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“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
– William James

Most people work under tremendous pressure, as there is a great deal of expectation on one hand and the compulsion to conform is very strong on the other. Continuous technological development and rapid information flow are noticeable almost on a daily basis. Employers, and often even employees set the standards higher and higher, thus it is no coincidence that burnout syndrome is becoming more and more common in our age. This long-term emotional strain is a physical, mental and emotional burden created by the effects of prolonged stress. By definition, burnout is the medical term for a specific occupational hazard. The clinical concept, termed “burn out” was originally developed from a psychoanalyst, Herbert J. Freudenberger’s work in 1974 and then the definition was modified by Ditsa Kafry in 1981 as follows:

“Burnout is the result of prolonged or repeated emotional stress in the context of a long-term, intense effort for other people.” 

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Research shows that people in the human services sector are at greater risk of developing this syndrome, but it can occur in case of almost all occupations. Burnout is not only a problem for certain people, thus it may not only be a danger at work but also at home as a mother, a wife and even a husband. The syndrome increasingly affects younger age group as well. Unlike earlier data showed, burnout syndrome is now common in those in their 30s as well.

As a result, burnout has been added to the list of diseases by the World Health Organization. According to WHO estimations, by 2030 burnout may become the number one disease among the deadliest diseases, ahead of heart attacks. The economic impact of this disease is also significant. In Great Britain, 4 million, whereas in the USA 550 million working days are lost due to burnout. In the Netherlands, patients with burnout syndrome spend an average of 189 days on sick leave. The mental stability of a significant number of affected workers will not be restored in the long run either, 30% of them fall back.

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The What’s Working survey of the Mercer’s HR consulting firm which surveyed nearly 30,000 American workers in 17 different countries over half a year pointed out that compared to the earlier 23 per cent in 2005, now 32 per cent of US workers are looking for new jobs instead of their current ones. Another 21 per cent are unsure about leaving but have given in their notice in their minds a long time ago. The drop-out rate is higher among younger people, 40 per cent among those aged 25-34, and 44 per cent among those aged 24 and under.

For Canadian companies, employee morale and burnout are the biggest problems. Of the more than 3,000 interviewed executives, 54 per cent considered loss of morale and burnout to be the biggest workplace problems, ahead of the risk of losing talent (51%).

People who work under great pressure, have little success, encounter a lot of irritated people in difficult situations and experience difficult and psychologically stressful situations are more at risk of burnout.

Paul Ch. Donders, the CEO of Xpand International, a popular speaker and senior management consultant, identifies five phases of burnout. There is still a halt in the period of hyperactivity and insecurity, the individual can change if he / she recognizes the problem, whereas needs help in the frustration phase because he / she is unable to overcome his / her negative habits, similarly to the stage of despair which “mafia men” never experience, only kind people who take responsibility for others are affected by it. The last phase of burnout is recovery – this requires a coach, because this is the point where the patient’s future is decided: he or she either must start all over again from scratch or learn from it and is able to change his or her life.

Burnout as a final state is preceded by another reversible process, however, this requires the knowledge of the symptoms. That is why it is important to notice it in time and to be able to make changes. Burnout does not occur suddenly, but slowly leaks into our daily lives. It is a chronic stress state that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. The feeling of efficiency changes, emotional distress, irritability and cynicism increase. Workplace relationships can become superficial or even conflicting. Personal needs are overshadowed and can even lead to health problems such as sleep disorders, weight changes or even psychosomatic diseases. Accidents, obsessions and eating disorders are also common. In such cases, external and internal conflicts also multiply. The most serious professional consequence of burnout is the depletion of empathic capacity.

“We need to teach ourselves not to focus on negative experiences, but to look for the positive in everything, because it not only builds trust, but it also helps to build self-confidence.” – Paul Ch. Donders

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Let’s change

First of all, let’s try to settle the things in ourselves. It is important to be aware of our abilities and capacity. Self-management can also help in the early days. Let’s reassess our lives and look at the burdens that are realistic and those that are already unrealistic. No matter how difficult it is, we need to take the time to solve our problems in our private lives as well as at work. These are usually not too pleasant conversations, but we must always consider them as our health is at stake. We need to agree with the employer about additional tasks which we already find impossible to undertake day by day. At home, with our family, we also need to sit down and talk about the things, difficulties and burdens which we are affected by. We may just need more days to relax and holidays, or we may need to re-evaluate work and home responsibilities and reorganize them. Workplaces where we are not recognized professionally, financially or morally or where we are overburdened should be avoided.

It is important that we choose our profession and love what we do, as it can help us to overcome a lot of difficulties. According to Donners, everyone has about 10 talents that need to be constantly improved to reach the master level and to be able to pass on their knowledge. Doing what we love will give us energy and make us happy.

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In order to be able to perform well, we need some days to rest and some forms of relaxation where we can fully recharge, leaving behind a plethora of problems. At least every two months we must go away for a few days, to the mountains, to the sea, or even for a city tour, where new impressions, new knowledge and beautiful landscapes grab our attention. After such a perfect recharge, we reinvigorate our work, which is good for both the employer and the employee. If there’s no way we can get away, let’s try to make our days off nicer with programs we enjoy, no matter whether it’s a theatre, a concert, a museum visit, some intensive sport or a walk in the woods. However, it is important that we always devote enough time to relax. housework might be slightly delayed by this, but a relaxed and recharged person can do a lot more than a tired and enervate one. Like in any disease, the healing power of love plays an important role here. If we have a companion who trusts us and can love devotedly, we can survive a lot more easily before it has serious consequences. But we also need to know how to return love in the same way!

However, this may not be enough and external help is needed to overcome the crisis. Of course, it would be best if the circumstances of the person concerned were changed and the burden on them reduced. Autogenous training or any stress relieving techniques could be cure for burnout caused by chronic stress. In such cases, relaxation and audio-visual materials may be considered, or psychotherapy if those do not help. However, if burnout is already accompanied by anxiety and severe depression, you should consult a specialist, as medication is inevitable. In the treatment of adverse effects, prevention, that is the recognition and treatment of initial symptoms play a crucial role. Preventive interventions include assessing and screening for burnout, training of work groups, and workshops where personal motives and risks can be exploited. Employees can learn relaxation techniques and communication skills that make it easier to cope with stress and manage relationships that reduce stress, thus avoiding potential complications such as cardiovascular disease or certain digestive diseases (reflux), and sleep disorders.

The author recommends:
Resilience: Live Healthier, Perform Better by Paul Ch. Donders