Patterns of Stress That Lead to Burnout
It’s tempting to blame others for all of our worries. The causes of burnout are complex. We each have a pattern of stresses that are as unique as our fingerprints. There are, however, burnout stressors that we all have in common. You must look at the stress patterns holistically and root out all causes of stress at work and home.
Human Blind Spots
The first one is our human blind spots. We don’t learn to take care of ourselves in school. What we learn to do is survive by getting passing grades, making friends, staying out of trouble, and graduating to the next class, rank, or level of approval. Self-care principles such as nutrition, rest, exercise, and relationship skills fall by the wayside in pursuit of reaching education and career goals – even if we are in the health and wellness industry. We don’t learn to care for our physical and energetic needs until after we experience an episode of burnout.
I teach professionals simple ways to keep the normal stresses of being in the helping profession – from crossing the line into threatening their career, their marriage, and even their life.
Stress vs. Burnout
Let’s face it, life itself is stressful, and unmanaged stress can lead to burnout. As human beings, we only have so much time and energy to give. There is a difference between stress and burnout. Stress feels draining, but you are still able to recover. Burnout begins with feeling exhausted and NOT able to recover between work shifts.
The original burnout researcher, Herbert Freudenberger, describes this relentless downward spiral as:
…an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit, and will.
Burnout is the development of a negative balance in your energy bank accounts. It’s a syndrome that has physical, psychological, and spiritual components. When you cross the line from the “normal” stresses of being in the helping profession into job burnout, you will begin to notice one or more of the following symptoms.
MASLACH BURNOUT INVENTORY
The standardized research survey tool called the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) measures the main symptoms of job burnout. They are:
- Exhaustion -physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.
- Depersonalization – usually shows up as Compassion Fatigue, sarcasm, cynicism, and blaming your patients or consumers.
- Lack of Efficacy – presenting as thoughts of “what’s the use”, doubting that your work makes any difference and questioning the quality of your work.
These scales on the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) each correspond to a negative balance in your Energetic Bank Account, and you have three.
Exhaustion is your Professional Bank Account; Sarcasm, Cynicism, Blaming is your Emotional Bank Account, and “What’s the use?” is your Spiritual Bank Account meaning your more in-depth connection with meaning and purpose in your profession.
Your profession requires you to expend physical, emotional, and spiritual energy as you work with your patients/clients/consumers.
Once you become aware of the three active accounts, your job becomes very clear. You need to keep all three accounts in a positive balance to do your job well, with high work-life satisfaction.
Check the balance in each of your 3 accounts by asking yourself the following questions:
- Your Physical Account: How is your physical energy? Are you in a positive balance?
- Your Emotional Account: How are you feeling emotionally? Are you getting your needs met with regards to your most important relationships?
- Your Spiritual Account: How connected are you to feeling like your work makes a difference, and is a meaningful path for you?
The syndrome of burnout is a dilemma that needs a strategy to reach, as well as maintain a healthy energy balance in our work life. There are two methods of preserving the balance we all seek:
- Lower the stress and energy drain
- Increase your ability to recharge
Although it may sound simple, the truth is that preventing and treating job burnout involves a series of simple steps, and none of them are accessible for a busy professional because they sit in a huge blind spot created by our higher education.
- Learning how to lower your stress levels or create work-life balance wasn’t taught in school.
- There can be shame and guilt around getting your own needs met.
- You can fall into denial of your need for help, so you don’t ask for support no matter how burned out you might feel because this would be a sign of weakness.
There is not a quick fix to job burnout. It’s a series of little steps, done over time consistently, that collectively produce significant changes in your life. It’s a process that takes some time and will require you to do things differently. If you follow these steps and apply these strategies, you will get back to positive balances without having to quit your current position or change careers.
STEP 1: Decrease the Drain to Lower Your Stress
Think back over the past month or so, and ask yourself the following questions:
- How drained are you from your day at work?
- What are the specific situations, people, activities, and things that drain you most?
- How can you set yourself up to do LESS of the things that drain you most?
- What are the things you find the most rewarding and enjoyable at work?
- How can you set yourself up to do MORE of those things?
Decreasing the drain begins when you take a good honest look at what you don’t like about work and begin to accept it for what it is. It will get you into a healthier mindset where you stop blaming, complaining, and making excuses so that you can take action towards making some changes that will eliminate some of your stress.
STEP 2: Increase your Deposits to Increase Your Energy
What are your favorite recharging activities? Let’s look at the three bank accounts, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
- What things do you do outside of work that you find the most restful and rejuvenating?
- When can you do more of these things?
- How can you take better care of your body through exercise and eating more healthfully?
- Which of these things could you begin to incorporate into your workday?
- What relationships in your life give you the most joy and satisfaction?
- When was the last time you spent quality time nurturing these relationships?
- What makes you feel happy, joyful, or gives you pleasure in life?
- What are the things in your life and at work that are most meaningful to you?
- What is your “why”? Why did you choose the profession that you are in?
Your goal is to develop new habits that maintain a positive balance in all three of your accounts. It doesn’t happen naturally; it requires self-awareness to become more conscious of how you are using your power and spending your time and energy.
STEP 3: Get Started and Get Support
As you answer the questions above, pick one area and get started. Notice the difference this change makes in how you feel at the end of your first day of trying it out. If you would like additional support in your healing process towards achieving a healthy balance of energy that leads to less stress overall in your personal and professional life, then I encourage you to schedule some time to talk with me.
As a certified life, career transition, and job search coach, I specialize in helping professionals transform their lives and careers.
As a licensed counselor, I specialize in providing solution-focused care for individuals who need support navigating rough spots in their personal or professional life.