Psychology

My burnout: my experience and what I’ve learnt since then

Burnout; matches; one burns;

Unfortunately, in today’s busy and stressful world, burnout is not anymore an unknown term, nor an unknown experience to many of us.

But when I first went through a full-fledged burnout, in 2017, I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know why I was feeling what I was feeling and I thought something was wrong with me.

My burnout was caused by prolonged chronic stress in the workplace, with an unrealistic workload, lack of control over my work and my environment, feeling underappreciated, and being exposed to toxic work culture. And it all started with being lied to in the interview, by my future line manager, with regard to the nature of my future job… I was searching for a job where I could grow as a people manager and coach and I got a purely operational job, with no time for what really interested me, but a never-ending list of to-dos which I was not allowed to delegate – because I had to “know how to do everything”. To call this a job/person mismatch is 100% correct… I’m still wondering why I didn’t give my notice in the first week on the job… Well, I know that most probably it was because of one of the myths I grew up with: “if you’re good, you can do any job”. The myth didn’t say anything about liking the job or feeling fulfilled….

So, what shape and form did it take for me?

I had insomnia (I slept only around 3h per night for about 6 months), I was lacking energy and motivation, I was often feeling extremely agitated, while also feeling detached from my work or other activities, and I became quite cynical about work and company politics … all in all: not a good place to be.

They say that workplace culture and quality can be measured by how employees feel on Sunday evenings. Well… on Sunday evenings I was a wreck. In my day-to-day too, I had become just a shadow of my regular smiley and optimistic self.

The day I gave my notice was probably the happiest day of that year 😊.

And luckily, as I started my own business after I finished that job, in January 2018, (that was the best outcome of that stressful year), I could allow myself to take about 2-3 months of break, to heal, to get back to my old self.

I started to do yoga, and breathing practices and to take long walks in nature/parks. I began to give myself time to simply be. It took me about 6 months to actually recover. I bet that if I would have started to do these while in that job, maybe it would have helped me to ease the effects of burnout I was experiencing. But at that time, I could not think very clearly, I didn’t know what was happening, and I didn’t know about the fact that such practices are actually recommended to relieve one of the negative effects of burnout…. Now I know 😊.

Burnout can lead to severe consequences for our physical and mental health. In my case, that year of continuous chronic stress and burnout led, later on, to a serious health problem. So I can only say: take good care of yourself and do something about it as soon as you notice the first symptoms…

Now let me share more about what I have learnt since then about burnout. As you can imagine, it has been one subject I’ve read a lot about…

Is it a disease or not?

In 2019, the World Health Organization updated its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) to include “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon, which is defined as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The ICD-11 does not classify burnout as a medical condition or disease, but rather as a phenomenon related to employment, and a potential precursor to health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Even though burnout is not considered a disease, it can have serious consequences on an individual’s physical and mental health, and it is important to address the underlying causes and seek appropriate support and treatment.

What causes burnout?

Burnout is typically caused by prolonged or chronic stress, especially in the workplace. Some of the main causes of burnout include:

  • Workload: Having an excessive workload or unrealistic job expectations can lead to burnout, as it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance and manage stress effectively.
  • Lack of control: Feeling a lack of control over one’s work or work environment can contribute to burnout, as it can be frustrating and demotivating to feel powerless.
  • Insufficient reward: Feeling underappreciated or undervalued at work can contribute to burnout, as it can be demotivating and lead to feelings of disillusionment and cynicism.
  • Workplace culture: A toxic or unsupportive workplace culture can contribute to burnout, as it can be difficult to maintain positive relationships with colleagues and feel a sense of purpose and belonging.
  • Values mismatch: Feeling a disconnect between one’s personal values and the values of the organization can contribute to burnout, as it can be demotivating and lead to a sense of disillusionment.

