Are you feeling tired? Not just regular tired from a few late nights working or a hectic recent travel schedule. No, tired as in depleted, exhausted, having to mentally whip yourself into shape for work, do a pep talk in front of the mirror or have a couple of espressos to get you going? Are you beating yourself up for slacking off with email responses, where you always took pride in getting back to people promptly? Feeling guilty inside because you’ve always loved your work, and it is so much of who you are as a person, but now you are hating how it makes you feel. Not just inadequate professionally, but also failing as a partner and a parent and a friend. Does some or all of it sound familiar? You might be suffering from Burn-out.
The World Health Organisation recently classified Burn-out as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in their International Classification of Diseases in the Mental health section. It is defined as follows:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:
· Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
· Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
· Reduced professional efficacy
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
The WHO also states that it is not classified as a medical condition.
Burn-out is the personal and organisational crisis unfolding right before our eyes. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.
That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burn-out on the job!
The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, which cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S. alone, are just the most obvious impacts, according to this Harvard Business Review Article.
A 2017 study in the Public Library of Science cited that Burn-out was a significant predictor of other health problems such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, severe injuries and mortality below the age of 45 years.
Burn-out is a serious health issue that affects individuals and organisations, yet is not classified as a medical condition. There are no easy answers and no easy go to pharmacological solutions. Burn-out requires a holistic health approach that the medical profession is only starting to discover and wake up to slowly. Many people suffering from burn-out symptoms find their way to a holistic Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Naturopath, or other modality of holistic natural health care, and finally achieve the recovery and positive health outcomes they so desperately need and want.
The tricky thing with burn-out is that it is easy to pinpoint stress as the key contributing factor to a cascade of physical, emotional and mental health symptoms, yet the underlying causes of stress are diverse and can differ greatly for every individual presenting with burn-out symptoms. What has become clear to me as a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner over the years is that nutrition plays a major role in the recovery process, a role that is largely still not acknowledged by the medical profession. Plus, in order to restore health, the problems need to be addressed holistically from the bottom-up, the physical body health, and the top-down, the soul or spirit self, at the same time.
When your day and life is defined by all the things you do, and you are constantly busy juggling work and family commitments, how much space and time is left over to just ‘be’? Many people who are suffering from burn-out, need to relearn how to ‘be’ without actually doing anything, and without feeling guilty for not doing anything. The easiest place to reconnect with our ‘being’, the soul or spirit aspect of self is in nature.
Doctors in Scotland can now prescribe nature to their patients, and according to this article from the World Economic Forum: The evidence for the benefits of nature on mental and physical health are numerous. If you spend 90 minutes of your day outside in a wooded area, there will be a decrease of activity in the part of your brain typically associated with depression. Spending time in nature not only reduces blood pressure, anxiety, and increases happiness, but it reduces aggression, ADHD symptoms, improves pain control, the immune system, and—per a summary of research regarding the health benefits of nature—there’s much more we don’t know and are figuring out every day.
It is a relatively simple solution and strategy for what is a complex and costly problem to individuals and organisations. The solution on an organizational level may in fact save millions in expensive urban office leases and designs, by moving offices to more natural surroundings. The flow on benefits for urban and rural communities could be amazing too, less traffic congestion, air pollution, bringing trade back to, and reviving brain drain affected regional areas.
From the bottom-up, the physical body, it is imperative to first understand what your state of health is and where your individual challenges lie. Burn-out is not the starting point, it can be at the end of a long line of other physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, indigestion, irritable bowel symptoms, unexplained weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sudden new food intolerances, sensitivities or frequent colds. Rather than brushing these off as signs of stress or ageing and soldiering on regardless, it is important to pause and tune into what your physical body is trying to tell you. I use this state of health graph to get an initial snapshot, before recommending specific tests and nutritional medicine strategies to my clients.
For our physical body to work optimally we need to provide it with oxygen, light, water, the right nutrients, movement and restorative rest and sleep. It may sound so simple, but for many people, a western urban indoor lifestyle with a diet that is highly processed and high in sugar and saturated fats is a reality. Even sitting at your desk.for many hours a day in front of a screen is a health hazard, and this is where organizations can play an active role in innovating new ways of being and doing work.
Don’t’ be fooled, there is no magic pill or quick fix. Burn-out and the symptoms leading up to it are an invitation to take a journey within, to connect back to your true self. Your values, your dreams, the balance and needs of you as a whole person, body, mind, heart and soul. Take heed of the early warning signs and tune into the feedback your body is giving you about your state of health. Every journey starts with a first step. Let this be the invitation or wake up call to take that first step to a healthier and more fulfilled you.
About the author | After a 15-year international career in management and business development Petra Hooyenga redirected her studies and career towards health and healing. She is an Accredited Nutritional Medicine Practitioner and provides Personal Health Leadership mentoring programmes and Holistic health and wellness training and mentoring for business executives and their teams. For more information visit www.petrahooyenga.com or get a quick snapshot of your own personal State of Health here.