Working intensively for a long time will get everyone tired – a person, an animal, or even machines! You will get tired if you do not rest and recharge enough in the meantime. Work stress that has not been successfully managed for a long time leads to burnout. Burnout often strikes a person suddenly and comes to others unexpectedly, because before burning out, the person is usually overactive and active. However, in terms of sustainability, you need to set healthy limits and be able to rest.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic work-related stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout is described in three dimensions:
Burnout leads to a loss of motivation and is more likely to be associated with certain professions, especially those that require working and communicating with people.
This issue has been thoroughly discussed both in management as well as opinion articles. The humane view states that burnout is a shared responsibility – shared by the individual, his or her colleagues and the employer. As each person is really the only person who actually knows what is going on inside and how one feels about one’s daily life, the most important aspect in avoiding burnout is for each person to be honest with him/herself and, if necessary, share one’s subjective experience with others.
We are all different and respond to stressors variously, depending on our health and social and behavioral backgrounds. It might be very difficult to admit to yourself that you’ve had too much work stress, especially if your colleagues seem to be coping well in the same environment. Inevitably, one starts doubting him/herself – what’s wrong with me? Why am I not doing well at the moment? Here it is important to remind ourselves that we are all different. We must respect that each of us has his/her own needs and ways of coping, which can change at different times in our lives. Denial and comparison do not bring solutions. Remind yourself of the fact that as human beings we are all able to hide our worries, thus we can sometimes overestimate the good coping of others.
As a colleague and employer, we have a responsibility to see people around us, not just as co-workers, but really as people. There are different periods in peoples’ lives, and we are all constantly changing. Coping with work-related stress can also change. It is the shared responsibility of all employees and the employer to create a work environment where everyone can work in a healthy way and where honestly sharing their joys and concerns is safe. Job roles should not be more important than human communication and care. We are not protected from any physical or mental health problems, and we most likely need the help and support of other people at some point in our lives.
Notice your feelings, thoughts, behavior. When it comes to oneself, it’s important to be aware and as honest as possible with oneself. Psychologically, this means developing one’s interpersonal skills – the ability to notice and direct one’s thoughts, feelings and conscious behavior. Notice and share your concerns without considering them small and self-limiting.
Take action and seek support if needed. This might often be more difficult, actually taking a step to change something – talk to the employer, make adjustments in your work, take time off, add new supportive habits to your agenda. This is where social support , i.e. the people around us, works the best – our loved ones and colleagues can support us on this journey.
Seek help. You can seek help from a psychologist, mental health counselor, supervisor or coach. Free online psychological counseling on solution.net and peaasi.ee can also be a first aid. Seeking help is a normal and kind act that we should all practice more.
Review your daily routine. It is also wise to review your daily routines – your body needs a rhythm for eating, sleeping, moving, working and resting. Monitor and keep a diary of the activities mentioned above for 2 weeks. There may be surprises -we often get so used to our agenda that we rarely even notice how the role of responsibilities takes over sleep, eating, exercise and rest.
Be there now. Again, the mind needs relaxation and disconnection from work, and this skill can be consciously practiced and developed through mind training (such as mindfulness). The practice of mindfulness, or being in the present moment, can be practiced by walking in the woods, eating, cleaning, communicating or sitting alone. The greatest art is to be in the middle of everyday life without constantly thinking about responsibilities and worries. Be present. Have you noticed how the first breath of fresh air enters your body when you step outside in the morning?
Rest wholly. You’ll benefit greatly if you learn how to rest and make the most of your holidays. They are intended for us for a reason. If the holidays are constantly accumulating, and you feel it is not possible to take them out, there is a great danger that the balance in work organization and tasks is out of place.
Burnout is a kind of work exhaustion that cannot be recovered from within a weekend or a couple of weeks off. There is, of course, no single prescription for burnout, but in many cases a longer break or reduction in workload and more thorough reorganization of the work environment and tasks are required. Some people change jobs, others can continue in an existing job after restructuring, some need a longer break before continuing. It all depends on a person’s individuality, the possibility of open communication in the work environment and flexibility.
See the “Do It Yourself” topics for more tips. There are various tips on how to deal with stress more generally on your own or where to find help.