Burnout is one of the biggest health risks helping professionals face due to their work environment – in fact, burnout is now recognized by the World Health Organization as being an “occupational phenomenon.”
The International Classification for Diseases defines burnout as:
“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout and compassion fatigue are common in helping professions, and more and more people are recognizing the importance of working toward the recognition and prevention of burnout, as well as enhancing our self- and community-care methods to improve our overall wellness. These skills have been recognized as a necessity for individuals to develop and maintain their helping skills.
Symptoms of burnout vary between individuals, but generally some combination of the following physical, mental and behavioural symptoms will develop.
- chronic low energy or exhaustion
- aches and pains
- increased colds, flus and infections
- sleep problems
- poor concentration
- fault finding
- withdrawing from responsibilities
- isolating from others
- using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
- taking frustrations out on other
- skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
The cost of burnout
As symptoms of burnout increase in intensity, we begin to lose interest and motivation that led us to take on the helping role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps energy, leaving us feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Eventually, we may even feel like we have nothing more to give.
The negative effects of burnout can spill over into every area of life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to our body that makes us vulnerable to illnesses and can cause long term damage. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to learn about burnout early so we can build the skills necessary to prevent burnout as well as recognize the symptoms so we can deal with burnout as soon as it begins to happen.
Preventing and dealing with burnout
The science tells us that there are effective ways to prevent and mitigate the symptoms of burnout:
- Understand what burnout is, and become adept at recognizing symptoms in yourself (as well as colleagues/others).
- Don’t dismiss the symptoms of burnout as trivial or irrelevant.
- Increase your focus on self-care behaviors, with a particular focus on taking steps to enhance and improve sleep, diet and alcohol consumption behaviours.
- Identify what things on your to-do list can be removed or deferred; reducing immediate demands and enhancing of rest and rejuvenation are critical.
To learn more techniques for preventing and managing burnout, sign up for my webinar, “Enhancing Psychological Health, Wellness & Resiliency: The Critical Importance of Self-Care & Burnout Prevention for Helping Professionals.”
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