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Burnout: emotional exhaustion at work

Burnout is considered a set of several symptoms, which manifest a state of exhaustion, characterized by chronic stress related to professional life. These symptoms are the result of the association of individual aspects of the person and their personality (such as competitive, hardworking individuals, in need of control over the situation, with difficulties in tolerating frustration, etc.) with the conditions of the work environment (such as bureaucracy, excessive norms, rigid norms, lack of autonomy, inefficient communication, etc.).

Burnout symptoms occur on a continuum and can be grouped into three different dimensions:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion: feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, depression, anger, impatience, irritability, muscle tension, feeling low in energy, weakness, worry, insomnia, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and paying attention;

  2. Affective Distancing: decreased empathy and feeling of alienation and distance from others;

  3. Low Professional Achievement: or low job satisfaction as the person thinks they have achieved little and/or that what they accomplished is of little value; feelings of apathy, hopelessness and irritability.

Additionally, several studies have shown that individuals with burnout can present psychosomatic symptoms such as constant fatigue, muscle tension, headaches and migraines, difficulties in falling asleep, gastrointestinal disturbances, sexual dysfunctions, alterations in the menstrual cycle, among others.

Burnout interferes at various levels, not only influencing the person, but also their family and social relationships, as well as the functioning of the organization (burnout employees invest less time and energy in their work).

It is important to emphasise that burnout is not considered a mental disorder, and can sometimes be just the manifestation of one of these disorders, such as depression or social phobia. Furthermore, burnout symptoms can also arise as a result of adapting to a physical illness. It is important to make this distinction as a correct diagnosis will allow the choice of an appropriate intervention.

Prevent a burnout

Burnout symptoms occur on a continuum and appear progressively, and it is possible to prevent their evolution if they are detected early enough. If, in the presence of these signs, there is no change in lifestyle, it is very likely that a state of exhaustion and advanced burnout will be reached.

There is increasing awareness of this problem in the professional context and there are companies investing in the well-being of their workers, with the aim of creating a healthy and productive organizational culture. However, in some places there continues to be a culture of excessive and emotionally draining work, where doing more is valued and encouraged. On the other hand, as we have seen above, sometimes it is the professionals themselves who adopt an excessive level of work, with great competition and ambition, which when associated with the need for control and low tolerance for frustration can give rise to these symptoms of exhaustion.

Thus, it is essential to know the effects of stress and exhaustion in your life, as well as the working conditions and aspects of your personality that can contribute to these effects, in order to define strategies to reduce them. Some of these strategies may involve activities such as:

  1. Do not respond to emails or perform other work outside of working hours; or, if this is not possible, find times when it is not possible to work (for example, set 1 hour every day to be without your cell phone and computer);

  2. Plan non-work moments where you can carry out activities that bring you well-being and relaxation, with family and friends or just alone;

  3. Avoid work overload and carrying out several tasks at the same time;

  4. Learn to say 'no', in an assertive way, respecting your own limits;

  5. Create a healthy work environment, with relationships of cooperation and respect;

  6. Learn to ask for help and delegate tasks, which can contribute to the creation of trusting relationships between you and your colleagues and/or hierarchical superiors;

  7. Find value and meaning in your work, what do you appreciate? (They can be seemingly small aspects, like conversations with your colleagues). If you can't find an answer then try to find value in another area of ​​your life;

  8. Taking care of yourself, creating a healthy lifestyle: getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity – by taking care of our body we will inevitably be taking care of our mind.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is critical to reducing stress levels. However, it is normal that faced with various work pressures, or others, there is no mental availability for this adaptation. But taking care of yourself has to be a priority. Even if you don't feel like it or feel that you need to devote all your time to work, you can choose to put yourself first.

Professional life can be very enriching and satisfying if it is integrated in a balanced and healthy way in the various dimensions of the person.

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