How to keep stress under control in a stress-induced world is one of the first questions we must address on the path of healing from burnout. Stress doesn’t help at all, so we must avoid it at all costs. Easier said than done, isn’t it? 😉
Your Diagnosis. What Now?
You have been diagnosed with burnout and the doctor told you to keep stress levels to a minimum. That makes sense, right? He also advised you the one thing you perhaps cannot do: take time off. Not just a few days, or weeks, but a long time.
Living in the world we are, we just cannot do that. Unless we have a large amount of cash stacked away or a good rich Samaritan wants to give us free food and boarding for a year, for many of us taking a sabbatical (or even half a sabbatical) is just not in the stars. We have to keep on working and expose ourselves to the one factor that will halt our healing process: pressure, strain …
In my previous post How to Heal from Burnout, I mentioned my work situation. I had to fight to get even a week off, and that wasn’t enough by far. I was working in junior high which is not the ideal environment when you’re trying to heal from burnout.
Before I continue and address the symptoms and difficulties of working in a stressful environment while struggling with this mental health condition, let’s first see what burnout is. Tense situations are already hard to handle under normal circumstances, so imagine this when you are not well and your mind doesn’t function the way you would like to.
What is Burnout?
Burn out is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burn out is not the same as stress. It is rather, a result of it. It happens when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
It usually builds up slowly and so you are, at first, unaware that you have burn out. You usually realize it when you’ve had it for a while and the symptoms start manifesting.
You can compare it to a candle that has finally burnt out and as much as you try to light it, the flame just won’t ignite.
Burnout at the Workplace
Although I have always loved teaching and I love my students, let’s face it; dealing with teenage rebellions, hormonal mood swings, the “hate you, love you” facets, trying to push the limits, and all the usual adolescent phases are not ideal when you are going through burnout. I couldn’t handle it anymore. The doctor told me to avoid stress, but dealing with over a 100 teenagers every day made that a little challenging.
At first, I did not know how to do it, but I did make an enormous effort not to lash out and not to show any of my burnout symptoms. My symptoms were extreme forgetfulness, blackouts, not remembering how to do simple everyday tasks such as using the car gear stick or dialing a phone number, …
I also had no firm hold over my emotions, and as a result they frequently burst out of me. That sieve that filters our words before they come out was also gone, so I often spoke my mind without filtering the content.
You can compare it to an unedited manuscript that is filled with errors and that just makes you cringe. Before that manuscript meets an audience, it needs to be edited and some paragraphs may need to be cut. The same counts for things we say to others; most of it is best filtered before it leaves the mouth, right?
No to Little Control over Your Symptoms
I had absolutely no control over the lack of memory, blackouts, and my forgetfulness, and if that happened in school, I just apologized and dealt with the matter as well as I could. I also informed my boss about it, letting him know that this was what they were getting since I could not take any more paid time off.
Just to be clear, what I describe here are burnout symptoms, not my personality. There is a difference. It is important to mention this, because when you go through burnout you will quickly learn that people confuse those symptoms with your personality, and as a result you may end up losing some friends. It happened to me, and also to others who suffer this condition.
In school I did my utmost not to give in to my emotional outbursts, and I must say that I did that well enough under the circumstances, although it was not easy. I managed to do that by adopting a few calming methods. In my private life there were some situations where that was harder to do, and that was why I lost some people.
Not everyone is a schoolteacher, but stress is a factor in many jobs, with some more than others.
Why did my superiors want me to work with adolescents under such conditions? Not only was it unfair to me, but also to my students, since I could not give them my best.
From what I have learned, I can come up with three reasons.
- Burnout is not always understood. Most people confuse it with “stress you can’t handle”, and so they don’t understand the gravity of it and how it can affect people.
- It is not always advantageous to pay for a substitute while also paying for another employee who is on medical leave. For some companies there might be no problem at all, but in others the employers may be reluctant to get a replacement.
If point nr. 1 was understood, then point nr. 2 would not be an issue either.
- When our organs are affected by something, we always think of the liver, heart, kidney, but it doesn’t occur to many of us that the brain is also an organ and it is entirely possible that it suffers a disease or some damage. That is, however, more difficult to accept in society.
It’s not madness; it’s a mental health issue that should be taken care of just like you take care of another organ in your body if it needs medical help, to make it heal.
Below, I will list situations that presented themselves and the actions I took to calm myself (my students did not know I had burnout). You can just replace the word student with colleague.
Sometimes, conflict at the workplace reminds me of high school, hasn’t this happened to you? 😉 How often have you had an issue at the office and thought “This feels just like high school”? We’ve all been in a situation like that, right? So, I suppose that this chart does apply to both. 😉
If you are going through burnout, I hope that this article can give you some help. I hope that my chart might be useful for you. While the methods I mentioned need practice and a strong mindset to go through with them, they can help you if they are practiced at a regular basis. The breathing exercises – as simple as they seem – worked wonders for me.
If you are not suffering from burnout and you came here to get more information, because someone close to you is going through this, that is wonderful. You are a good friend 🙂 It can sometimes be challenging dealing with someone who has burnout, but understanding more about this condition will help you both maintain a healthy relationship and I hope that you may take something away from this to be there for your friend or relative 🙂 They need your support.
In my next article, I will go into more detail about burnout symptoms, and we will explore how to handle them when they present themselves. Not everything is easy, but with a little help anything can be achieved.