WHAT IS BURNOUT?
When we hear the mention of the term “burnout” we get a sensory experience of exactly what it means. But what is the larger picture?
Is burnout related to anxiety, depression, or is it something else entirely?
Burnout is not something that occurs overnight. We tend to go back and forth with it for a while before making the leap. Knowing this is helpful… since you can get ahead of it before it takes you into deeper waters.
In our success-driven culture, we can often end up on the fast lane to burnout. We forget to get our regularly scheduled oil check and we attempt to reach our goals with one foot on the brake and one on the gas.
The “oil change” that I speak of here is self-care. You can literally burn out just like an engine. And like the little plastic sticker on our windshields that serve as a reminder to change our oil; receiving some guidance to help manage our stress can be helpful as well.
Without the proper tools and support, there can be serious consequences from living under constant stress and great mental burden. But feeling burned out is not something that is new to our modern culture.
Great thinkers have been proselytizing about this since ancient times. Maybe the one historical figure who spoke to this human condition most specifically was Siddhartha Gautama – also known as “The Buddha”.
Buddhism reflects on a timeless inner conflict that is inherent to all living beings: the nature of suffering and impermanence. The Buddha understood the constant stress and dissatisfaction in life, regardless of place and time. He saw how the energy that we tirelessly spend on seeking relief is only a form of suffering. And too much suffering leads us to exhaustion. This then causes us to burnout.
The Buddha has mapped this situation so thoroughly, he has also offered a solution: The Four Noble Truths, aka the route from burned out to blissed-out
If you are feeling burned out or have ever experienced work-related exhaustion, you may recognize some of the symptoms:
- Headaches: Like stress-related migraines.
- Extreme exhaustion: If you’ve ever found it hard to get out of bed in the morning then you know exactly what this is like; dragging yourself into work, difficulty getting started on and completing tasks, aching pains, low motivation, and low energy.
- Loss of concentration: Under long periods of stress it is hard, if not impossible, to stay focused.
- Irritability: Being in an irritable state makes us short with, or snappy and impatient with clients and coworkers. This carries on outside of the workplace and into our homes and our social lives.
- Cynicism: Work-related burnout creates an over-critical and pessimistic outlook on all things in general. This opens up the door to more suffering.
- Erratic sleep patterns: Like insomnia and lack of sleep. If you can relate to this then you may have noticed sleeping entirely too much whenever you were able to catch a break.
- Detachment: Those who are burnt out usually detach from their work by simply going through the motions carelessly.
At this point the only hope is just to make it through the day.
- Lack of accomplishment- Feeling bogged down affects our productivity. Then, when accomplishments are had there seems to be a lack of satisfaction.
Some situations that contribute to burnout include:
- An Excessive workload: An overload of work would be enough to tire just about any of us. This can be OK periodically. For example: when you need to get a particular job done.
But prolonged excessive workloads will eventually lead you towards burnout. We tip the scales too far in one direction and lose sight of ourselves.
- A toxic workplace: Working around people who make you feel horrible, bog you down with their negativity, working under unfair management, and not being recognized for your hard work can all chip away at you.
This can rear its head in many different ways, all leading to burnout.
- A work-life imbalance: Too much work, not enough rest and relaxation makes us all a bit exhausted. We need the happiness and joy that comes from the things that we love outside of the work for our fuel to keep going.
- Lack of support: Social, spiritual, marital, and other supports can be your greatest resource.
Those without a community, a partner, close friends, a counselor, or life coach to talk to are at greater risk of burnout than those with support.
- Working in a helping profession: Those of us within the helping profession fields can experience what is called “compassion burnout”.
Differing from “compassion fatigue”; this type of burnout is caused by being overworked and underpaid (or appreciated). It happens to people who spend a lot of their energy only to see little in return. Also, not having enough time off, lacking resources, and support all play a role in compassion burnout.
- Trying to please everybody- If you’ve ever tried to fill too many roles at once, then you know that not only is it impossible, it’s quite overwhelming. As a consequence, you neglect your most important role, which is your relationship with yourself.
- Monotony- We must remember (because sometimes our employers don’t do this for us) that we are not machines.
Monotony isn’t particularly stressful on its own, but it does cause people to check out and to become detached. You lose your creative spark and your work no longer brings you satisfaction. The continuation of this day after day ultimately leads to stress and burnout.
But it’s not all gloomy skies and stormy weather. You can always choose to remember that you do have control over your life. You can reach out for help from your support system. We can also choose to view burnout as serving to teach us something.
Burnout could be a call to re-evaluate what you are doing and the direction that you are headed.
Or it could be that you are headed in the right direction, but need to relax a little, loosen up your grip, and let life unfold with some faith and trust.
It could be a call to look after your health or well-being.
And it could be many numbers of things.
Through the Buddhist teachings of The Four Noble Truths we can examine this further…
THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH
Life is suffering
This may be quite a big bite to chew on. You can rest assured in knowing that the translation of “life is suffering”, or “life involves suffering” may actually be incorrect. According to Buddhist scholars, a more accurate translation would be “life is stressful” or “there is dissatisfaction, discontent, pain, sorrow, sadness, disappointment, etc. in life”.
Burnout is one of the major ways that this is dealt with.
A factor that greatly contributes to burnout, aka suffering, is our tendency to want to control the uncontrollable (or impermanent). How often do you try to hold onto things in fear that they will slip away…jobs, relationships, money, status positions, your identity?
