Watch Out For Burnout

It seems like a modern phenomenon, a product of the apparently ever more complicated lives that we lead. The truth is, though, that “burnout” as we call it has always been the penalty paid by people who just try to do too much and finally cannot cope. But what do we know about it, and what are the signs that we need to slow down, ask for help and pay more attention to our own health and mental well-being?

Professor Marie Asberg, is an expert on burnout, and she uses the “exhaustion funnel” to describe how the problem develops.   The top, or  wide, part of the funnel represents how things are when we are living a full but well balanced life, consisting of work and pleasure, duty to others and duty to ourselves. The narrow bottom part represents the concentration of responsibility that leads to burnout.

When we get very busy, many of us give up the things that help our life's feel balanced and full in a normal and pleasant way. We don't bother with activities like going to the gym or yoga, seeing friends and family or going to the theatre or the cinema. We convince ourselves that none of these things matter compared to pressure of work and responsibility. As we get more stressed, we give up more of the things that make us happy, the things nourish us. The funnel of life narrows and we become more exhausted. Eventually, we cannot carry on, and something is likely to “break”. That could be work and career, it could be family or it could be our own mental health.

Here are some of the symptoms of burnout. Becoming increasingly bad tempered or irritable. A narrowing of one's social life, or simply not wanting to see people. Not wanting to deal with daily tasks like opening the mail, paying bills or returning phone calls. Becoming easily exhausted. Giving up on exercise. Postponing or missing deadlines. Changes in sleeping patterns. Changes in eating habits.
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The moral is simple: all work and no play is not healthy for us. If you are in danger of burning out, try to spend time reflecting on how you can begin to redress the balance between non-stressful and enjoyable experiences and work and responsibility. Your health and happiness could depend on it.

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