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Dealing With Burnout (and How to Recover!) - Part 1

Many workers, including healthcare staff, are suffering burnout right now. But there are strategies to help you recover.



Each year, approximately one in five Australians experience symptoms of common mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety. In the workplace, mental illness is a leading cause of lost productivity due to time off and difficulties functioning at work. This is often referred to as burnout—a slow, insidious process that can catch you off guard if you're not aware of its causes.


So, how can you tell if you're experiencing work burnout? There are five common stages. The first stage can occur within the first few weeks of starting a job. Work may be demanding, but you have plenty of energy and ambition to push through. Although challenging, driven employees may compensate by working even harder, setting the stage for burnout.


As you settle into the job routine, your energy starts to wane, and you begin to notice aspects of the job you dislike. Despite being more competent, some days are more stressful, and you cope inconsistently. Signs of this stage include job dissatisfaction, work inefficiency, avoidance, fatigue (mental and physical), sleep disturbances, and escapist activities (e.g., eating, drinking, smoking, zoning out).


Unchecked, you may find yourself moving to the next stage, where your energy and enthusiasm are gone, and you're running on empty. You might be in denial, blaming others for your situation instead of acknowledging that you're overworked. Your social life may suffer as you become consumed by work, struggling to stay afloat. Signs of this stage include chronic exhaustion, physical illness, irrational anger, and depression.


At the crisis stage, the situation becomes severe. Employees who exhaust themselves often hit a breaking point, unable to handle stress and starting to break down. Chronic physical stress symptoms become apparent, and you may feel detached from life and lose control. Your jaded feelings towards work lead to emptiness and anxiety, possibly manifesting in anxiety and/or depressive disorders. During this stage, employees may be at risk of a mental breakdown or a major crisis, possibly seeking psychological help or leaving the profession entirely. Indicators include intensified or increased physical symptoms, obsessing about work frustrations, pessimistic thinking, and an escapist mentality.


By this point, burnout symptoms are so ingrained that individuals may not fully realise it. Most people either drop out or make a radical change during the crisis stage, but those who don't are at risk of developing severe chronic long-term physical and mental illnesses. These individuals may be seen as hardworking, but in reality, they're unhappy and may feel trapped in their job, stuck in a burnout cycle.


This process can take one or two years to progress from the first to the fifth stage, meaning burnout can creep up on you unexpectedly. The key is to be aware of the stages or to take notice if a colleague expresses concern. If someone at work thinks you're suffering from burnout, it's crucial not to dismiss their observation defensively.


To effectively deal with burnout, inform your manager and seek professional counseling if you've progressed beyond the 3rd or 4th stage. However, if you've identified your symptoms early on, there are strategies you can employ to help turn a corner.


Read Part Two and see how you manage to recover from impending burnout and emerge a better version of yourself.



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