Dread the end of the weekend, and the subsequent arrival of Monday morning? Or, feelings of exhaustion, depression, and boredom? Or, work that starts feeling heavy, the frustration that seems we're putting out more than we're getting back. with joy and inspiration replaced by apathy and resignation?
Yes, these are some of the common tell-tale signs of burnout: the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually a result of prolonged stress, or frustration.
In a service-oriented generation such as our own, burnout has a very poignant sense about it; having started out wanting to help others, we can run the danger of feeling "used-up," ourselves.
How does it happen? How does a person move from feelings of excitement and growth [such as, at the beginning of a new job, or career] to this heavy, soul-stifling dreariness? When does the shift take place from one of giving selflessly to the feeling of being taken advantage of?
According to the Institute for the Integration of Technology and Education, US:
"There are many ways for burnout to happen, however generally speaking burnout happens when one over-gives of themselves. This can happen in many ways such as: too much overtime; setting aside [neglecting] your own issues to help others; doing too much of other's work; being in the presence of constant negative energy; constantly handling other's emergencies [and neglecting your own]; allowing others to abuse your kindness; continual emotional dependence on other's approval; allowing yourself to be manipulated; under-compensation; and ignoring your need for accomplishment and growth."
If you have ever felt burned out before, you recognise that the last thing you really want to do when you feel that way is expend more energy to "fix" the problem. In fact, it may seem like the more energy you devote to overcoming burnout, the more burned out you become!
Well-known guru Ram Dass, together with the Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Paul Gorman, wrote an amazing collection of stories and reflections on service titled, How Can I Help? They suggest that recovering from burnout is entirely possible, but it takes skills we often do not think to employ: Reperception and Witnessing [a non-religious method of dispassionate assessment], which lead to self-work.
Reperception is a valuable tool for any circumstance in which there is struggle. In essence, reperception is simply looking at the situation differently, using "fresh eyes" to see what has been bothering us so deeply. As Dass and Gorman state:
"Reperception itself, we've found, has the power to transform situations. Things change as they are seen differently, not necessarily because we are busy altering circumstance. From these shifts in perspective, in turn, we ourselves change. As we reach a deeper sense of who we are, we discover how much more we have to give."
Reperception and witnessing are tied together. To "witness," in this sense, is to step back from a situation and simply acknowledge [or "witness"] what is so, without judgment of ourselves, or of others. It is simply a fair witness of our own humanity and the human experience. If we are able to stand back from our burnout - take a mental step away from it so as to see it more clearly — and, just acknowledge it with a sense of dispassionate assessment, reperception can occur, allowing us to see deeper and more genuinely to the heart of what is really going on.
One way to be sure that you are truly witnessing your experience is to note whether you are emotionally reactive to it. Dass and Gorman write that "the ability to remain quiet and open - simply to observe, never to judge - is what prevents the Witness from becoming reactive and self-conscious." As we practice this technique of dispassionate assessment, we open ourselves to shifts of perspective that have the ability to change and deepen our character. Repeated use of witnessing and reperception may lead us to observe that the seeds of our burnout are often sown in how we enter a helping situation, revealing our motives, needs, expectations etc.,
In this manner—witnessing to our situation and then reperceiving it appropriately—we can start to do some inner work on ourselves. Psychology attests that the things that bother us are intimately connected to our own sense of self, with all our beliefs, fears, and preconceived judgments.
Facing burnout is never easy. It often seems to demand more energy than we think we have. Stepping back from a burned-out situation, setting aside our emotions and trying to reperceive what is really going on, are steps that can help us recover from burnout.
Burnout is a difficult, emotionally and spiritually draining state. It happens when we give too much, neglect our own wellbeing, chain ourselves to our expectations, and become sour and allow our emotions to lock us into a view that is depressing and saddening.
We can overcome burnout by learning to witness to our situation - standing back and setting emotions aside so we can see what is really going on. This allows us to reperceive the situation, and make clear and healthy choices that can move us out of burnout and into wellbeing.
Preventing burnout is possible, and requires that we examine our attitude and beliefs about work. Recognising that work is an integral part of life, we would benefit from acknowledging its part in our journey toward wholeness. As we strive to give and do our best, we maintain our integrity and continue to stretch and grow.
Aim, Don't Spoof
In their moving and thought-provoking book, In the Spirit of Happiness, the Monks of New Skete, address the issue of work's relationship to a healthy sense of self and spirituality. "Misguided, cynical thinking hides from us the inherent dignity of work," they write. "Whenever we exert ourselves, whenever we strive to accomplish something. it presents an opportunity to make our love and humanity more visible." The monks go on to say that work "is a natural and necessary part of human life. Most of us have to work to survive, but all of us have to work if we are to become whole." Work is good - producing something, doing something, experiencing the fruits of our labours can feel good and actually affect our individual mental, emotional, and spiritual health in positive ways.
One way to keep burnout at bay is to keep a "wide view" of your work and what it is that you are doing in the world. Reconnecting with why you are doing what you are - your values and desires - can be a powerful way to maintain an expansive state of mind.
Do you think about why you are in your profession? What draws you to this form of service to others? How are your contributions changing the world, making it a better, healthier place? Also, slogging through a project that may seem less than attractive to you can bring you closer to burnout. An answer to this problem is to reperceive your relationship to the work at hand.
Indeed, if you view work as a vital part of your own journey towards wholeness, what you do is far less important than how you do it. A correct attitude can transform any situation into a tool for growth and harmony.
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