How to recover from burnout is one of the major concerns of the twenty-first century. Have you had it or done it or been there? I’ve been there more than once and there are plenty of us that can say the same. Bear with me – this article has a happy ending!
So what does it take to recover from burnout? Well firstly, what is it? It’s a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive, long-term stress. It’s when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands or even the little everyday things. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the the motivation that led you to take something on in the first place, even if you believe in it with your whole heart.
Need I add that burnout saps your energy, and can leave you feeling increasingly helpless, even hopeless. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
And although you know you are getting more and more down and tired, it can feel like you can keep going and then the point of being at your wits end comes suddenly.
Signs and causes
A book by Christina Maslach titled ‘The Truth about Burnout‘ (for link see below) notes six imbalances that lead to burnout:
- Lack of control. You don’t have a lot of say about what’s going on in your work, or your sense of control is undermined or restricted.
- Values conflict. There’s a disconnect between your own core values and the core values of the organisation, your work or relationships.
- Insufficient reward. You feel under-compensated, underappreciated, and taken for granted.
- Work overload. Your workload is too much, too urgent, or too complicated.
- Unfairness. You’re treated poorly by the organisation, management plays favourites, and assignments and promotions are made behind closed doors.
- Breakdown of community. Your colleagues patronise you or others, there’s no-one to talk with about conflicts, and feedback is non-existent.
Which of those burnout aspects speak to you?
The ones which have totally caught me out more than any others are numbers 2, 3 and 5. Values in conflict, lack of appreciation and being told that what I’m doing ‘isn’t enough’, and unfairness. Why?
Because the values which I am ‘accused’ of infringing are integrity, equal recognition, giving of my best and fair play, and they are core values with me. They are also therefore, you might say, my vulnerabilities.
Here’s the thinng. Should you experience burnout you can find out which your values and vulnerabilities by listening to the words of overwhelm that you yell in your head. Mine were ‘It shouldn’t be this way!!!’, which means that what is happening totally goes against what is massively significant to me about the preciousness of life.
Other minds’ utterances may be ‘It’s just not fair!’ – self explanatory, I think. An infringement of fair play. Or ‘I’m so lonely!’ – isolation, breakdown of community, infringing a value of connection, other-ness and even love. Probably you can think of others – should you wish to take the time to do so…. So what’s my point? Well first, we can use Ms Maslach’s list for preventive measure:-
Prevention rather than cure
By looking asking questions based on these six points, we can work out a healthy checklist for a spot of servicing and maintenance every now again, about any area of life that you wish. (For example, although burnout is commonly mostly spoken about associated with work and the book is written from an organisational context, it is not unknown by any means in relationships, is it?)
The checklist of questions:
Do I have a creative say in what is happening, to the extent to which is was agreed?
Does what I am doing and being asked to do chime with my values – honesty, integrity, success, etc.
Am I sufficiently appreciated? Either by recognition or payment or other means? Am I appropriately seen?
Am I overloaded either by volume or by unagreed loading? Am I or am I getting overloaded with work that truly is not my domain? And therefore do I feel overwhelmed?
Is this fair? Are we each honouring our promises, can we speak our issues without fear of retribution?
Do I feel isolated to any degree? Without connection?
Or change them to their positive form
- Am I creative and do I have a say?
- Am I living my values?
- Am I being seen and appreciated appropriately?
- Is the pace and load as agreed?
- Is there fair play at work?
- Do I feel connected and ‘part of…’?
The questions can help forestall the deep dive, put on the brakes and change direction
Asking these questions periodically can help us to see what is happening and to make small but powerful changes on our behalf, which may take grit because the momentum may have really got going….
What about ‘recover from burnout’?
They can help recover from burnout and give you what you need to create a new track that’s good for you
Asking the questions at the point of meltdown shows what’s dreadfully amiss. Choose one(s) that ‘speak’ to you to find your vulnerabilities and to help you recover.
As I said, mine was that of values. I became finally helplessly angry because life is precious and beautiful and plenteous. These are not facts; they are my values about life and how things should be for a good one, and things had become stark, unfair (in my perception) contradictions to the last two values, one hundred percent.
So I took heed and began to live ‘as if’ life was beautiful and plenteous for me. It took a while, I have to say. But I made it real by making it clear to those nearest and dearest that is how I am thinking and how I am shaping what I am doing. And it still gets challenged – of course it does. But I’m aware.
For others for whom isolation is their vulnerability, making connections and contacts – of the helpful kind – would be the way.
We need to think about this for burnout recovery. Then we need to rethink how we are being and doing.
For anyone to recover from burnout, life needs a refresh and we are designing a vehicle of a different kind. It can take time because burnout has physical aspects: look at adrenal fatigue on YouTube, for example, and take good care of your precious self.
However, by understanding that what got beseiged is what matters to us. And by understanding what these vulnerabilities are can be used to recover from burnout means. This means that you – and I – do not return to the same place: heaven forfend, but take better care and look out for what matters most.
The benefit, the payoff
So burnout, without cliche, can be a huge learning and insight opportunity. The thing is, that which trips you into it when it goes wrong or ceases to be, is highly likely (99.9% I would say) to be the thing that, when its going well in your life, gives you most joy. And it’s worth doing that checkup every now and again so that you can nudge things back on track for you, in time andto help you flourish in the part in life you are playing.
A think, then a rethink: boy is it worth it.
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