Burnout and exhaustion - will your summer holiday solve it?
Burnout is horrendous - you feel exhausted, your body has turned to lead but yet is on high alert, your mind is whirring and you feel awful - dread and fear or numb and depressed. Your motivation is on the floor and, even if you take time off, your exhaustion persists and you can see no way out. You are limping towards a summer holiday that will save you... or will it?
Burnout is defined as 'to fail, to wear out, or become exhausted by reason of excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources'. Burnout can lead to incapacitation (temporary or permanent) and a loss of enthusiasm and creativity - alcohol and drug dependence, depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms, and physical illness.
Most people think burnout is from too much work; people overloaded with the volume of work and being unable to cope. I think workload and life-load (let's face it - paid work isn’t the only work we do) is a very important factor in burnout, but not the only one. Life scripts, experiences of trauma, working styles, personality types, and even neurodiversity can also play a massive role.
For example, burnout is common among:
- high-level executives, particularly those who reach their positions, because they are perfectionists and chronic overachievers
- caring professionals, particularly those who put the interests of others above their own and so go above and beyond in their dedication and commitment
- people with ADHD or ASD who are working in organisations which don’t consider their needs or fully use/value their talents/strengths
A summer holiday (as long as you leave your work phone/computer behind) is an opportunity to step back and rest, but it will not solve the combination of factors that have led to your exhaustion - it will not reduce your workload, or stop the competing demands on your time, change your personality, or change your brain wiring.
If you think you are on the road towards burnout, I recommend finding someone to support you, a qualified psychotherapist or counsellor that can help you rebalance your life, help you understand some of the underlying issues, and take back control.
Three approaches to help you overcome burnout
1. Short-term counselling - 12 sessions of counselling that focus on identifying the situation, developing internal resources through self-awareness, understanding working styles and life script, behavioural dynamics, building self-belief, and taking personal responsibility for change. Some big relief in symptoms is common after 12 sessions.
2. Long-term psychotherapy (between six months and many years) - this follows on from the 12 initial sessions, providing a deeper experience of self-discovery and ongoing support. Longer-term psychotherapy enables substantial shifts in self-acceptance, understanding, and a greater ability to be spontaneous, autonomous, and closer to others. Like going to the gym every week to maintain physical fitness, long-term psychotherapy can provide a weekly or fortnightly dose of high-quality self-care. It usually involves a deep structural change in the balance of one’s internal and external world, so the tendency towards exhaustion and burnout are addressed at a deep level.
3. Outdoor therapy - this involves taking the therapy outdoors, and walking and talking in nature. Research has shown that spending time in nature provides restorative benefits to physical and mental health, such as;
- improved mood
- stress reduction
- enhanced thinking
Outdoor therapy is life-enhancing, with nature supporting our ability to self-reflect and connect to ourselves and others.
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