Sunday, October 4, 2009

Burnout is More than a Notion

Homespace: Reflections at Home - photo by Rev. Qiyamah

Dar-Ul-Islam (Abode of Peace)
trought he door,
healing vibes
pull me in,
reordering my mind
into ssoft spaces,
earth tones,
vibrant splashes
a smile
on my face
drawing me,
holding me,
in my home spun room.
(written in the 1980s by Qiyamah A. Rahman)

Burnout is More than a Notion
I am my mother's daughter. I love a clean house. I have spent today cleaning and washing, sweeping and mopping,potting plants, healing some diseased plants and running errands. This is how I destress. I declutter my life by sprucing up my environment that feeds and nurtures me. The colors, the furnishings and energy, the pictures and images all rejuvenate me and feed my soul.

I wind down after intense periods in my life through nesting and hibernating and hanging out in my personal space. I like to hang with people but I rejuvenate myself through solitude and "cleaning" and "organizing" my environment so that I can languish in it and let it feed me as I make sense of my outer world and soak up renewing energy.

Last night I watched a movie after finishing up the week with New Student Orientation. This was the first year that faculty assumed responsibility for the New Student Orientation. Some how it got placed in my portfolio. At first I didn't take it seriously and did not even acknowledge that fact. Then when I realized that it was intentional and that I was really expected to plan the New Student Orientation I got serious. Unfortunately, it also came when I was in the throes of doing planning for a class that has not been previously taught and that I did not expect to teach.

Burn Out
Circumstances converged to create a very intense schedule which led to a mild case of burn out. For those of you that have not experienced burn out, consider yourselves fortunate. It is nothing to play with! Some of the symptoms include:

feeling disillusioned, a sense of helplessness, and feeling completely worn out, feeling that your problems are insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and difficulty mustering up the energy to care - let alone do something about your situation.

Because I have experienced burnout previously I recognized the signs and symptoms in the early stages. I made arrangements to take off even though I could not leave the work behind. While I carried some work with me, my stress management strategy of changing my environment that was causing the stress, work, did not eliminate the burnout immediately, but it slowed it down enough to begin to help me regroup and problem solve the situation. Had I waited I am convinced that I might I done myself serious damage and suffered a serious setback to my self esteem, career and professional relationships. As it was I was getting cranky and it was harder and harder to exercise patience and empathy. Even when I returned having put four days between me and my work setting I was experiencing slight anxiety attacks and feeling so overwhelmed that I found it difficult to be my usual creative and problem solve self. Had I allowed myself to spiral into the later stages of burnout, research indicates that recovery often takes more time and effort. Changing my environment and indulging in some recreational time allowed me to regain my balance and reassess my priorities. I accomplished this by taking time away for myself, and seeking the support of my family and colleagues.The reality of my situation required me to take my work with me. The New Student Orientation was happening one day after I returned from a short respite. Such mental health days can make the difference between productive work performance and emotional and physical collapse.I am convinced that I was on the verge of a physical and emotional collapse.

What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to offer.

According to Helpguide, a non-profit on line resource, most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, Helpguide contends that you may be flirting with burnout.

You may be on the road to burnout if:
Every day is a bad day.
Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
You’re exhausted all the time.
The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life – including your home and social life.

Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

Dealing with Burnout: The "Three R" Approach
Recognize – Watch for the warning signs of burnout
Reverse – Undo the damage by managing stress and seeking support
Resilience – Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

The difference between stress and burnout
Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine, though, that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.

Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up. One other difference between stress and burnout: While you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.

Causes of burnout
There are many causes of burnout according to In many cases, burnout stems from the job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout – from the hardworking office worker who hasn’t had a vacation or a raise in two years to the frazzled stay-at-home mom struggling with the heavy responsibility of taking care of three kids, the housework, and her aging father.

But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and certain personality traits. What you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing burnout as work or home demands.

Work-related causes of burnout
Feeling like you have little or no control over your work.
Lack of recognition or rewards for good work.
Unclear or overly demanding job expectations.
Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging.
Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment
Lifestyle causes of burnout
Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
Being expected to be too many things to too many people.
Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
Not getting enough sleep
Lack of close, supportive relationships
Personality traits can contribute to burnout
Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
High-achieving, Type A personality

Preventing burnout
If you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout in yourself, remember that it will only get worse if you leave it alone. But if you take steps to get your life back into balance, you can prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.

Burnout prevention tips
Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress can help you regain your balance.
To learn more, see Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress

Recovering from burnout
Sometimes it’s too late to prevent burnout – you’re already past the breaking point. If that’s the case, it’s important to take your burnout very seriously. Trying to push through the exhaustion and continue as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage.

While the tips for preventing burnout are still helpful at this stage, recovery requires additional steps.

Burnout recovery strategy #1: Slow down
When you’ve reached the end stage of burnout, adjusting your attitude or looking after your health isn’t going to solve the problem. You need to force yourself to slow down or take a break. Cut back whatever commitments and activities you can. Give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.

Burnout recovery strategy #2: Get support
When you’re burned out, the natural tendency is to protect what little energy you have left by isolating yourself. But your friends and family are more important than ever during difficult times. Turn to your loved ones for support. Simply sharing your feelings with another person can relieve some of the burden.

Burnout recovery strategy #3: Reevaluate your goals and priorities
Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? Burnout can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to change course accordingly.

Recovering from burnout: Acknowledge your losses
Burnout brings with it many losses, which can often go unrecognized. Unrecognized losses trap a lot of your energy. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional control to keep yourself from feeling the pain of these losses. When you recognize these losses and allow yourself to grieve them, you release that trapped energy and open yourself to healing.

Loss of the idealism or dream with which you entered your career
Loss of the role or identity that originally came with your job
Loss of physical and emotional energy
Loss of friends, fun, and sense of community
Loss of esteem, self-worth, and sense of control and mastery
Loss of joy, meaning and purpose that make work – and life – worthwhile
Source: Keeping the Fire by Ruth Luban

Coping with job burnout
The most effective way to combat job burnout is to quit doing what you’re doing and do something else, whether that means changing jobs or changing careers. But if that isn’t an option for you, there are still things you can do to improve your situation, or at least your state of mind.

Dealing with Job Stress
In order to avoid job burnout, it’s important to reduce and manage stress at work. Start by identifying what factors are stressful. Then you can take steps to deal with the problem, either by changing your work environment or changing the way you deal with the stressor.

Read: Stress at Work: How to Reduce and Manage Job and Workplace Stress

Actively address problems. Take a proactive approach – rather than a passive one – to issues in your workplace. You’ll feel less helpless if you assert yourself and express your needs. If you don’t have the authority or resources to solve the problem, talk to a superior.
Clarify your job description. Ask your boss for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. Point out things you’re expected to do that are not part of your job description and gain a little leverage by showing that you’ve been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.
Ask for new duties. If you’ve been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and take perspective.

My prognosis is good because I realize how close I came to experiencing a total breakdown. I have the responsibility to set boundaries in my life beginning with myself and with others. Because classes begin next week I realize that I am particularly vulnerable to overextending myself because the job expectations are unrealistic. I discovered that because I am not as young as I used to be my body does not recover from the abuse of over scheduling, long hours, little sleep and high stress work environments the way it did when I was much younger.

If I want to experience a quality of life during retirement that is anything like what I have experienced during my working years then I need to pace myself.

Question:What is your vision for your life and what does that look like? How can you sustain and achieve that in the midst of a demanding world that is constantly changing and requiring so much from you?

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

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