How to Cope With Burnout

IMAGINE yourself as an office worker with a family or maybe you are one. Work is piled up on your desk. The phone rings incessantly with customers demands that are next to impossible to meet. Your supervisor is displeased that you are not meeting the quota. Your son is in trouble at school. The teacher wants to see you immediately. Your pleas for help to your spouse are met with indifference. When the situation seems out of hand, stress becomes distress, paving the way for burnout.

Is burnout caused by overwork? Ann McGee-Cooper, a brain researcher, said that burnout is the result of living out of balance, typically in an all-work/no-play spiral.  Overwork, however, is not the only factor; under the same pressure and circumstances, some burn out while others do not.

Likely Victims of Burnout

Just as there are people who are more likely to be infected with a certain disease, there are types of people who are more likely to burn out. In order to suffer from burnout, says Elliot Aronson, professor of social psychology at the University of California, you must first be on fire. So those prone to burn out are afire with high goals and ideals. It is said that those who suffer burnout are often a companys best people.

Summing up the personality traits of likely victims of burnout, Professor Fumiaki Inaoka of the Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing, wrote in the book, Moetsukishokogun (Burnout Syndrome): Those who are inclined to burn out have strong tendencies to be sympathetic, human, delicate, dedicated, and idealistic. They are not machine oriented but human oriented, so to speak.

     Especially vulnerable are those involved in human-oriented services, such as social workers, doctors, nurses, and teachers. They eagerly try to help people, giving of themselves to improve the lives of others, and may burn out when they realize they are not achieving the sometimes unattainable goals they have set for themselves. Caring mothers can also burn out for the same reason.

Why People Burnout

A survey taken among nurses revealed three factors leading to burnout. First noted was the amount of daily hassles causing frustration. For example, the majority of the nurses had to carry weighty responsibilities, handle difficulties in dealing with patients, adjust to new equipment, face mounting expenses, and put up with an irregular life-style. These daily hassles constitute the greatest influence toward their burnout, says the book Moetsukishokogun. When problems remain unsolved, frustration simply builds up and leads to burnout.

The second factor noted was lack of support, not having someone to confide in. Thus, a mother who isolates herself from other mothers is more likely to burn out. The above-mentioned survey found that single nurses are more prone to burn out than those who are married. Nonetheless, being married can increase daily hassles if there is no open communication between husband and wife. Even when everyone is home, a person may find himself alone because his family is absorbed in watching television.

The third factor was feelings of helplessness. For instance, nurses are more likely to experience feelings of helplessness than doctors because nurses may lack the authority to change things. Those in middle management may burn out when they feel their greatest efforts are not taking them anywhere. As a human-resources manager said, burnout comes from being frustrated by trying to make an impact and not being listened to.

Feelings of helplessness in humans germinate in a soil of unappreciative attitudes and bear the fruit of burnout. Wives burn out when their husbands fail to acknowledge the amount of work involved in homemaking and taking care of the children. The middle managers burn out when a boss ignores a job well done and picks on them for minor mistakes. The bottom line is that we all need to have our efforts appreciated and acknowledged, says Parents magazine, and if we work in a place that does not reward our efforts be it our home or our office then were more likely to suffer from burnout.

Interestingly, while nurses experience high percentages of burnout, obstetricians suffer considerably less. Generally speaking, an obstetricians work involves helping new lives come into the world. Mothers and fathers thank them for their work. When appreciated, people feel that they are useful and are motivated.

As soon as one knows who tends to burn out and why, it becomes easier to deal with the problem.

Way to Recovery

     Dr. Yutaka Ono, a director at Keio University School of Medicine, recommends three Cs for coping with burnout. He explains: The three Cs stand for control, communication, and cognition.

Control.   In order to overcome feelings of helplessness, you must be able to feel you are in control of your feelings and behavior. When frustration daily dominates your emotions and crushes your capacity to solve problems, it is easy to believe things are out of your hands. However, do not just sit back and dwell on troublesome thoughts. Try to solve your problem step-by-step.  Do not procrastinate. Just by initiating positive actions, you will begin to feel better and in control.

This may mean saying no to unreasonable demands at the workplace. Those who know their limitations welcome help. One female manager who had experienced burnout said that the key to avoiding it is to ask for help. Still, as she says, a lot of people are afraid to ask for help because they may be looked upon as failing in their job. Be it housework, schoolwork, or secular work whatever is threatening you with burnout delegate work where you can.

You may need some rest. A leave of absence can work miracles for a potential victim of burnout. However, if your circumstances do not allow for that,  if you know how to have fun, it makes a difference, says researcher Ann McGee-Cooper. Taking a break for a change of pace may even increase productivity, stimulating your mind toward creative thinking.

     Communication.   It is interesting that fire fighters rarely experience burnout. This may be because, in addition to being considered heroes, they are tied together by a strong bond of camaraderie. Having a supportive group to lean on, one can draw help from them. Where can you find comforting support today? Describing ways for physicians to cope with burnout, the book Moetsukishokogun (Burnout Syndrome) states: For doctors, their family, especially their spouse, is the most effective and realistic emotional supporter.  Everyone needs someone in whom to confide personal feelings.

We must build our own support system of close friends and family, says USA Today. It then adds: We also must feel free to utilize the resources of our religious centers and mental health services.

Cognition.  Finally, a change may be needed in how you view your situation. Cognition, or perception, is the last C that Dr. Ono suggests as a way to cope with burnout. When under excessive stress, we tend to make negative estimates of everything and entrap ourselves in pessimistic viewpoints. However, we have to be realistic. Analyze whether or not there really is a basis for such negative thinking. Will the result be as bad as you fear? Try to look at things from another point of view.

You can begin by assuming that if youre burned out, its probably because youre good, not because youre bad, says Parents magazine. Remember: Types who are prone to burnout have high standards and care about others. What is most helpful for a burnout victim is a word of appreciation. It will make a big difference to a mother if her husband and children express and show appreciation for all the work involved in running a household. If a middle manager suffers burnout at work, an appreciative comment and a pat on the back can change his outlook for the good.

Twelve Ways to Prevent Burnout

THE following are based on just a few of the suggestions offered by a clinical specialist in mental-health nursing.
 1. Be in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior prayer is a great help.
 2. When you start to worry, deliberately change over to useful, decisive thinking.
 3. When agitated, take a deep breath and consciously relax.
 4. Try to see situations from the other persons viewpoint to understand how the stress has developed.
 5. Focus on what you appreciate in others and compliment them. Express not flattery but earned praise.
 6. Identify and stifle negative, destructive thinking.
 7. Know how to say no when your energy and schedule call for it.
 8. Engage in some physical exercise every day brisk walking is good.
 9. Treat others with respect, seeking to bring out their best.
10. Keep a sense of humor and a twinkle in your eye.
11. Leave your work problems at the workplace.
12. Do today what must be done do not procrastinate.