It’s a story of clichés. Of rat races and hamster wheels, and running too hard, and not getting a second wind.
It’s a fact of life; a crush of banalities that inspire clichés. And amid the to-do lists and daily-life jabs, it all turns into a dark corridor leading nowhere.
Welcome to the burnout haze.
It’s taken a while, but the World Health Organisation, which convened in Geneva earlier this month, finally termed the ‘burnout’ as a real thing. It’s been defined by the organisation as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Meet fresh blood
The great thing about hunger in your belly is it makes you work harder, (sometimes) faster, and - if you are lucky - smarter. But in that desperation to hear the cry of success, you may graze past the minefield of perfection and get burnt.
Living the good life is a high-pressure job.
Dr Mrabet Jihene, Assistant professor and Director of the Office of counselling and disability at the American University in Emirates, says: "[When] you have some ideals and some drives that pushes you to do something, you are passionate about your work and you are using all your effort but you are failing. That is when burnout happens.”
In a rut
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a Federal agency responsible for researching and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury, found in a study that 40 per cent of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful.
With a new AI revolution around the bend and the hail of threats beating down on various professions, there’s a general air of insecurity in the job market. But that’s like rocks hitting a shield. For those gainfully employed, there more immediate stressors: think work pressure, office politics, little control over work conditions and terms, unspoken rules of engagement et all.
And then combine these with the aches of personal life: interpersonal relationships, financial concerns, emotional burndens.
“When we go through all these risks, the stress overload may occur,” explains Dr Jihene . “With stress overload comes relationship problems, fatigue, irritability and negative emotions.”
But there’s also a more sinister price for blurring the lines between personal and professional space: illness. “If you have frequent headaches, if you start having lower immunity, gastrointestinal problems, if you have sleep disorder, if you start smoking more than you used to do, if you feel [out of breath], if you experience some of these physical symptoms, there is a high probability that you are under stress overload,” explains the doctor.
The analogy here is: Try being a robot and your circuit boards will fry.
Yet the damage is physical – and often more easily reversed.
Stairway to hell
You may have too much stimuli, but it’s only if you ignore and don’t deal with the issues that it’ll start taking a cumulative shot at you. There are different stages that lead you from stress overload to burnout.
Dr Jihene explains: “If you put your needs last, you will lose some of your values and you will start feeling frustrated, aggressive and even cynical and emotionally exhausted. This is when you start questioning yourself, experience isolation and exposing yourself to a physical and mental collapse."
“You start to feel empty and hopeless and after this comes the burnout.”
A look at the abyss
WHO’s classification identifies three components of burnout:
1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
2) Increased mental distance from one’s job, and
3) Reduced professional efficacy.
Light at the end of the tunnel
So to step off that proverbial cliff, while not easy, is definitely a possibility, say experts. It just requires a perspective overhaul. “You need to reconsider your life, to evaluate your choices and to reorganize your priorities…take a break, and ask yourself why you have gone so far,” explains Dr Jihane. Here are some practical tips:
• It’s ok to not be perfect: “We need to admit we are not perfect; we are human,” says the doctor. What’s important is to just do your best.
• SWAT Analysis: “We need to understand what are our strengths and our limits are.”
• No grey areas. Just as good fences make good neighbours, good boundaries mean greater peace of mind. “We need to set strong boundaries, between the us and others so that they will not influence my decisions or my life choices. We need to build limits between our private life and our professional life to avoid overlapping on each other. I know that nowadays it's difficult because of the technology progress (we can be disturbed by a personal problem by phone while we are working and we can be distracted from family events because we are reading and answering work emails) but we need to be consistent and fully aware of the danger that can provoke the overlapping of those areas."
• Time management: Organise your schedule and monitor your energy investment. If the return on investment isn’t worth it or the cost of a goal too high, don’t engage.
• Get your priorities sorted…and determine your to-do list accordingly.
• Finally, ask for help, if and when you need it.