Do You Have The Burnout Blues?
By Chelse Benham
"Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies."
-Albert Camus, (1913-1960) existentialist philosopher
The USA Today Marketplace Web site defines job burnout as a “chronic stress
syndrome caused by work and societal pressures, as well as personal
characteristics. A slow, progressive process, burnout affects your whole person –
intellect, feelings, relationship and spirit.” Does that sound like you? If so, you
could be wallowing under stress and unable to find direction and focus.
Fortunately, there is ample information and advice available to remedy the
“Burnout’ is not a psychological diagnosis, but it is a nice descriptive term. The
term ‘burnout’ is just a way for people to recognize being under a lot of stress. If
left unchecked it could lead to something more serious like depression,” said Dr.
Kristin Croyle, assistant professor of psychology and anthropology at The
University of Texas-Pan American.
People may have difficulty recognizing they are “burned-out” at work. Shelly
Field, Monster.com contributing writer, formed a list of questions to ask yourself
to gauge your level of burnout:
• Do you have difficulty getting up in the morning?
• Are you always tired?
• Do you forget things?
• Do you have unexplained aches and pains?
• Are you irritable at work and at home?
• Do you feel angry at work and at home?
• Do you lose your temper easily?
• Have you lashed out at coworkers, patients or your family?
• Are you overwhelmed most of the time?
• Do you feel unappreciated, overlooked or underpaid at work?
• Do you feel like you have less control over things at work and at home?
• Are you stressed most of the time?
• Have you begun to wonder why you're doing what you're doing career
• When at work, do you look at your watch constantly to see how long
you've been there and how much longer you have left?
• Are you going through the motions just to get through your shift?
• Have you been experiencing more headaches, stomachaches, rashes,
chest pains and illnesses?
• Have you lost interest in things that used to excite you?
• Are you bored?
• Do you feel like you're in a rut?
“Job burn out can be an awful experience. After all, many of us spend most of
our waking hours on the job, more hours, in fact than what we spend with our
families and friends,” said Susie Chapa, cooperative education coordinator at
The University of Texas-Pan American. “Burnout is a silent response that triggers
a mind effect that sometimes we do not even notice how much it is taking out of
Chapa goes on to advise, “Sometimes we need to examine if we are a good fit to
the job environment that we are in. So many areas to consider....
Did I take this job because I really want to do this?
Did I take the job because it pays well?
Did I take the job because it was the only thing available?
Remember you have to be happy and enjoy what you are doing,” Chapa said.
Unfortunately, stress can lead to more than psychological distress. It can be the
underpinning factor of destructive behavior like alcohol and drug abuse and
domestic violence. The ramifications can affect work and home.
“We do know that people have three main ways of dealing with stress. Some
people use a ‘problem (task) related coping strategy’ which directly addresses
the stress in a constructive way, head-on looking for solutions. Another strategy
is ‘repair coping strategy.’ The person does not directly address the stressful
situation, but obtains rest through a diversion,” said Dr. Etzel Cardeña, professor
of psychology and anthropology at UT Pan American. “The third and most
destructive coping strategy is the ‘defensive coping strategy.’ In this strategy, the
person does not deal with the problem at all and they do not have a constructive
response to the stress. They may turn to alcohol and drug abuse and domestic
violence. In both behaviors the person is not thinking about the problem, but is
Dr. Ana Campo, M.D. reported in the “Psychiatric Times” in April 2000, using
research from the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, that, “There is no doubt that the Hispanic population is at higher
risk for all types of violent acts…We understand violence as a complex interplay
between a person’s own aggressive tendencies and economic and social factors
in their environment, we can see that the Hispanic minority is at a greater risk for
violence…They are living in poverty and have a higher use of alcohol and drugs
and an increased accessibility to firearms.”
Many factors can lead to the problem of “burnout.” It may be compounded by a
stressful home life situation where the demands of the house and family prevent
being able to relax.
