work burnout

Work Burnout: It’s officially a real problem

Recent headlines have been telling us something many of us already knew: work burnout is a big problem. Why is it news now, though?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended a diagnostic code specifically addressing the distress that so many go through at work – “Work Burnout“. This term appears in the International Classification of Diseases, 11th revision (ICD-11), which will go into effect in 2022.

The ICD is a standardized system of communicating diagnoses among medical professionals all around the world, regardless of spoken language. It is updated periodically to reflect greater understanding of medical and psychological conditions, as well as factors that influence health.

What It Means

The new code clarifies the definition of burnout – the previous version described it as “vital exhaustion” and categorized it as “problems related to life management difficulty”. This brief and vague term described stress that encompassed someone’s life as a whole, and implied the problem was with the person. Now, it’s recognized that excessive stress specific to demands in the workplace is a problem warranting attention. It now points to the environment, not the person as the source of the trouble.

work burnout

While it’s not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, it is categorized as a “condition that influences health status or contact with health services.” This means work burnout can make you sick and/or cause you to seek medical attention for physical or emotional symptoms.

Does that mean we should all up and quit our jobs? Not necessarily, since it’s so prevalent, there’s a good chance you’ll end up feeling similar emotions in the next place too. What do we do about it, then?

Learn the best possible ways to cope with your environment.

What You Can Change

Some things in our work environment are completely outside our control, but some we can do something about. Most importantly, how we react to what we can’t control is something we can change.

I will start by saying, just because you change how you react to stress doesn’t mean your emotions aren’t valid. That’s a completely different issue. Your reaction does, however, impact your ability to think, the physical responses going on throughout your body, your interactions with others, and the actions you take (which always have outcomes of their own).

Mindfulness Can Help

Before we can turn down the intensity of our reactions, we have to recognize what’s going on up there in our heads. How do we do that? Get clear by being completely present with ourselves. Knowing what’s flying through our heads and what’s going on in our bodies is the first task when you want to bring things down a few notches.

When we stay grounded in the moment rather than let our emotions get in the drivers’ seat, we can rise above our knee-jerk reactions and come through better off. You can learn about mindfulness here, and start incorporating the practice into your life. This is a skill that takes time to build, so be patient.

The People

One of the toughest parts of stressful work environments can be the people. You can try everything you can think of with some of them, but for whatever reason, they insist on being tough to work with. That takes a huge amount of your energy that you probably need to be using on the task, so learning how to interact with them will preserve some of your brain power for what needs to be done. In this article, you can learn what some of the difficult types look like and how to handle them.

The Work

Sometimes it really is the job, not just the people. When you have too many simultaneous priorities, your own expectations aren’t being met, and when it bleeds into your personal life, there are ways to deal with that too.

Another thing you can do that combines the mindfulness I talked about before with strategies to cope with the workload is take “brain breaks”. Here’s a thorough guide for how to do that.

When the Toll is Too Great

If your job is the sole reason you’re experiencing health problems, family discord, etc, it might be the time to consider moving on.

Here’s a tried and true saying that helps countless people get through tough times:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr

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