Do you have little enthusiasm for life? Have you become more cynical of late? Has your productivity gone down recently?
These are just a few of the warning symptoms which signal that you may be suffering from ‘burnout.’
The term is freely bandied about in conversation, but what does it actually mean in reality for people who are experiencing it?
Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest, usually in the context of work.
Although there is no consensus on whether the condition exists in its own right or if is an extension of extreme fatigue or clinical depression, left untreated it can have a negative long term impact on your health. It may even lead to insomnia and weight gain/loss.
Back in the 1970s, researcher Maslach and her colleague Jackson published the most extensive studies on burnout. They identified three factors, namely the effects of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Considering these symptoms together, they were able to quantify the degree of burnout someone has.
People who have stressful jobs, especially those in the caring professions, are more susceptible to the condition. For instance, lawyers, teachers, counsellors, paramedics and taxi drivers are more likely to suffer. Also, those who are particularly committed to their jobs have a higher likelihood of burnout.
Reasons for a person to submit to burnout are varied: lack of control, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, poor job fit or extremes of activity.
A Swedish study whose conclusions were published in the New Scientist in Nov. 2004 found that disrupted sleep was at the root of burnout rather than stress per se.
The research team at Karolinska Institute in Sweden tested 35 patients who had been off work for a minimum of three months. They found that there was a 40 percent reduction in slow-wave sleep compared with healthy people, with patients surviving on four or five hours sleep a night.
The normal treatment of rest and relaxation will therefore not be effective in these extreme cases.
Instead, the researchers propose following strict sleep hygiene rules alongside cognitive behavioural therapy. When implementing this program, after between six and 12 months, 60 percent of patients returned to work and there were marked improvements in sleep duration.
Sarah van Boxel, a 26-year-old PhD student, says that she sometimes experiences loss of productivity but she believes that it is probably caused by doing the same work all day long. In fact, monotonous work is often cited in the literature as a cause of burnout.
“If you do too much of the same thing, you tend to be less productive, I think, she states.
Sarah says that she does have the feeling of reduced sense of personal accomplishment from time to time. That may be due to being in the initial stages of her research where she is setting the framework and direction of future study.
This does make her feel “useless now and again, especially when she receives her salary and does not think she has accomplished much.
Her solutions range from thinking about the weekend, to phoning a friend and maybe taking a day off.
If a vacation does not do the trick, try to keep your expectations realistic, reduce your workload if possible, and develop interests outside work. Drastic action may be required should these steps not have the desired effect.
Considered a career break?