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Beat being Burnout

May 1, 2010

As your alarm clock goes off and you awaken, you hit the snooze button several times. You take as many "five more minutes" as possible, then you drag yourself out from under the covers and turn the coffee pot on. By the time the coffee is ready, you find yourself tapping the table with impatience. You hit the shower, get dressed and head to work already stressed that you overslept again and will be late for work ... again.

Many of us remember the '70s and '80s and the term "burnout." Burnout was used as much as the term co-dependency and became "old news." However, burnout did not begin back in the '70s. It began almost as soon as man was created.

Years ago, as a young woman, I read many missionary biographies and found Amy Carmichael amongst my favorites. A famous quote I adapted from Amy was, "I'd rather burnout than rust out!" I laugh as I look at my journal entries from "back in the day." But now as a somewhat wiser and definately older woman, I can tell you that burnout is no laughing matter and is a real condition that can affect every aspect of a person's life.

Burnout is not in God's plan for us. It is our inability to say no to some good things that usually gets us into trouble. Yes, you read that correctly, even good things can cause burnout. When we choose "good" over the "best," then we begin to have problems.

I heard a quote years ago that I have never forgotten - "God never gives us conflicting responsibilities." I recite this in my mind when I begin to feel overwhelmed. I back up, put priorities where I know they should be and it is then I have peace.

This is what the Mayo Clinic says about burnout:

"Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress."

You may be more likely to have job burnout if:

n You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life.

n You try to be everything to everyone.

n Your job is monotonous.

n You feel you have little or no control over your work.

n You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you're experiencing job burnout signs or symptoms:

n Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?

n Have you lost the ability to experience joy?

n Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?

n Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients?

n Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work?

n Do you feel that you lack the energy to be consistently productive?

n Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?

n Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?

n Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you're OK?

n Do you feel disillusioned about your job?

n Are you self-medicating - using food, drugs or alcohol - to feel better or to simply not feel?

n Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?

n Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing job burnout. But because some of these symptoms also can indicate certain health conditions, such as depression, be sure to consult with your health care provider about your symptoms.

You can overcome burnout, but first, understand what's causing your job burnout. Job burnout results from:

n Lack of control. Perhaps you're unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you'll work or which assignments you get. Perhaps you're unable to control the amount of work that comes in.

n Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have, and not having the necessary resources to do your work.

n Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Examples are working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.

n Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.

n Poor job fit. Working in a job that doesn't fit your interests and skills is certain to become more and more stressful over time.

n Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused, leading to energy drain and job burnout.

Here are some symptoms of burnout:

n Fatigue

n Insomnia

n Unhealthy weight changes

n Depression

n Anxiety

n Alcohol or substance abuse

n A negative spillover into your relationships or home life

n Excessive stress

Talk to your supervisor or mentor, or see your doctor or a mental health provider. Some employers have an employee assistance program (EAP), which can help you assess your interests, skills and passions. This can help you decide if you should consider an alternative job, whether it be one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests.

Recovery from job burnout is possible, but it may require changes and take time, so don't expect a quick fix. Keep an open mind and consider all your options. Don't let a demanding job affect your health.

Burnout is not only a job problem, it can be a lifestyle problem for many. For instance, for parents trying to do too much for their kids and not just enjoying their kids. Or, for Christian work that has taken the place of a realationship with Christ. When the "doing" overrides the "being," then we've stepped over the line.

I heard another quote that balances me when I begin to fall into too much "doing." It is "not overwork, but overflow." When we partake of Christ so fully that he more than fills our lives, he will overflow upon everyone around us and accomplish much more than we could ever accomplish on our own. This is the secret to avoiding burnout: It is enjoying Jesus and allowing him to do through us what we could never do or be on our own. Remember: "Not overwork, but overflow."

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and the grief counselor and a chaplain for Mountain Hospice. To contact her, e-mail or call 304-823-3925, ext. 136.)



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