A friend of mine broke down from exhaustion and sheer overwork recently. He had been working back-to-back and getting very little sleep for days. He ended up in the hospital with grave signs of exhaustion when his body bailed on him. It was a most sobering experience for him. After I had a long session with him on burnout, I thought to share some insights here as well.
Burnout can be described as a condition of exhaustion combined with feelings of hopelessness and cynicism. It occurs when one is exposed to repeated stress without intervention. It is usually a gradual pile on of repeated stress. Many times, one may not realise they are overworked until mental and physical symptoms of burnout set in, some of which include:
· Difficulty concentrating
· Being forgetful
· Lower productivity
· Indifference to one's work where previously it offered a sense of pride and accomplishment
· Being inpatient or feeling easily irritated by others
· Muscle tension or pain
The danger with burnout is that it creeps in insidiously and worsens with repeated stress that isn’t curtailed or well managed. This can then go on to cause health risks that contributes to cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, immune disorders, and mental health issues amongst others.
In managing burnout, it is helpful to do the following:
1. Identify the source of the repeated stress – what constantly overwhelms you?
2. Identify changes you can make to your routine to break the cycle of repeated stress – this can be changes that may be instituted hourly, daily, weekly, and so on.
3. Delegate and seek help when needed – you do not have to do all the work all the time. There are always people around you who will be able to take on some of your tasks with enthusiasm and efficiency. If you don’t have any, you may consider hiring, training or outsourcing.
4. Take control – set boundaries and use your time judiciously by focusing on the most important and essential tasks first.
5. Prioritise your health and wellbeing. Take good care of yourself:
· Take time away from the stressor if you can
· Get at least seven hours of sleep daily
· Engage in activities that you enjoy
· Practice Yoga or Tia chi
· Exercise to boost your ‘feel good hormones’
· Spend time in nature
· Eat healthy meals and hydrate appropriately
6. Commit to being consistent in managing stress and preventing burnout by using all the helpful tips afore mentioned.
Not making out time to care for oneself will always lead to health risks and long-term damages to the body’s physical and mental function including – cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, musculoskeletal problems, immune disorders (that may lead or contribute to cancer), anxiety disorder, anger issues, irritability, depression and alcohol or substance abuse.
Thankfully for my friend, things turned out well in the end as he sought medical intervention well in time for recuperation. Unfortunately, some people do not seek help until irreparable damage is done to the or system . I hope this article has given you insights on how to avoid this. I conclude with the words of Alan Cohen - there is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.
Dr Anne Olowu, is a Public Health Physician and a Health Promotion expert with varied work experience across Africa. She is the Lead Public Health Consultant at www.anneaideconsulting.com She writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
Trainer’s guide – SOLVE: Integrating Health Promotion into Workplace OSH Policies International Labour office. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---safework/documents/instructionalmaterial/wcms_178397.pdf Accessed 19th July 2022