In the course of my career, I have experienced burnout at least twice, and recovery has been difficult and lengthy. This past January, I realized that I was starting to have symptoms again. There was no mystery as to why. Five years before I had started graduate school and taken more than a full-time load for two years, while also working full-time. Then in March of 2020, I began my private practice two weeks before we all went home for the pandemic. Since then I had been working 50-60 hours per week, sometimes up to 70. The final straw for me was when my father died last fall and I had grief and other responsibilities piled on top of my usual heavy workload. In January, it became apparent I had to make changes quickly to avoid burnout.
What is burnout?
Arnsten & Shanafelt (2021) define burnout as “an occupational syndrome associated with affective and cognitive changes, including emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism, and diminished feelings of personal efﬁcacy resulting from chronic occupational stress.” The World Health Organization (WHO) considers it an actual diagnosis with diagnostic criteria and increased risk of: hypertension, atrial flutter, cardiovascular disease, depression, and suicide. While burnout by these definitions has to do with the workplace, there are also other areas of life we can experience burnout in caregiving and volunteering to name a couple.
It is NOT a personal failure!
Even Elijah, who was eventually taken to heaven without seeing death, experienced burnout and made some poor choices because of it. It happened to him after several years of stress and threats on his life. God did not tell Elijah to pick himself up and pull himself together. He never blamed Elijah. (See 1 Kings 19)
Burnout is caused by the work environment rather than by individual problems with resilience or coping. Uncontrolled stress NOT controlled stress and having little or no control over choices at work are the causes of burnout. If these problems go on for just a few weeks or even a few months, it will not cause burnout. However, when it becomes chronic lasting months or even years this is where burnout comes on the scene.
In Part 2, we will discuss what happens in the brain when burnout happens. We will also discuss action steps in another article, which you can take if you are feeling burned out.
If you are feeling suicidal, please call 988 for support, go to your hospital’s emergency department, or call 911. God is not done with you yet.