It seems to come from nowhere, yet with hindsight, when we examine what was happening in our lives we can the signs were there; an initial euphoria that led to taking on yet more tasks and projects. A ‘can-do’ attitude, exuding willingness to one and all. Those broad shoulders, a keeness to excel, to show all around that we are almost super-human, capable of so much. Our energy reserves are not infinite- we know this so why oh why do we ignore? The re-charging of our resilience involves fun, rest, healthy nourishment of the body and soul. It is a bit like being in love – we focus on nothing else. It is actually unhealthy, ok for a while, but out of necessity it wanes and we then find a happy medium- a balance of activities. The things we HAVE to do, the things we like to do and all the in -betweens!
I see too, the desire in individuals to portray an image of being invincible- so prevalent amongst health professionals. ‘Anything else is weakness’. I would once have agreed- that is before my own burnout a few decades ago. I struggled on the brink and pushed myself to a point where there seemed only one way out. Thankfully (eventually) I found the right support, rested for a rather long time, and reinvented myself. So the idea of weakness was replaced with an insight into how I had become vulnerable and how I could reconnect with my strength again. So I know it can be done, and I see it every day through the privilege of working with people suffering and struggling and eventually coming through.
Burnout happens because the balance in our life is all wrong. If it were a set of scales we would see feathers on the side where our joy, happiness and contentment sits, and on the other, sacks of heavy dark matter in the form of stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, even paranoia. Of course we do not see this then, so we falter, and try and work even harder to distract (the worse thing we could do at that point); we may self medicate with alcohol (a depressant in this instance). We may engage in risky or harmful behaviours( another distraction to take us away from feeling trapped by our emotions). Those around us become concerned but often back away because we are angry, out of character, alien and projecting all the negativity at them in an effort to distract from our own reality and in order to carry on.
As soon as you feel the balance is out of kilter- do something: take a break (‘I can’t I am needed’- ‘well you wont be wanted at all if it carries on this way….’). Speak to someone who you trust or someone outside your circle, a professional. ( ‘I don’t have time, they’ll think I’m weak’- ”well if you carry on like this you will have all the time in the world from your hospital bed, and you will regret ignoring your inner alarm bells’). Burnout can be prevented; we must learn at points to put ourselves first for a change. To notice what is going on before it becomes debillitating.