Burnout is a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion after prolonged exposure to emotional or physical stressors. It can affect entire institutions and wreak havoc on personal lives to the extent that individuals in extreme cases are no longer able to cope with the challenges of a normal life.
But there appear to still be many myths around the topic, especially in the corporate world where those affected by job burnout are regarded as lacking in stress resilience.
Chronic burnout can include a high level of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids, catecholamines, and prolactin. These are needed for the body’s natural fight and flight response but if you have too much of them it can lead to serious health problems and even life-threatening diseases because vital organs don’t get the necessary nutrients.
Having spent more than half of my life in an employment capacity in the media industry, I went through the complete cycle of passionately enjoying my job to utter frustration and pulling the plug shortly before burnout.
One of the most common myths is that job burnout is related to work stress caused by short deadlines, overly high productivity demands, and unrealistic management or customer demands.
This is only part of the story. If you are passionate about your job and have a high degree of independence in deciding when to do what and for him, you will not perceive stress as such. Instead, you will feel pumped up, and energetically vibrant. We all know that feeling, of having accomplished something in a game or sporting event. It is the same feeling you will be getting if you truly feel that you are doing something that is aligned with your soul purpose.
The modern-day working place has become essentially dehumanized
Most corporate jobs have been dehumanized to such an extent that individuals find themselves stuck in big offices with several hundred other people. Furnishings are standardized and employees are prohibited from decorating their desk with personal items such as pics of their loved ones. Employees don’t burn out overnight. It is mostly a process lasting several years where employees consistently lose the sense of meaning for what they are doing and their personal value system is in disconnect from the values of the company.
In my case, I became a journalist in apartheid South Africa, feeling the need to give a voice to those suffering discrimination. Later , after joining an international news agency in Germany I was able to write extensively on topics close to my heart such as Third World and environmental issues. Journalism, in some media at least, was tasked with informing, educating and acting as a watchdog over those in power. The disillusion began when more and more media shifted from education to entertainment of the worst kind. Today we witness the absurdity of mass media clouding the minds of millions with information trash and gossip. It is much the same disconnect when a nurse or doctor is prescribed how much time they can spend with a patient or a social worker or a priest spends more time dealing with bureaucracy than with real people in need.
The body tells the truth
At some point your inner soul truth will send out warning signals that you have climbed up the wrong ladder. Your body reacts with sleepless nights, digestive problems or other ailments. But you will ignore those early warning signs and push them away until you can no longer ignore them or you have a life-threatening diagnosis that acts as a wake-up call where you change everything.
Stress always starts with a thought until the thought gets trapped in the treadmill of the monkey mind in constant fear of what might happen in the future like losing your job. Work should be one of the most enjoyable things you do because you spend most of your life working. It makes an enormous difference to your overall happiness if you are working for a living or really enjoying what you are doing. In some cultures spared from the industrial revolution, people still work sixteen-hour days. But it could also be argued that they never work. Daily chores, family life, and free time are closely intertwined.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” the more a job inherently resembles a game – “with variety, appropriate and flexible challenged, clear goals, and immediate feedback – the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.”
As human beings we evolve and grow with the challenge, the resistance, the problems and the transmuting thereof.
Mental and physical exhaustion seems to lie more in the employee’s relation to the job, how he/she perceives personal goals in relation to it.
Burnout and shift in consciousness
Burnout can be addressed with a shift in consciousness. Conflict at the workplace often arises when there is poor leadership. Employees are not trusted in doing what they can as best as they can. Better communication, better organization, delegation of responsibility and improved self-care habits can do much to alleviate internal and external stressors.
If you spend most of your leisure time in the passive consumption of negativity on mass media, it will absorb a large portion of your lifeblood and energy. You will be much more happy and content in spending quality time with good friends, family and community.
At the job many people experience the opportunity of using their skillset. They are challenged and validated and this will make them feel happy, strong and satisfied. Paradoxically while spending their free time these same people will feel sad, weak and dull because of the way they are spending their time.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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