What feelings do you associate with feeling burnout? Do you find yourself resistant to using this term? Or is the term something you consistently feel and think about? As a healthcare professional, I found myself unable to accept and adopt this term to define the state in which I felt. It was as if I was failing or inadequate to say, “I am burnout” — like I would never be able to accomplish what I wanted when I admitted to how I was feeling in the present moment.
However, I’d like to spend some time demystifying this word today. What I have uncovered, through deep exploration of the word burnout, is that burnout, like all emotions, are moving thoughts and feelings that you can choose to hold on to or allow to pass. I forget which meditation teacher of mine said,” Allow your thoughts to pass by like clouds in the sky.” This statement has always stuck with me. It brings light to how you can perpetuate suffering or even joy by attaching to your thoughts- not letting thoughts pass like a moving cloud.
For me, this realization was key in allowing myself to fully feel and identify what I was experiencing. Through feeling and identifying with these passing thoughts as just that, and not all of whom I am, I was able to begin addressing and working with them. I want to highlight here that even though I identified these thoughts and feelings as being transient, I did not disregard them.
So let’s take a moment pause here because you may be asking yourself well what is burnout? Am I burnout?
In the literature, burnout syndrome (BOS) was first described in the 1970s as a work-related constellation of symptoms and signs that usually occur in individuals with no history of psychological or psychiatric disorders. (Moss, Good, Gozal, Kleinpeill, & Sessler, 2016). BOS occurs in all types of healthcare professionals and is especially common in individuals who care for critically ill patients. In the initial stages, individuals may feel emotional stress and job dissatisfaction, which may lead to the inability to adapt to the work environment and negative feelings toward one’s work. The three classic symptoms of BOS are: exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced feelings of personal accomplishment. Individuals may feel frustrated, angry, fearful or unable to feel happiness, joy, pleasure, and/or contentment (Moss et al., 2016). These feelings may also be associated with helplessness, where the individual feels hopeless, resigned, or even ashamed (Back, Rushton, Kaziak, Halifax, 2015). BOS may also be associated with physical symptoms including insomnia, muscle tension, headaches, body heaviness, lethargy, and gastrointestinal problems (Moss et al., 2016).
Or to put it in simple terms- burnout is a work to life imbalance. This imbalance creates disconnection to yourself and results in above-addressed symptoms. The best part of this is everyone experiences imbalances from time to time. No these imbalances may not lead to burnout BUT I think it is essential to notice these imbalances and begin working with them before burnout occurs. By the time we are burnout, we have suffered far more than need be which most likely has caused suffering to our extended communities. In all stages of burnout, you are able to return to yourself and who you want to be.
So instead of looking at burnout as failing or being inadequate, can you address the symptoms of burnout and recognize how they manifest in your life. Can you use this awareness to instead of turning away from, and allowing these symptoms to compile, to turn toward? In turning toward feelings, you may associate as negative, you allow yourself to be a whole person. You stop rejecting the parts of you-you personally deem wrong. You begin cultivating a relationship with yourself based on compassion, love, and empathy. This may be the first step to self-discovery that aligns you with who you want to be.