Burnout at The Dawn in Thailand

The Dawn is the only residential mental health retreat in Thailand.

Unlike typical burnout retreats which centre around various  spa sessions, The Dawn uses a psychotherapeutic focus to achieve a lasting solution. We address the root cause of each client’s burnout, and ensure that they are armed with the appropriate mental tools needed to cope with their personal stressors.

Our Twin Pillars Programme blends Western psychotherapeutic techniques and cutting-edge technology with scientifically-proven Eastern wellness practices. We also provide integrative treatment for dual diagnosis, or addictions that co-occur with burnout.

For more information about burnout treatment at The Dawn, get in touch with us today.

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