It’s important to note that burnout is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon and that individual factors such as personality, coping skills, and life circumstances can also contribute to the development of burnout.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

It can be challenging to recognize when you are experiencing burnout, as the symptoms can develop gradually over time. Here are some common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Emotional exhaustion: Feeling drained and overwhelmed, lacking energy and motivation, and having difficulty managing your emotions.
  • Depersonalization and cynicism: Feeling detached from your work or other activities, becoming more negative and cynical, and experiencing a sense of disillusionment.
  • Reduced productivity and effectiveness: Struggling to focus or concentrate, making more mistakes, and experiencing a decline in performance.
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, or insomnia.
  • Increased irritability: Feeling easily frustrated or agitated, and experiencing mood swings or anger outbursts.

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it may be a sign that you are experiencing burnout. It’s important to address the underlying causes and take steps to reduce your stress levels and prioritize your health and well-being. This may include seeking support from a mental health professional, taking a break from work, practising self-care activities such as exercise or meditation, or setting more realistic boundaries and expectations for yourself.

How can you get out of burnout?

If you are experiencing burnout, it is important to take steps to address the underlying causes and reduce your stress levels. Here are some strategies that can help you recover from burnout:

  • Take a break: Taking a break from work or other sources of stress is essential to allow your mind and body to rest and recharge. And no, a weekend off it’s not enough… we talk about weeks or even months of break.
  • Prioritize self-care: Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Set boundaries: Set realistic boundaries for your work and personal life to prevent overcommitting and overworking.
  • Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist for emotional support and guidance.
  • Reframe your thinking: Practice positive self-talk and focus on your strengths and accomplishments to counteract negative thoughts and feelings of inadequacy.
  • Seek professional help: If your burnout is severe or prolonged, it may be necessary to seek professional help from a mental health professional.

Remember, recovering from burnout is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and take small steps each day towards prioritizing your health and well-being.

There is so much more to be said about such an important subject as burnout. This is why, I’d like to recommend you a number of books and articles that discuss burnout and how to recover from it. I hope you’ll find them useful.

Recommended reading:

  • “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski: This book explores the causes and effects of burnout, as well as strategies for managing stress and recovering from burnout.
  • “The Burnout Solution: 12 Weeks to a Calmer You” by Siobhan Murray: This book offers a practical, step-by-step program for overcoming burnout and building resilience.
  • “The Mindful Way through Burnout: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness” by Dr. Margaret Chapman-Clarke: This book combines mindfulness techniques with cognitive-behavioural therapy to help readers recover from burnout and build a more fulfilling life.
  • “The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living” by Dr. Amit Sood: This book offers evidence-based strategies for managing stress and preventing burnout, based on the latest research from the renowned Mayo Clinic.
  • “How to Deal with Burnout: A Guide for Men” by Daniel J. Siegel: This article, published in Psychology Today, explores the unique challenges that men may face when experiencing burnout and offers practical advice for coping and recovering.

These resources are just a few examples of the many books and articles available on the topic of burnout and recovery. It’s important to find resources that resonate with your personal experience and needs and to seek support from a mental health professional if needed.

To close – if you’re experiencing part of the symptoms of burnout, please seek help and take care of yourself! Tackle this problem before it gets serious.

As I said, if I would have known then what I know now, I bet my outcome would have been a lot better. But, on the other hand, this experience gave me the kick-in-the-but I needed to start my journey as a trainer and gave me the intrinsic motivation to approach subjects like stress from the point of view of both psychology and neuroscience.

It led to me enjoying my work and feeling fulfilled as a Process Communication Model and applied neuroscience trainer.

And it led to me writing a book and creating an online pre-recorded training about The Neuroscience of Stress. If I would have known all the info I have gathered in this course, I could have picked some practices to help me keep stress at bay and maybe I could have even avoided burnout… Who knows?

But if you struggle with stress in your life, maybe you’ll want to give my course on the Neuroscience of Stress a try. And, because you’ve read this article, here’s a 15% discount on my Simple Neuroscience: The Neuroscience of Stress course. Use the discount code Burnout15 at checkout.

Take care,

Magda.

PS: A big reason I write is to meet people so feel free to say Hi! on Linkedin here or follow my Instagram here, as I’d love to learn more about you.

Image by succo from Pixabay

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