Cool Off Before You Burn Out

What Is Burnout?

Do you suffer from any of the following?

�decreased communication/withdrawl
�poor job performance
�low job satisfaction
�physical or emotional exhaustion
�aversion to change/general inflexibility
�apathy and cynicism

Any of these items could be a sign of burnout, or oncoming burnout. Burnout begins with excess and prolonged stress, which then can produce a strain on the individual (tenseness, irritability, tiredness). Burnout occurs when the individual copes defensively, using apathy, cynicism, or rigidity.

Avoiding burnout is about staying well and taking care of yourself. Most companies do not offer antistress programs, so it is usually up to each individual to look after his/her own physical and mental well-being.

All of us, thanks to technological advances in the workplace, can work harder and do more faster. About the only thing in the office that has not been upgraded is the employee. Doing more than ever before, individuals in the workplace have to face up to the possibility of job burnout-when your job does not feel like fun anymore.

Burnout does not happen overnight. Over time, stress accumulates and builds until it leads to exhaustion, withdrawal, and eventually apathy. When you lose your energy and motivation, and start to feel paralyzed-not knowing what to do about it-you may be on your way to burnout.

You might suffer from burnout if you notice any of the following: being angry or short-tempered with coworkers; blaming your dissatisfaction or annoyances on things and people around you; isolating yourself from your office-mates; experiencing feelings of depression; developing a dependence on food or alcohol. Other, more physical symptoms can include headaches, an increase in blood pressure, and any sort of chronic illness. Stress can, quite literally, make you sick.

Unbelievably, responses can range from workaholic tendencies, to someone simply showing up day after day, shuffling papers, and having no interest in his/her job at all anymore. Many who experience burnout were highly productive when they were originally hired-in fact, their tendency to take on too much adds to their stress level, which they then have difficulty managing, which leads to burnout.

Perhaps the worst part of burnout is that it can (and likely will) affect many areas of your life-not just your work life. Left unaddressed for prolonged periods, it can lead to general depression and overall feelings of apathy.

Are You Overstressed?

You can complete a quick stress evaluation at But most people recognize when they are feeling the symptoms of stress in their lives without being told. What most people do not always recognize, however, are the causes of their stress and what to do about them.

Unfortunately, family and the home-ideally the haven from the stresses of work-can often compound the problem by placing further demands on the individual who is already burning out. Coming home from a hectic workday full of demands to a house that requires cleaning, children that require feeding, and a spouse who deserves some attention, can become overwhelming. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, the stressed individual has so much responsibility that she simply collapses. She becomes paralyzed and loses her ability to prioritize so many important tasks and demands coming from so many different life directions.

Because doing a good job for others is important to her, the first sacrifice on her list of priorities is often her self. Who can take time for self when she has so many obligations toward others? And yet, it is precisely the lack of self time-of a method of releasing the building pressure of stress-that only makes things worse. In an effort to meet the demands in all areas of life, she cuts the nonessentials, the niceties-not realizing they are actually a necessity for her long-term well-being in all of her other areas.

The Need to Nurture the Self

The late author and professor Joseph Campbell, during an interview, once described the need for relaxation and quiet time in our hectic modern lives as follows:

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

Denying ourselves a sanctuary in life, where we can truly shed all stress and pressure, will result in decreased mental, and physical, health.

Burnout can even cause productive, valued employees to feel unworthy in their positions, simply because their enthusiasm for the work wanes. When we no longer love what we do, it is hard to feel as though we are giving our best effort-because we truly are no longer able to do so. But by dealing constructively with our stresses, we can alleviate those feelings of being overwhelmed and begin to enjoy our jobs and our lives again.

Dealing with Stress

Although a difficult thing for many of us, starting out by eating right is a foundation of well-being. Try to make this easier by keeping a bowl with fruits, raisins, nuts, and other healthy foods readily available for times when you feel like snacking or do not have time for a well-balanced meal. Other simple basics that many of us neglect include making sure we get sufficient sleep and adding some form of physical activity to our weekly routine. That does not mean an hour at the gym three times a week, if you know that realistically you will not adhere to that routine. Just a daily morning or evening walk, or a brisk walk on Saturdays and Sundays at a local park or even around your neighborhood can get you out and moving and provide you a change of scenery on a weekly basis.

