What is Professional Burnout anyway?

According to an information leaflet given to me by my therapist:

“Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”

Psychology Today (Nov 2013)

At first, when the idea of me having burnout was mooted by my therapist I wondered if this was a real thing.  However, the more research I did the more stories I discovered of people experiencing exactly the same thing as me and under similar circumstances.  The stories chimed with mine so accurately, it was weird and I felt a huge and sudden sense of relief in knowing that I wasn’t alone in this experience.

I found out that professional burnout is an area into which psychologists and medical professionals have been doing a lot of research and which is starting to be recognised as something which affects people – and especially women working in high pressure roles or juggling family commitments.  I was really interested to read about the specific type of burnout which seems to impact on a lot of people in helping professions.  Often, people in helping professions are very passionate about what they do meaning they are more likely to ignore the fact they are working extremely long hours, taking on heavy workloads, and pressuring themselves to do an excellent job.  Sounds like a lot of nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers, and charity workers I’ve encountered.

Apparently, one of the main professions to be affected is charity Chief Executives – which figures!  Obviously there are plenty of other professionals who also experience burnout from their crazy working hours and high octane work environments.  However, something about the work of charity directors makes them particularly susceptible to professional burnout.  A combination of the helping and giving nature of the role fused with the responsibility of leading and running an organisation and being responsible for other people’s livelihoods creates the perfect conditions for burnout.  Lovely!

Being able to give a name to something really helps though.  At last I felt able to understand why I had been experiencing all those seemingly random symptoms:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Constant generalised worrying
  • Mild to severe depression
  • Panic attacks (triggered by relatively simple work tasks)
  • Trouble breathing and chest pains
  • Anger and angry outbursts
  • Extreme procrastinating / lack of productivity
  • Immobilising hopelessness and crying
  • Withdrawal from social situations and isolation
  • Lying awake for hours at night
  • Not being able to get up in the mornings

What a ray of sunshine I was!  (Rich deserves a medal)!  But seriously, I now knew and understood where each of these behaviours and symptoms was coming from, and at least being able to understand it, whilst not making it better, did help alleviate the final symptom of constantly thinking “What the F*#! is wrong with me!”

I wonder if anyone reading this has experienced any of these symptoms or recognises this story?  If so, rest assured there is LOADS of information out there to support and seek help* and I would love to hear your thoughts.  X

*It’s also important to note that I have been seeing a professional therapist and I do try not to self-diagnose off the internet (I know from bitter experience that asking Dr Google is never a good idea)!

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