Burnout prevention

Are you suffering from signs of (pre-)burnout?

Burnout is a stress-related condition. In itself, stress is not necessarily a bad thing. A bit of adrenalin can make you perform at your best when a deadline is in sight, or when something is expected of you. But when you remain under stress for a longer time, the same substances (like the adrenalin) that kept you sharp at first, can start wearing you out.

Stress is meant to be the exception, to help you survive in life-threatening situations. Nowadays, however, it has become rather the rule. The increasing digitalisation at work leads to less downtime, checking messages 24/7 and spending more hours in front of a screen. As a consequence, your stress system keeps on being activated.

This long-term stress has physical effects, like the loss of sleep or concentration problems, as well as psychological effects. The name burnout suggests what happens: the flame loses its flicker until it is completely extinguished. Very common symptoms of being "burnt out" are loss of interest, loss of energy, cynicism, feeling exhausted instead of challenged by change, feeling powerless, etc.

The more stressed you get, the more negatively you interpret what happens to you. This leads to more stress – the start of a vicious circle.

Depressed business man

The burnout funnel

The trouble is that you can't really trust your own judgment when you're under too much stress. Your mind will tell you to focus on the urgent stuff, the to-do's. It will also tell you that there is no time to take some rest – no time to waste.

So, you frantically try to stay on top of things, always running faster and skipping the things that actually relax and nourish you, because these seem optional.

Seen from the "stressed perspective", what you are doing seems logical: you are trying to deal with the problem. But in reality, you are depleting your physical and mental resources, making you ever more tired. Soon, you may get irritable, lose your concentration, sleep less well, feel drained and eventually exhausted.

This is what is called the "burnout funnel". The lower you sink into that funnel, the more difficult is becomes to get out of it again.

The need to recognise your own patterns

One of the biggest misunderstandings about burnout is that it happens to "weak" people. The opposite is true: the more motivated and hard-working you are, the more vulnerable you are to a burnout.

Burnouts tend to happen mostly to people who like their job and take it seriously, who are motivated to make the best of it. Because these are the people that will go "the extra mile", even more so if they have perfectionistic tendencies, until they collapse.

If you recognise yourself in this profile, it is crucial to learn to see these patterns, and to learn to step out of them. It is not easy to do that by yourself, because these patterns are a bit like lenses you  look through – you are not always aware that you're looking through a specific lens, but assume that the way you see things is reality.

A mindfulness course or coaching sessions are great ways of getting more insight into your own patterns and will give you tools to approach work (and life) differently.


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