When waves at the beach are small and consistent, and we are prepared, we can elegantly ride them to the shore. Similarly, stress can be beneficial and motivate us to perform at our best, like before an exam or presentation. But, when waves or stress become too large, too frequent, erratic, or relentless, they can overwhelm us. Both can prevent us from seeing clearly and hearing others. They can topple us down, and even drown us.
What is Burnout?
A state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that results from chronic and unrelenting stress. Signs and symptoms may be subtle at first, relapse and remit, or even smolder; but with time, they can get worse and worse.
What causes burnout?
—Work-related or school: experiencing a lack of appreciation, recognition, or control
—Lifestyle: Lacking enough time for family and friends; having excessive obligations to family and friends (e.g. being a caretaker); lacking a support system; sleep deprivation
—Personality: Type A personality
What are Symptoms?
Irritability, exhaustion, feeling helpless or alone, wanting to be alone, getting sick frequently, lashing out at others, having
difficulty sleeping, or feeling a decreased sense of accomplishment.
We may find ourselves seeking comfort in alcohol, smoking, and eating junk food.
What is the first step to prevent drowning? To recognize and acknowledge it.
The second step is to make a change. Do not wait for someone or something to make the change for us, because chances are that it will not happen. In full disclosure, change requires work. If we are nearing burnout or are burnt out, the last thing we want to do is… more work. But given the detrimental effects it can have on our health, relationships, and job, it is critical that we take the steps for healthy relief by reducing the stress and pressure in order to (re)invigorate ourselves.
What are some tips?
—Force ourselves to take a break. Utilize vacation days or sick leave to allow time to rest, figure out ways to make changes, and enlist help. If we are self-employed, take the initiative to work fewer hours during the day or consider taking on fewer projects. If we are a stay-at-home mom, consider getting a sitter, exchange system with another mom, part-time daycare, or family member to give us a break. This can allow us to reboot and recharge our batteries as well as determine a plan of action.
—Eliminate unnecessary obligations. Start by making a list of commitments and responsibilities and then rating them based upon “absolutely necessary,” “important but can live without,” or “why was I doing that again?” We will be surprised at how many items are in the latter two categories and consider enlisting help for them or getting rid of them altogether.
—Dealing with burnout may mean needing to change our job or career. Unfortunately this may not be possible for us at this time. However, seek ways to minimize and optimize work responsibilities. Talk with a supervisor and consider asking for new/different duties, clarifying our job description, and getting help for certain tasks or projects.
—Don’t go at it alone. Our loved ones may pick up on signs and symptoms of our burnout before we do. Listen to them. Additionally, turning to loved ones for support is often easier than expected, but it often requires us to initiate this. Unfortunately, when we are burnt out, we tend to feel alone and isolate ourselves.
—Walk it off. Being sleep-deprived and having a mile-long “to-do” list make it difficult to want to start walking or jogging a mile. Consider starting with a 15-minute walk or jog to relieve stress and release endorphins.
—Get a good night’s sleep. Set a bedtime and stick with it. It’s easy to stay up late so we can catch up with the million trivial things we need to do. However, being sleep-deprived can be a cause of burnout as well as slowing efficiency and perpetuating the cycle of being burnt out.
—Do not compare ourselves to anyone else. Everyone has a different capacity for handling stress.
—Find an outlet. Identify “counter-weights” to the stressors in our life. Some ideas include: Doing Sudoku, listening to music, gardening, photography, yoga, meditation, cooking, reading for pleasure, spending time with family or friends, and exercising.
—Be specific, write it down, tell others about it. Saying that we will work less, exercise every day, and spend more time with the family are great goals, but make them a reality. By being specific (e.g. stop working at 6 p.m., exercise for 20 minutes, keep Sundays for family time) we are more likely to adhere to our goals and less likely to cut corners.
We all experience stress, and, similar to waves at the beach, it can be a wonderful means to achieve our best. But when too much is thrown our way and we are unable to manage it, it can have psychological, physical, and social effects. Let’s take some time to evaluate the waters—and waves—we are swimming in so we can learn how to manage them. Life is more than just staying afloat… we have the ability to “thrive”… and, if necessary, retreat to the sand for some time.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.