Recovery from burnout
October 10 is World Mental Health Day, offering a timely opportunity to address what many of us have experienced – burnout.
I intended to write an article to inform others that the World Health Organization (WHO) now lists burnout as an official ailment in the International Classification of Diseases — a handbook for doctors and health insurers. This information is important because so many of us experience the symptoms but minimize the effect of burnout in our lives, including our relationships and health.
Every time I would think about writing the article, I quickly busied myself with other projects. Then I thought perhaps I was hesitating because I needed to learn more about the subject. I ordered a DVD for a 4-hour class on compassion fatigue and burnout by J. Eric Gentry, Ph.D., LMHC, Master Traumatologist. As I watched and took notes, I remained oblivious to the number of symptoms for burnout that I was experiencing.
I didn’t fully realize my state until I shared a meal with a friend in June. He asked me what I was doing for fun this summer. I told him that I had a vacation scheduled for the end of October. As I heard my words, I realized that not having time off and something fun planned for another four more months was messing with my psyche. My response was glum, but I knew that I was the only one that could change the situation. I knew I had to either schedule downtime, renewing activities or change my perspective.
I am a certified and credentialed personal and organizational coach. My skill is to inspire clients to create a life they enjoy, reach goals, build resilience and more. Normally, I am good at changing my perspective. I feel appreciation and experience joy. This time the burnout lingered. I was troubled by this realization. I was overwhelmed, frustrated, and disappointed. I felt embarrassed because it is important to me to exemplify the power of coaching in my own life.
In my dogged pursuit to recover my joy, I created what felt like another task. The passage “Physician, heal thyself.” comes to mind.
Burnout, like depression, isn’t magically resolved. It is a result of constant stress over time. According to the World Health Organization guidelines, burnout is categorized by the following symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
It is important to note that “Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context,” said WHO, “and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
The good news is that we can overcome burnout. It won’t happen overnight just as burnout doesn’t happen overnight. With some support and direction, we can start to feel better quickly.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) offers the following to help reduce work stress:
- A balance between work and family or personal life
- A support network of friends and coworkers
- A relaxed and positive outlook
When in the throes of burnout, this list may seem generic and vague. I hope that sharing some of the steps I took to obliviate burnout will inspire you to take your own steps.
Getting to the source
After I returned from the eye-opening lunch, I looked at my calendar and carved out some flextime. First, I scheduled an appointment with my coach. Then I blocked off a few decadent hours to be away from the office. I reached out to friends to schedule a time for the activities we enjoy. I had important projects with deadlines that needed my attention so going away wasn’t feasible. I determined that the next weekend would be a staycation. Even though I had work to do, I made time to see a movie, engaged in hobbies, took a nap and went to a favorite restaurant with my husband.
Next, I paid attention to sources of stress. The first step to eliminating stressors is to identify them. I realized a chronic source of annoyance was dirt and dog hair on my office carpet. I found a robot vacuum with good reviews for less than $150. I start the vacuum each evening before I leave the office. It is a joy to come in and see the clean carpet. I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until I identified a solution. I also blocked off some time to organize and remove clutter from my office.
In addition to coaching, I run a small marketing company that turns 20 this month. I was starting my days at 7 a.m. and working through lunch, just taking breaks to potty our dogs with an occasional lunch appointment with clients or friends. I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed a cup of warm coffee at work. Now I don’t make my coffee until I am ready to take a break and enjoy at least a few sips before it cools.
I stopped starting my workday so early. I joined a gym. I spend the time before my posted office hours exercising, reading or writing. I asked my husband to text me when he is on his way home so that I can begin to wrap up my day rather than continuing to work once he is home. These small shifts had a powerful impact.
One of my “specialties” is offering clients updates to their websites within 24 hours or less. To accomplish this, I check email throughout the day. I decided to take a moment to embody gratitude when I read emails from clients. I have awesome clients, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve them. Taking a moment to appreciate the work and the relationships is a powerful way to shift from the feeling of having “one more thing to do” to the joy I feel when I have the opportunity to be of service.
As difficult as those weeks were this summer, I am thankful for the experience. Without it, I would not have been able to weave empathy within these words.
Please contact me if you would like to explore options for reducing burnout for you or your organization. As I mentioned, one of the first things I did was reach out to my coach. The magic of coaching is that it brings new awareness to possibilities and clarifies actions to create a better life.
About the Author
Stacey Bevill, ACC, NCC, MPM® is the founder of Ask and Receive Coaching, a division of Ask and Receive, Inc. She offers coaching, consulting, custom workshops and presentations that help companies increase their bottom lines by creating an environment that promotes innovation, cooperation, communication and quality by motivating and inspiring employees. Stacey received her certification from the internationally acclaimed Newfield Network Coaching Institute. She is credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF) and is a Certified HeartMath® Coach and Trainer. She has obtained many certifications in various coaching specialties. Stacey holds a master’s level certification in Marketing Strategy from Cornell, a master’s level certification in Entrepreneurship from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, and a bachelor’s degree from Lander University in Greenwood, SC. She and her husband, Bobby, reside in Spartanburg.