When planning any physical activity changes in your routine, try to honestly evaluate your limits-mental as well as physical. Do not commit to three nights at the gym when you know you hate to exercise. Just plan that brisk (or leisurely, if that is the best you can do) walk. The point is to do something you can enjoy. If you attempt the gym, and you cannot keep the commitment, you could end up feeling disappointed in addition to being stressed. The objective is not to burden yourself with another responsibility-another commitment you have to maintain. Make changes you know you will enjoy and you know will be easy for you to maintain. Having fun is the key.

Consider taking up breathing exercises, or meditation. Start a reading period where you can sit quietly and focus on a good book for a few hours per week. Visit your local book store or library-places that are generally very quiet-and just browse at your leisure for an hour. Go window shopping while you walk at the mall. Take a hot bath or long shower with an aroma-therapy cleanser and a scented candle. Just remember to create relaxing time alone to quiet all of life’s noise and bustle. Clear your mind. We get so used to the commotion all around us, that we do not even notice it is there until we are alone in a relaxed environment and experience some real peace and quiet. Drink a cup of your favorite flavored tea or decaffeinated coffee before bedtime. Take the hour (or two or three) each night that you watch television, and replace it with a personally enriching activity instead. Do not reach for the remote, reach for your community calendar. Visit your local museums (for just a few dollars), or make a date for yourself (and your spouse) each week or twice a month. Go to a movie matinee on the weekends once a week (or week nights if you can afford it). There are often many (free or inexpensive) events happening every evening or weekend in most cities. Sit down the first of each month and choose a few you might enjoy. Most cities post their community calendars online at the local city site or newspaper site. Bookmark them in your browser.

The first rule of survival in life is that you are no good to anyone else, unless you are strong yourself. Instead of thinking of your personal needs as the lowest priority, and the needs of others as the highest priority, remember that you are only able to do the best job for your employer, friends, and family when you are feeling healthy and happy. The very thing we most often neglect during times of stress, it turns out, is the foundation of our ability to put forward our best efforts in all other areas of our lives. Next time you are going to be

up late doing housework, let it go. Get your eight hours of sleep instead. The house will still be dirty tomorrow; but it will be much easier to clean it when you are refreshed and well-rested.

Support groups are often helpful for those who enjoy social settings, but it should be cautioned that the discussions in such groups should focus on recognition of our parts in our own stresses, rather than simply complaints. By focusing on what we do, and what we can control, we discover what parts we can affect in solving our problems or creating situational improvements. Thinking positively and constructively helps to keep us focused on our empowerment, and helps keep us from feeling powerless under the ever-building weight of pressure and stress we all experience. It is not our stress, it is how we handle it, and how we treat ourselves and let it affect us that matters most.

The way to break the process of burnout is to find ways to avert the strain of the stress. If the stress can be diverted, avoided, or effectively countered in productive ways, then the negative defenses will not be employed. Finding effective ways of coping with stress is the key to defeating burnout.

Productively Coping with Stress

The following is a partial list of perspectives and suggestions for positively coping with stress in our lives. Keep these in mind the next time you feel like collapsing at your desk:

�Know yourself-what you are feeling and why.
�Recognize when you are stressed.
�Only try to do what you know is possible.
�Employ proper nutrition and physical activity.
�When you need help, ask for it.
�If you are tired, take a break.
�Improve your organizational skills.
�Break down large, overwhelming tasks, into smaller parts. This lets you feel your progress and accomplishment without having to wait until the completion of a long project.
�Create an active life outside of work.
�Recognize what you require.
�Think win-win.
�Assume the best motives in others.
�Listen to good advice and accept help when you need it.
�Think positively.
�Learn to balance! Balance! Balance! All stress and no relief makes Jane one burned-out employee.

Helpful Resources for Coping with Stress

The following is a partial list of resources to help you handle your stress more productively, or avoid it altogether. Book mark these sites if you find them useful:

� offers forums hosted by knowledgeable moderators on a variety of topics. At the stress page, you will find a qualified hostess, articles and links about stress, resources for coping with stress, and a forum full of members who are ready to share in antistress support.

� offers tips on better health and nutrition strategies. Whether you are devoted to a gym or would just like some suggestions to improve your diet, this site offers a positive resource for health improvements on every level.


Since financial concerns are a common source of stress in many people’s lives, this site offers solutions to financial problems, and tips to organize and improve your financial life.

Stress can be handled effectively. If you feel you could benefit from better stress-handling strategies, don’t be afraid to seek the help you need. It could be advice from a respected peer or counseling from a trained professional; but you will find you are more happy and productive when you improve your habits, reactions, and responses to the negative events and perceptions in the personal and professional areas of your life.

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