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There is no doubt that many of us work ourselves to our physical and mental limits and beyond in an effort to uphold our personal and financial responsibilities but is that enough to create burnout?
Obligations often mount when increased production and other occupational demands dictate longer hours and inadequate time to rest and recuperate. These demands as well as financial issues, or unreasonably high standards imposed upon ourselves can all contribute to high levels of stress and an unfortunate condition known as – burnout.
Burnout can be described as a state of mental, physical or emotional fatigue that results from being overworked and stressed for long periods of time.
Many of us push ourselves so hard and for so long that burnout is inevitable, while others realize the importance of taking a break and doing the things that they know will help them to relax.
The amount of time it takes to reach this state depends on the person and is connected to an individual’s personality as well as one’s tendency to take care of oneself.
Personality is a complex concept but simplified, it is the various subtle and often not-so-subtle characteristics that come together to make a person’s individuality and ability to adapt to stress and challenges.
Psychologists over time have witnessed a wide range of personality types that can be measured in many different ways.
Most of us are familiar with the term Type A personality but for those who are not, there are two distinct varieties of the Type A personality.
1. Type A Ambitious – this variety of the Type A personality tends to be very concerned with achievement and advancement in work and often watching the clock. Other characteristics of this personality type might include the tendency to control others and even take advantage of fellow employees.
2. Type A Angry – numerous studies were completed since the initial idea of type A personality showing this second more dangerous variety of the personality type. Those showing more hostile, angry and aggressive behaviors would likely fall under this category and these traits, according to many studies, are the main culprits in contributing to heart problems as well as premature burnout.
There are many differing schools of thought as to how personality dictates the way each individual processes and manages stress, but most of the available data points to the fact that being ambitious and highly motivated are not damaging when kept in check and combined with periods of rest and relaxation.
On the other hand, those that have more aggressive hostile tendencies and even explode over events that are trivial may very well be more prone to the effects of stress and are subsequently more likely to suffer from burnout.
So how do you know when you’re burned out? A Concordia University study examined the relationship between job stress and burnout. The study identifies three dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion, lack of accomplishment and depersonalization (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11200738).
Emotional exhaustion is something most of us have experienced and can be characterized by intolerance to others and environmental conditions, frequent anger and hostility towards co-workers, apathy and even psychosomatic or physical problems. Maintaining an awareness of changes in mood and affect can be helpful in avoiding emotional exhaustion and burnout.
The second category, lack of accomplishment, can be a function of apathy and emotional exhaustion. Losing one’s zeal for a particular occupation is a common side effect of burnout and frequently results in lack of motivation and subsequent deficits in important accomplishments. These changes can also have the effect of lowering an individual’s self esteem making it even more difficult to bounce back into one’s previous level of accomplishment.
Depersonalization is the final category of the three dimensions of burnout and is the process of losing oneself in work and becoming detached from reality. This can come in numerous forms including a sense of floating, or seeing oneself as a robot in a dream state. Depersonalization can last for moments or literally for years in some cases and can have the overall effect of creating debilitating anxiety and depression in the sufferer. Again, awareness of changes in oneself can be the most important part of preventing long lasting and chronic symptoms that can be life altering.
So how can we overworked, tired, status-seeking, job-commuters prevent burnout? Here’s a good way to start:
1. Awareness – consciousness of changes in oneself and one’s emotions are important ways of detecting changes. And although we all have shifts in emotion from hour to hour, day to day, month to month, maintaining a watchful eye over behaviors that seem to be counterproductive or out of the ordinary can be useful. Seeking the aid of a mental health professional can be helpful as well in this process as many of us are unable or unwilling to look at changes in ourselves and may rationalize by saying ‘I can handle this’ or ‘this really isn’t a problem for me’.
2. Know the symptoms – having a general familiarity with the symptoms of burnout and being honest with about our own tendencies and personalities can be huge steps to avoiding burnout.
3. Diet – many of us have a tendency to neglect our nutritional needs during times of high stress. This could be roughly compared to neglecting to put oil in your car. Stressful times demand even more attention to nutrition and an awareness of maladaptive habits that you may have formed over time that may very well be impeding your ability to work at your best.
4. Self-care – this is an extremely important part of preventing burnout. Allowing oneself periods of rest, relaxation, sleep and activities that help you to release stress are integral factors in burnout avoidance. Regular exercise is also paramount as it can often be the best tool at relieving stress and anxiety.
In summary, having an awareness of conditions and changes in yourself, and maintaining a program of physical and mental well-being are the best tools in staying healthy, happy and avoiding burnout.