“First thing that I would recommend to someone with ‘burnout’ is that they plan
activities that they enjoy and do them on a regular basis,” Croyle said. “Then I
suggest they reevaluate their goals and what they think is important. Once they
determine what’s important, they may need assertiveness training to
communicate their needs to their boss in a way that their boss will respond
Donna R. Bellafiore, licensed clinical social worker, and certified alcohol and drug
counselor, defines the seriousness of the condition on her website.
“Burnout often starts as a feeling of fatigue physical, mental or emotional, which
lasts increasingly longer. Weekends, holidays, vacations and customary
diversions just don't give a sense of renewal any longer. The person starts to
withdraw from coworkers and supervisors. They aren't as attentive to their
responsibilities. They may see increased substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, and
tobacco), changes in their appetite, sleep disruptions, or the onset of physical or
emotional health problems,” writes Bellafiore. “They arrive late and leave early
and they may become increasingly angry, hostile and depressed. In severe
burnout they may experience a feeling of disconnection and complete loss of
interest in their job. Self-esteem suffers and feelings about work become totally
negative. There may be chronic absenteeism that can become a problem for
both the individual and the organization.”
Bellafiore offers some suggestions to combat the problem:
1. Examine Your Denial. When we are exposed to stress over long
periods of time, we tend to deny that there is a problem. The first
step in learning to cope with job stress is to listen to the wisdom of
your body. Freely admit and come to accept that you are under
stress. Identify the sources of your stress and learn how you are
reacting to them. Coming to terms with burnout is difficult, if not
impossible, unless we stop denying that there is a problem.
2. Avoid Isolation. When we are burdened with constant job stress,
dealing with other people is often the last thing we want to do
despite the fact that developing closeness and emotional intimacy
with others is one of our most effective ways of buffering ourselves
3. Reduce Intensity in Your Life. Examine those areas of your life,
which involve the most concentrated intensity and then work toward
alleviating that pressure. This can involve both work and non-work
tasks. For example, if your anxiety increases with certain areas of
work (meetings, long hours crunching numbers, etc.), see if you
can either eliminate those tasks or take a new approach toward
4. Learn to Pace Yourself. Like everything else in nature, our bodies
need up times and down times, time to work and time to rest. We
need moderation and balance. We can work intensely for a while,
but then we need to take a break. Insert some quiet and relaxing
interludes into your daily routine.
5. Minimize Worrying. Worry solves very few problems, but it does
increase our general anxiety. If you find yourself obsessing over
your concerns, and perhaps losing sleep in the process, write them
down, talk them over with a friend, come up with a real solution to
the problem, take action and then let it go.
6. Take Care of Your Physical Needs. When our bodies are run
down, we are more susceptible to burnout. Make sure you have a
nutritious diet (especially a good breakfast), but avoid abusing
yourself with rigid diets. Try to get as much exercise as you
realistically can. Avoid addictive substances. And get plenty of
7. Nurture Yourself More Than Others. Likely candidates for job
burnout are those who are more concerned about caring for the
needs of others to the detriment of caring for their own needs.
Some people seek the approval of others by agreeing to take on
enormous projects and working long hours. Rather than nurturing
others as your first response, try nurturing yourself. Learn to say
no. Try delegating responsibilities to others rather than taking on an
8. Take a Close Look at What Your Work Means to You. Try
sorting through what is meaningful in your life and separate it from
those things, which are temporary and fleeting. Learn what is
essential, and what is nonessential, for your happiness. Working
with a trained therapist on these questions can open the door to a
brand new way of living...with contentment, integrity and true
Job burnout can be more than a passing phase and it can lead to very serious
problems with severe consequences if not addressed. Avoiding the problem will
not produce solutions or magically make wonderful a bad situation. Being
proactive by recognizing the onset of the problem and taking rational and
effective measures is the best policy. Perhaps too, self-diagnosing your problem
is not enough, maybe you need to seek professional help with a licensed mental
health professional. Taking the first step may make all the difference in the world.
“In a world where change is inevitable and continuous, the need to achieve that
change without violence is essential for survival.” - Andrew Young, president of
National Council of Churches