This is amplified in people who own their own business or work for themselves. In this position, it can seem that you are responsible for everything. There is a lot of work to do and so much is always riding on your success. We ruminate believing that we can somehow control the outcomes.
This can make your business fertile ground for suffering. For many, it’s their primary source of stress. Without tools and support, this is a sure way to burnout.
The first of the Four Noble Truths is an open invitation for you to be still and take a moment to reflect on your life and motivations. It calls you to examine what about your beliefs and actions that are causing you to do the things that make you feel burned out.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself:
- Do I over-complicate things in my mind?
- Do things for the approval of others?
- Try to rush and control outcomes?
- Am I often stuck in the past or off somewhere in the future?
- Where can I lighten up and relax a little?
Finding shelter from the storm through meditation or quiet time, you can rest and relax. From this vantage point you can view your situation with clarity and wisdom. It gives you the energy to take action where needed.
THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH:
The cause of suffering is greed or desire
An alternate version of the Second Noble Truth is clinging, craving, attachment, and aversion. We rely on the external factors that we enjoy and avoid the ones that we don’t.
Desire is both wonderful and natural. It is the attachment to it that causes suffering (and our burnouts). Think about it… All that energy you are spending trying to attain your desire, all the anxiety, fear, shame, blame that arises on the journey. How helpful is it?
No amount of success (however you choose to define the term) can ever free you from this condition.
The Buddha taught “The Middle-Way”, which is the path to help you avoid any extremes. The Middle Way teaches balance. It’s not to deny your needs and wants, but also not to become too wrapped up in them either.
Here you can ask yourself:
- Am I striving to succeed for ego purposes?
- Am I trying to prove something to others?
- Am I searching outside of myself to feel worthy of love, admiration, and respect?
- Do I make my accomplishments into my identity?
The Third Noble Truth
The Solution to Suffering is letting go of attachments
Complete enlightenment isn’t expected of anybody, only that we may acknowledge what is causing suffering and work towards a shift.
There is a fair concern that you may become dull, boring, uncreative, and so forth in the process. This is an understandable fear. But it’s the complete opposite of what actually takes place when you begin to change.
A more helpful way to view this process is of letting go of the things that do not serve you. This includes thoughts, emotions, objects, goals, and people.
You can take a page from Marie Kondo’s book, “Spark Joy”, and literally let go of anything in your life that doesn’t “spark joy”. This is an excellent gauge in determining what in your life is holding you down and keeping you from experiencing the happiness and productivity that you deserve.
You enter into a more empowered place when you let go of what isn’t serving you. You’re left with a feeling of greater connection; which is more loving, more creative, more compassionate, more powerful, healthier, happier, and free.
An easy step is to ask yourself: Where am I holding on where I could be letting go?
The Fourth Noble Truth
The Eightfold Path; the road that frees us from suffering
The last of The Four Noble Truths is the path to end “suffering” by achieving nirvana (awakening, peace of mind, liberation).
This is called The Eight Fold Path. It is the action step of The Four Noble Truths and where the fruit of the practice is found.
Below we will take a look at The Eight Fold path through the scope of burning out.
The Eight Fold Path
- Right understanding; AKA Being honest with yourself: Through awareness, you gain a new understanding of yourself and your life. You see things in the material world for what they are and develop a sense of what is important to you.
This “knowing” can assist with taking lifeless serious and becoming less affected by its stress. You no longer put so much importance on outer things and spend more time on what really makes you really happy.
- Right thought; AKA Developing a positive mindset: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. And when you are compassionate to yourself and others, stress is much more likely to roll off your back.
- Right speech; AKA Mind what you say: Using speech that is uplifting and helpful to others in return makes you feel good. While negative and hateful use of language only serves to drag everyone down.
One of the best things that you can do in the workplace is to avoid taking part in gossip. That type of negativity will only drag you down and put your reputation on the line.
- Right action; AKA Acting with ethics: Acting in an ethical way lessens the suffering for yourself and those around you. It’s sure to score your karma points and teaches you to stand up for what is right for yourself.
It is “Right Action” to set healthy boundaries.
- Right Livelihood AKA A job that works: In a Buddhist context, this means that we avoid participating in work that harms others (i.e. selling of arms or intoxicating substances). In the context of this article, it could mean to avoid work that harms yourself.
It’s important to look at, and really be honest about if your job is the right one for you.
It may not mean quitting your job exactly, but it could mean making some changes within it.
- Right effort; AKA Setting goals and sticking to them: Such as: making it a point to take some time for yourself during the day. Whatever your self-care routine would be, the important part is that you stick to it.
- Right Mindfulness; AKA Practicing mindfulness: By going through the day mindfully and with awareness, you begin to notice a clear sense of your mental state, physical state, your health, and feelings.
You are able to view yourself and the world from your true home of awareness; with greater love, strength, compassion, peace, and wisdom.
- Right Concentration; AKA meditation. You may have heard about or experienced meditation’s benefits yourself. Every day that we meditate is every day that we take out insurance on our mental health and well-being. Sitting in nature or sitting still is also a great way to follow this path of right concentration. What is important is that we take some time for ourselves to relax and reflect.
The Four Noble Truths gives us an excellent lens to examine our lives. It can bring new perspectives on burnout and exhaustion. It offers solutions to lessen life’s burdens and gives you the stress relief through its techniques – allowing you to cope while reducing the effect that burnout and exhaustion can have.
If you’re ready to include the four noble truths into your life to reduce burnout and exhaustion, along with navigating work and life struggles… schedule your first $60-minute session for $1!