It’s Time to Take Burnout Seriously

If you can relate to the term “burnout”, you’ve likely already experienced it to some degree. Burnout typically involves feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and desperately wanting a nice, long break so you can recharge. Many of us feel this way on a daily basis as we try to juggle work, family, social, and other responsibilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently validated the seriousness of burnout by adding an updated definition of “burn-out” to the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). This is an important step in recognizing and finding ways to combat a condition that’s becoming more common.

The WHO’s Updated Classification

The International Classification of Diseases is used by hospitals throughout the world to ensure medical conditions are documented consistently. By adding an expanded definition of burnout, health care providers can now document and collect statistics on this syndrome more accurately.

The WHO points out that “burn-out” is classified as an occupational phenomenon, not an actual medical condition. But their enhanced definition of the phenomenon gives greater credibility to those suffering from burnout. It’s included in the ICD-11 section “Problems associated with employment or unemployment”.

The WHO’s new definition is as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

Why Are We So Burnt Out?

The answer to that question will likely be different for each of us. Every person’s life situation is unique, but burnout often arises when you feel like you have too much to handle at once. The WHO’s new definition is limited to burnout relating to work and employment, but our work and personal lives are interconnected.

It’s true some jobs are simply more draining than others. For example, the WHO has identified that healthcare workers have a particularly high risk of job-related burnout. In a previous study, the WHO found that 96 percent of mental health workers in an Iranian psychiatric hospital experienced some level of burnout. And a full half of the workers were suffering from a high level of job burnout.

Perhaps just as importantly, the study found that burnout was clearly impacting other aspects of the workers’ lives, including their health, job and social affairs. This shows how job-related burnout usually doesn’t happen in a bubble. Stress at work can impact other areas of your life, but family or other personal stress can also easily impact your work.

Perhaps burnout is caused by taking on too much in our lives. It may also be caused by our increasing social isolation and lack of support systems to help us through tough times. The reasons behind the rise in depression and anxiety may also play a part. Whatever individual circumstances may be fueling your feelings of burnout, take heart that there are ways to find space in your life again.

What Can You Do to Stop Burnout?

Considering that burnout is often the result of being overloaded in life, the key to stopping burnout is to find ways to simplify your life and set healthy boundaries for what you will and will not do. These are some suggestions for getting started:

  • When you’re asked to do something, make “no” your default answer. Only take on a new work or personal task after careful consideration.
  • Practice slowing down. This may not be appropriate at work, but in the rest of life you can attempt to eat, walk, drive, and do other tasks at a slower pace and with greater mindfulness.
  • Ask for help when you’re struggling. You don’t have to do everything alone, friends, family and coworkers are often more than happy to lend a hand.
  • If you don’t have a strong support system, try to cultivate one. Join a group of like-minded people, volunteer, or help out a neighbor.
  • Make sure you’re eating, exercising, and sleeping well. You may feel like you don’t have time, but healthy lifestyle changes like these are proven to help you deal with stress more effectively, even when the rest of your life circumstances don’t change.
  • If you’re concerned that burnout is negatively impacting your life, speak to your doctor about it. They can recommend potential treatments that may also help.

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