March 6, 2023

Burnout: The New Epidemic

Shailja Sharma

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Burnout is the new ‘working person’s disease.’ It often strikes when least expected, especially if all the warning signs are not recognized for what they are. Picture lights on the dashboard of a car that signal that there are problems. However, the driver continues driving, either oblivious of them or simply ignoring them until the car comes to a standstill. The tank is empty or the engine has overheated. It can go no further.

Are you running on empty? Your body is far more precious than your car. You cannot go out and buy a new one. Are you ignoring the warning signs? Does your body feel exhausted and when you go to sleep, do you still wake up tired? Have you lost or gained weight unexpectedly? Are you reaching for caffeine at all hours of the day to keep yourself going? Can you concentrate at work properly? Are you irritable and ‘on edge’? If this sounds like you, please recognize that your body is giving you warning signs. Ignoring them is akin to walking towards a cliff edge and when you do fall off, it is a long way down, and it will be incredibly difficult to get back up again.

Unsurprisingly, burnout usually claims very conscientious workers that have the best intentions. The high performers who derive pleasure from their jobs and do not mind putting in all those extra hours. Other victims include people going through difficult circumstances such as an illness or taking care of a loved one that is ill or the elderly, or parents with newborns and people going through stressful episodes. If you identify with any of these examples, remember you are not alone. Burnout is becoming an unfortunate consequence of modern-day society.

If you are experiencing the signals that burnout may be on the horizon, then it is time to press the brakes on your life. Stop and take some time to reflect on your situation. It is imperative that you take some action steps to ward off burnout. The first step is to assess your level of burnout. Visiting a medical practitioner and devising a plan to address any health concerns is important. Another important step is to sit down with your loved ones and ask for help. Are there any duties at home that you can offload or can you hire someone to clean or cook or assist with taking care of your children? Social support is very important in a situation like this and you need to create some space in your life so that you can heal.

Once you have assessed the level of your burnout, you can figure out exactly what you need to get back on track. There are various levels of burnout that require different interventions based on the severity of the issue. Perhaps you need to take time off to recharge and heal, or some of your work duties need to be assigned to someone else temporarily. You may just need to sleep earlier and for longer hours and prioritize self-care activities. Take some time to develop a plan that you can follow to recharge and heal.

Additionally, you need to reassess your work situation. What can you change to make your life easier? In most companies, Human Resource professionals are familiar with the spectre of burnout and have put in place resources that can help. Perhaps you can book an appointment with them and discuss the situation. A supportive boss and colleagues can also help create a support structure at work. Victims of burnout can sometimes feel isolated and are afraid to ask for help. However, most people are more than willing to help someone that reaches out. So do not be afraid to reach out.

As you reflect on your situation, you need to find the drivers of your burnout. A coach can help with this process. Coaching is a valuable tool to understand what is most important to you and whether the life you are living now is in alignment with your values and goals. Are you living an authentic life that makes you happy? Are you working in a job that is fulfilling and rewarding? Are you happy with your career and your personal life? Are you going through a very difficult situation? People suffering burnout can feel helpless and overwhelmed. However, these feelings will dissipate once they take action steps on their journey back towards good health and happiness.

In some instances, burnout can be crippling and will necessitate a major lifestyle redesign. There are many resources online and physicians and counsellors that can help to address debilitating issues. If you are suffering severe burnout, take heart, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are many people who have recovered from crushing episodes of burnout. The first step is to reach out for support. At Strathmore University, we aim to promote positive mental health for every part of our community, including learners, staff, and the wider community.

Although burnout is becoming increasingly common in the modern era, awareness of this issue is also growing and employers are taking proactive steps to promote the wellbeing of their employees. However, each one of us needs to take personal responsibility to ensure that we prioritize our physical and mental wellbeing. Burnout is not a prerequisite for success. It is possible to achieve and be successful and still maintain health and well-being, especially if we are living authentic lives. Your work-life can be a source of joy and professional fulfilment, especially if it allows you the space to maintain a healthy personal life. Emphasizing the benefits of ‘balance’ and increasing awareness about the consequences of ‘burnout’ is critical to curb this epidemic and promote a healthy and functional society.

Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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