"Like a snake furtively progressing toward its prey, then uncoiling suddenly and attacking, "burnout" strikes the most vulnerable individuals. They are often dynamic, charismatic, goal-oriented men and women who invest 100% of their energies to a given task. They are frequently leaders who assume responsibil-ities far beyond their limitations. Usually, they are idealistic people who start a project with great expectations, refuse to compromise at any point, and push themselves too hard for too long. The result, burnout, is a reaction to the stress of knowing that one's devotion to a principle, task, or relationship has not produced a desired outcome.
Burnout is comprised of several psychological symptoms that can diminish a person's ability to perform, at home or on the job. Included among them are: Anxiety, fatigue and reduced interest in activities, insomnia or oversleeping, depression, difficulty concentrating and irritability.
In order to attempt to cope with these symptoms, people experiencing burnout may increase their use of alcohol and tobacco, change eating habits, become angry with others and withdraw contact, sleep excessively and frequently fail to meet commitments or complete tasks. If left untreated, burnout progresses in severity with time. In the beginning, an individual will act enthusiastically, bringing a lot of motivational energy to a task. He or she may feel invulnerable-- that anything can be accomplished.
During this phase, a person is often quite satisfied, believing a particular job fulfills his needs. Burnout begins to stalk its prey as someone becomes disillusioned, realizing his performance or demands of a job fall short of his expectations. The harder the person tries-- then fails-- to increase performance and meet job demands, the more confused, frustrated and impatient he becomes. A kink has developed in his armor; his self- confidence is eroding.
Burnout lunges forward, coiling itself around the weakening victim, whose emotional fuel has begun running low. During this phase, "brownout", expect fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances altered eating patterns; and possibly escapist drinking or shopping binges to emerge. The coils tighten as burnout prepares to devour its hapless adversary. Of superior stealth and cunning it managed to totally dominate this individual, who has allowed himself to conclude that a particular job or other situation is never going to measure up. Given to resignation, he has raised the white flag of despair--surrendered. The air is thick with pessimism, as negative self-statements, and feelings of failure and loneliness are experienced.
If you are such a victim, strangulated with burnout, gasping for a breath of fresh air, you may wish to consider some alternatives...while you are still conscious!
1- Relax. Fighting yourself will only increase the strangulation. Accept and acknowledge the emotional pain of burn- out, rather than fighting it by denying or ignoring the situation. Talking to others about your confusion and distress, and what you can do differently to relieve the symptoms, not only eases the pain but also strengthens your body's immune system to combat any potential physical illness attributable to burnout.
2- When you have recovered your neck, give it time to heal before you stick it out again! Evaluate and adjust your criteria for performance commensurate with your time schedule and abilities. Once you have burned out, you need to "regroup." Reduce your workload and allow more time for self-hypnosis or relaxation exercises, and massages.
3- If you know there's danger in the woods, take a different path. If you have burned out on your job, focus more time and energy on personal relationships and social activities; if it was a relationship that burned you out, involve more of yourself in work you consider exciting and meaningful in some way. In the forest of burnout, you see only the individual trees of crises, unfinished projects and emotional exhaustion. Take the time to stand back...and tread lightly.