Burn Bright with Dr Megan Swanson

Moving from Burnout to Burning Bright in 2021

by Siôn Stansfield

In researching the topic of burnout ahead of our new Walk The Talk webcast conversation with NHS clinical psychologist Dr Megan Swanson, I was saddened, although not surprised, to see how instances of burnout are increasing rapidly.

A recent study by Gallup* reveals that 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes. That’s over three-quarters of people experiencing chronic stress, as a result of work. 

But what actually is burnout? 

Whilst burnout isn’t yet defined as an illness that doctors can diagnose,  it is a syndrome acknowledged and defined by the World Health Organisation. The state of being burned out can be described as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources”.* 

Or in the words of Emily and Amelia Nagoski, co-authors of Burnout**: “Burnout is for anyone who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything they have to do, yet still worried they weren’t doing ‘enough’.” 

It is often characterised by physical and behavioural symptoms such as exhaustion, fatigue, frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disorders, sleeplessness and shortness of breath, frustration, anger, a suspicious attitude, cynicism or signs of depression.

But where does burnout stem from? Because, as the Gallup study reveals, it isn’t solely brought on by the number of hours that an individual works. Although those working longer than 60 hours are more disposed to being burnt out. 

Rather, according to Emily and Amelia Nagoski, it is brought on by one, or more, of the following three factors:

  1. Emotional exhaustion 
  2. Decreased sense of accomplishment
  3. Depersonalisation

Let’s dive a little deeper into these three things.

‘Emotional exhaustion’ is the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.

‘Decreased sense of accomplishment’ is the unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.

And ‘Depersonalisation’ is the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion.

If you are experiencing any of these things then firstly it’s important to know that you are not alone, however isolating and scary it may feel. 

It is also important to know that you can take actions to support yourself through these times.

Our top tips include:

  1. Speak to someone – talking is a powerful way to instantly release the pressure. Do you have friends or family you can speak to? Or is there a colleague, manager, Mental Health First Aider you could speak to at work? Or a counsellor via the oft forgotten but valuable Employee Assistance Programme which many organisations have?
  2. Movement and Mindfulness – can you introduce these into your life? They are two natural antidotes to the build up of stress. Can you introduce a 10 minute walk into your day and/or a a minute of focused breathing? However small, these are powerful tools to help you move out of that heightened state of stress into a resting, calming state.
  3. Digital down time – in a world of social distancing, technology has been incredibly powerful to keep us connected with others. That said, an over-reliance on technology can impact us, so consider when you might build moments into your day without a screen. No phones at the table whilst eating is one of my favourites.
  4. Wellbeing non-negotiables – What are those things that help you burn bright? That help you feel calm, alive, recharged? For some it might be a walk in nature, for others a conversation with a loved one. When life gets busy, remember to prioritise these things. It would be selfish not to.

As a business we make it our mission to help as many people as possible to stress less and smile more. This was relevant when we set-up back in 2018, and is more relevant today than ever before.

If we can support you or your business through our training that focuses on building awareness and taking action, then please do reach out.

If you would like to tune in to my conversation with Dr Megan Swanson, where we deep dive into this issue, then you can watch / listen to Walk the Talk here.

*Herbert Freudenberger (1974)

**’Burnout’ authored by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (2019)