Like a metaphoric snake, the words Burn and Out can fill the most dedicated workaholic with dread, I’m not sure if I’ve actually experienced it but I’ve often found myself staring at the wall for an hour or two after a week of heavy client caseload, latterly not wanting to carry on and even becoming resentful of everything associated with trauma.
Not being able to find time for one’s self can result in disillusionment and bitterness. It is crucial that we are able to identify this condition both within ourselves and in our clients, especially when working with Employee Assistant Programmes, as these are often the organisations that put us in touch with burnt out clients the most.
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Constant demands and excessive feelings of being completely overwhelmed lead to burnout. Burn out symptoms then cause an individual to lose interest and lack the motivation that they were first so eager to begin the place they are in at the present i.e. bank manager, team leader, nurse, school teacher and the list goes on into all walks of life.
Burnout reduces efficiency and can drain a person of all energy, resulting in an individual who feels increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Until they feel like they are completely spent, exhausted of all possible commitment to anything.
Case History ~ Lucas
Lucas was referred to Jigsaw via his HR Manager because he had experienced a “break down” in his place of work. Normally a quiet and very well respected individual, his manager said he completely ‘lost it’ which was unlike him. When the management team tried to talk to him he just broke down in tears and was unable to make any sense at all.
He was reluctant to talk at our initial assessment, however when he did, it was easy to see why he had been struggling to cope, he’d been having unusual outbursts of anger at colleagues. On initial assessment Lucas stated that he just felt exhausted, disillusioned and was very tearful for the most part of the session.
On further exploration of the client’s situation, it transpired that due to financial cuts in the salary budget of the company he worked for, they had made some substantial redundancies. None of these roles had been replaced and Lucas’s workload had nearly trebled so that he had been working for at least fourteen hours per day just to maintain productivity levels with a skeleton staff, he stated that he was also on call throughout each night and at weekends.
His hard work and dogged determination to keep the company up and running in the face of closure appeared to have gone unnoticed by management, as they continually expected more and more from him,. He never complained and so they never knew, nor did they suspect he was struggling. His home life was suffering and he stated that his skills as a parent/father to his three children were virtually non-existent. All he seemed to do was shout at them and he had no quality time with his children, wife or once close circle of friends.
He had been signed off on sick absence by his GP and when I told him the average time limit for recovery from burn out was at least 12 weeks he was mortified and this added to his anxiety at first, although a part of him said he did not see any point to anything anymore anyway.
We worked together for ten weeks until he gradually started to get his life back, he began to re-engage with his old pleasurable activities such as fishing and sailing, started to organise activities with his once huge network of friends and had various meetings with his manager/s about finding a work life balance that he could maintain.
Basic Stress Management & Burn Out ~ Prevention Techniques;
- Arriving home, change work clothes into comfortable relaxing clothes.
- Carry out a cleansing action on arriving home i.e. brush teeth or wash hands in a specific way or best of all – have a shower to wash away the day.
- Never bottle things up – find someone to talk to.
- Re assess overtime – stick to contracted hours
- Re assess priorities like family & friends
- Laugh more – Dance and jig around when no one is looking!
- No matter how busy an individual is – it is important to find time for some leisure and pleasure, whether that is walking out in the fresh air or spending quality time with family and/or friends, where laughter and a feeling of light heartedness can be expressed.
When a person is experiencing Burn Out, they become so unhappy that their job, relationships, health and core way of life can be threatened. Full recovery is possible from Burn Out or Stress fatigue, as it is otherwise known.
If the signs and symptoms are recognised early enough it is easy to implement some very basic stress management techniques. If burn out has been left to accelerate, recovery is still possible but can take longer, I have known many individuals to take between three and five months before they are able to attempt a structured phased return to work.
Sue J Daniels
BACP (Snr. Accred)
EMDR & BSP Practitioner
Professional Counselling &