Is Burn Out the New Normal?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently defined “Burn Out” as an “occupational phenomenon”.  Whilst not defined as an illness it was listed as a common factor “influencing health status or contact with health services”.

Burn-out, whilst specifically being defined in an occupational context by WHO, is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism relation to one's job; and

  • reduced professional efficacy

When I read this, my initial reaction was “well who hasn’t experienced Burn Out!” And then in turn, how did we get to a place where being Burnt Out is almost standard in order to keep up with 21st century life?

 I recently attended a seminar, “The Hormone Factor” by Dr Libby Weaver, author of the fabulous book “Rushing Women’s Syndrome” and Ted Talk by the same name. In all three of these encounters with her work I felt the overriding message was that above all (and there are many other integrative aspects of health and wellbeing) stress, pressure and urgency are the culprits.  They are making our bodies feel like we are in CONSTANT danger. There is no tiger chasing us, but the psychological perception of ‘threat’ is putting our bodies in a constant state of fight or flight, raising adrenaline and cortisol levels on a continuous basis. The physical and mental implications of this are numerous and chronic.

 It’s not only what is happening in the “occupational context”, such as long hours, deadlines, lengthy commutes, negative workplace relationships, task fatigue…. honestly the list could be endless, but also balancing these factors with a life that exists outside work that might involve stressful or complicated personal situations, financial stress, family commitments and attempting to look after one’s overall health and wellbeing. And add on top of this the feeling that somehow the perfect ‘work life balance’ exists and that you should be fervently striving for this! I can feel my cortisol levels rising just thinking about it!!!

And in all honesty, this certainly isn’t limited to the ‘workplace’! Some of the hardest physical and mentally exhausting ‘work’ in carried out by parents raising children at home. In a heart-felt article titled “Self-care is not enough to fix how much moms are burnt out” by Diana Spalding, she states “Society is asking you to nurture in an environment that does not nurture you back.” There are so many expectations, cultural values, ‘norms’ and criticisms shaping the way that parents feel they should be doing things, yet no support of village to help alleviate the burden. 

So as I said earlier, who isn’t Burnt Out? And how can we put some things in place to avoid getting to Burn Out point?

Well step one is awareness! So even if you are questioning this very phenomena, you’ve made a good first step. The tipping point from Zen to Aghhhh! can be very delicate and great self awareness is paramount. Checking in with yourself; Does this job serve me and my family well? Am I valuing myself and therefore expecting others to value me also? Does my job align with my values and strengths? Could some better self care outside of work hours help to diffuse some of the stress I feel in the work place? Do I really want and need to be working this much, or would I prefer to spend more time with my family? Do I feel stuck at home and need to engage myself in the workplace to create a better balance?

But what if you’re already there in the full grip of stress, fatigue and Burn Out? It’s time to reevaluate and take check. As a first point of call, always seek professional help from a GP, counsellor or psychologist if you are feeling anxious, depressed or like it’s all too much to deal with alone because sometimes a 'bubble bath', 'nap' or 'girls weekend away' is not enough to fix the anxiety, loneliness and complete depletion we experience. 

Detoxing your physical environment will also help immeasurably in coping with Burn Out. Cleaning out the processed foods from your diet, removing toxins from your household and personal care products and including physical activity in your weekly routine are all amazing gifts you can give yourself for optimum wellbeing. Founder of Natural Perfume Collective Jessica Kiely, in her work as a Low Tox Living Consultant, completes Ditch & Switch audits of your home and office to help with the detoxing.....and that also includes a Declutter Service. “This can free up space in your home and mind and hearts. And that detoxing and lowering your toxic load from your home and bodies can lead to much more vitality and health, and stronger immune systems to deal with daily pressures.” 

For Jessica, she says that signs she is getting close to "burn out" include:

  • Fatigue in the afternoons, that is not normally there
  • Tense shoulders
  • Getting snappy at her kids and losing her usual patience
  • Blaming other things and people for all of the things SHE HAS to do
  • Skipping exercise, meditation and not caring about what she eats
  • Losing appetite

“Now I know when these happen, it is time to PAUSE and re-evaluate all commitments, all expectations, all to-dos, all judgements, all priorities. And then I remind myself of how far down the burn out and darkness path I have been before, and ask I want to go there again? Nope. Ok - re-direct, re-route, drop things, say ‘no’, get sleep, pull back, slow down and focus on my core vitality foundations; sleep, nourishing food, deep rest, meditation, learning something new, inner work in any form, and a good Netflix session!” 

Now is a great time to question what your early warning signs are? And what do you do? What could you do better in the future?

I can relate to so many of Jessica’s ‘warning signs’! In the seven years since having my first child, I have been on a rollercoaster of complete love, adoration and bliss through to the lowest of lows living with PND (post natal despression) and working to come through the other side of that with more kindness for myself and more clarity about what I need as an individual and how I can be the best wife and mother to my family. And let me tell you the work hasn’t finished! For me it is a daily act of valuing myself, assessing my priorities and taking check that I am not over-committing and being a slave to the needs of others. I want more than just to ‘cope’ and be ‘ok’. I want to experience joy and thrive in life!

There are so many options these days too when it comes to trying to create a work/life synergy that best serves you and your family. So many mums, including myself, are now ‘freelancing’, ‘gigging’ and running their own race, trying to find the very delicate balance and not get caught up in the “success” trap. Because what works for you is your own secret recipe and it won’t be the same as what works for Jane next door or Rebecca from the office.

It is always important to remember that often there isn’t actually stress, but only your perception of it. Running late, having a huge to-do list and having deadlines to meet are not a ‘danger’ or stress themselves, rather your perception of that situation and that you are being judged! So maybe it’s time to evaluate your real core values and priorities and let some of the expectations go.

As a result of their data around work-induced Burn Out, the World Health Organization is about to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace. Any further research or investigation in this area is a great outcome.

Because self care needs to go beyond the quick grabs for 'me time'. We need to be honest about what we are feeling. There is NO SHAME in facing it and asking for help! Most people genuinely like helping. So not only are you doing yourself a favour but you're also giving others an opportunity to feel part of a community and be of service. ‘Self care’ is an ongoing process, journey and need, it is NOT selfish.

And learn to say NO! You cannot do everything!!!

Then jump into that bath tub, take a long soak and a few deep breaths. And enjoy it.



Rushing Women’s Syndrome by Dr Libby Weaver

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