What Really Predicts Burnout From Work


An executive client recently wrote to me saying, “I feel exhausted and tense and I can’t sleep well. Because of burnout, I lost my concentration, my spirit and my whole power!”

As a mental and behavior expert, I am often confronted with clients who are complaining about tension in their body, frequent headaches and sleeplessness. They might exhibit psychological signs of irritation, feel overwhelmed and distance themselves from work. In the media, “burnout” is used to describe a lot of mental and physical conditions, regardless of the symptoms and their causes. Therefore, the concept of burnout is often vague and blurry. Let’s consider the facts.

Characteristics of Burnout

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a condition resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout has three defining characteristics, which include “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.” They also emphasize that burnout should be seen in the occupational context and not be used to describe other areas of life.

Keep in mind that non-workplace-related stress factors can cause similar symptoms to burnout and that unmanaged work-related stress can cause mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. This is precisely what I want to help people avoid. Most people simply aren’t aware when they feel stressed and only wake up when they physically and mentally collapse.

Individual Risk Factors

The reasons for burnout vary. In my coaching, I use an adapted checklist from the book Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working. Together, with the client, we identify his or her personal workplace stressors so that we can apply the right approach for their burnout recovery and prevention.

In the case of the client who emailed me — let’s call him Marc — he previously felt fully engaged and committed to his work. So committed, in fact, that he often didn’t notice how much time had passed. There was a nagging disagreement with his business partner, but he wanted to maintain harmony. Instead of confronting the business partner, he kept quiet and took on some additional tasks. In our discovery session, he further revealed that financial insecurity had taken a toll on him and he felt he had to sort it out by himself.

There had been signs of energy depletion before, but Marc ignored them. My advice to Marc and others is that it’s time to learn the skills needed to give you the confidence to change your work situation, whether it’s reduced working hours, saying no to tasks, confronting work conflicts, discussing career plans and reward schemes or seeking help.

Short-Term Interventions

Resilience, in the context of work, is defined as the ability of a person to recover, bounce back, adjust or respond to workplace stressors, change and adversity. There are two steps you can take in the short term to improve your overall resiliency.

1. Make your neurons fit.

The key factors to make your neurons and your brain fit are sleep, nutrition and exercise.

According to research, adults should get at least six hours of sleep a night. Enough sleep and good sleep quality determine whether you can run at peak performance the next day and help prevent burnout. Recent studieshave also shown that exercise and a diet enriched with the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA (in fish or plant-based foods), fresh fruits and vegetables positively impact synaptic plasticity and cognitive ability. Together, all three can help combat mental health issues.

Marc decided to schedule high-intensity interval trainings in his calendar that he could easily do for 20 minutes at home. He also looked up delivery services that could bring nutritious meals to his office. Most importantly, he set a bedtime so that he could reduce his evening activities and smoothly transition into sleeping.

2. Be emotionally fit to cope with stress.

Mindfulness, self-efficiency and coping strategies are big players when it comes to preventing and reducing burnout.

• Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a mental state in which you can mentally step back and observe what’s going on (e.g., observing your thoughts and feelings) so that you can act with awareness and flexibility. Marc considered his avoidance behavior of not confronting his partner. He realized that this had contributed to his additional workload. He acknowledged that his fear of confrontation was a strategy he had developed during his teenage years and that it was outdated in this stage of his life.

• Self-Efficiency: If you believe you’re able to perform a given task, you’re more likely to actively approach a situation. Your belief in your own capability is highly impacted by past experiences and core beliefs about yourself. Marc felt very competent in the operational side of his business, but had neglected his financial situation and relied on outside accountants. He had not been aware of running costs that caused his financial stress. After a discussion, he remembered that he had actually been quite good with numbers in the past and felt motivated to monitor his finances with diligence from now on.

• Coping Style: Coping is a process of adjustment following an adverse event. This coping strategy can be either active or passive. With an active coping strategy you re-assess the stressful situation, find solutions to the problem or seek professional help. With a passive strategy you try to reduce the emotional impact of the stressor by venting, disengaging or using alcohol or other substances. In Marc’s case he needed to have an amicable talk with his partner to express how his partner’s actions made him feel and what he expected from their partnership. Together, we wrote a script and role-played the communication.

Marc was able to recover from his burnout because he was willing to do a profound inquiry of his workplace and his own behavior patterns and beliefs and then actively make changes. And so can you, if you consider your neuronal and emotional fitness.

This article was first published on Forbes.

Interested?  Let’s work together.

Consider how you came to be in this situation. Do you need to make some changes at work, a different job, or a more satisfying relationship? Could it help you to speak to a professional? What needs to happen to prevent the same situation from happening again?

My goal as an executive coach is to provide rapid and long-lasting changes for professionals who go through life changes or challenging situations resulting in burnout, stress and anxiety. No matter where you are in the world, the therapy sessions are held online. 4-Hours of my Elevate Intensive and you will improve the quality of your life, switch your body back to peace and balance, and gain clarity and focus.

I hold a master’s degree in psychology with an over 15-years career in counseling and coaching. I trained with a broad range of international experts like the world-renowned therapist and pioneering hypnotherapist Marisa Peer (Rapid Transformation Therapy Practitioner®), Rori Raye (Relationship Coaching), and Prof. Dr. Justin Kennedy (Applied Neuroscience Coaching).

Contact me today to learn how I can help make things better!  www.brainbossmethod.com

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