Increasingly we are hearing or reading about how workplace stress is on the rise. Almost 20% of reported sick days in 2016 were put down to stress related symptoms. As we become so ingrained in our day to day routine, meeting the needs of our employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was stress is now morphing into ‘Burn-out’. It’s gone from a somewhat natural manageable stress, to something altogether more serious.
Unfortunately, work culture today seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’, and often the criteria is the person who can deliver more and more, with less and less. Day to day, month end on month end, quarter end on quarter end, the relentless pace of work and the culture in which it happens make it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say ‘Stop. I need rest’. If you match this with a personality that is over-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burn-out.
So, what are the tell-tale signs? How are you managing your stress levels? Burn-out can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never been good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:
- Terrified of going to work every day. There is never a good day.
- Always tired.
- Disinterested in doing any hobbies outside of work.
- Getting little enjoyment in anything, and no motivation to seek it.
- Feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel
- Sometimes this is also accompanied by physical aches and pains that are not usually present.
These are just a few of the more common red-flags, but it can be different for everyone. A client coming to counselling described it as follows:
“I feel like I’m holding back floodwaters and the dam is about to break. If I relax for 1 second, the whole thing is going to burst open”.
This was a powerful imagery, but once it was articulated and understood, we could work on taking steps to alleviate the pressure. The great news about Burn-out is that it is treatable. There are the well documented approaches of taking breaks, knowing your limits watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress. But there are also huge benefits gained out of working on your ‘relationship with work’.
HERE COMES THE SCIENCE BIT! A theorist, Martin Buber (an old Austrian dead philosopher with grey beard – you know the one!) suggested that we have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an I-It approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible. The other approach is an I-Thou approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it to the mutual benefit of both parties.
There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint. A script is formed, and the relationship can become so unhealthy that people become ill. Working on this in therapy and shifting this approach to having a more constructive relationship with work, can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burn-out and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. Too often people see career as a means to an end, instead of something to be enjoyed or experienced.
Through counselling people can learn to enjoy the run, instead of constantly looking for the finish line.
The article is written by Noel, Low Cost Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.