Understanding and preventing burnout

  • Expert advice: resilience expert Paula Davis Laack, above, and psychotherapist Lorrie Peniston will host a job burnout seminar tomorrow night (Photograph supplied)

    Expert advice: resilience expert Paula Davis Laack, above, and psychotherapist Lorrie Peniston will host a job burnout seminar tomorrow night (Photograph supplied)


Signs you might be a sufferer

Many people feel tired or frustrated from work but here are signs you might be suffering from something more serious like burnout:

1. Your performance has slipped. Experts say burnout happens over an extended period of time.

If your slump lasts for months or years, it’s possible you’re experiencing chronic burnout.

2. You can’t turn off the stress from work. Even at home you’re spending mental energy worried about your job and aren’t recovering well from the stresses of your day.

3. Your health starts to decline. Chronic stress that goes unchecked over a long period of time can lead to heart disease, depression or digestive issues.

4. Some people start drinking, smoking or eating too much junk food to cope with stress. If you find yourself self-medicating to get through the work day, something serious might be going on.

5. You’re feeling frustrated and cynical. If you’re disillusioned with everything and have become more pessimistic, burnout might be the cause. Everyone experiences negative emotions but it’s important to consider if these feelings are becoming out of character for you.

6. You’re no longer enthusiastic about work and struggle to get through each day.

Almost a decade into her law career, Paula Davis Laack suffered burnout.

She had weekly anxiety attacks and was rushed to hospital because of stomach pains three times in the space of a year.

The stress was overwhelming.

“I was in and out of the Emergency Room a few times with really bad stomach aches,” the 41-year-old said. “I was getting colds and flus and had lots of aches and pains as well.

“Despite all the attempts to see doctors and try to get a diagnosis of what was going on, they weren’t focused at all about how I was doing at work and how the stress from that was impacting me. I eventually had to diagnose myself.”

The Mayo Clinic describes office burnout as “a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work”.

The condition affects men and women in equal numbers. The difference is that women tend to ask for help but men often don’t.

“They say it’s because of societal expectations,” said Mrs Davis Laack. “[They say] ‘I have a family and can’t afford to not have a job’. It’s one of those things I encourage men to talk to someone about. It doesn’t have to be a coach, they might want to talk to their buddies or a healthcare professional.”

She quit her job in 2009.

“I found myself spending more and more time in my own office with the door closed just to get peace,” she said. “The stress was impacting my personal life as well. I used to spend time with my husband and my friends on the weekends and have fun, but during this time I was feeling like no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get recharged enough after the weekend, and felt this high level of exhaustion. I also had this elevated level of cynicism and people would really rub me the wrong way.

“I can vividly recall walking out of my building to the car and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. There was still a lot of uncertainty about the future at that point and I was trying to figure out my own business, but I knew it was the best decision.”

She enrolled in a master’s programme at the University of Pennsylvania. The more she learnt about applied positive psychology, the more certain she was of her self-diagnosis.

“It was only at school that I realised this had a name. It was like a lightbulb went off. I really wanted to study what causes burnout and how people can build up their resilience to stress so stress doesn’t knock them down.

“We are all dealing with lots of adversity, challenges and things and have a lot on our plates. I look at what tools I can give people so they don’t go through the same thing.” She’s spent the past five years teaching professionals across the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia how to do just that. Tomorrow night she’ll host a seminar in Bermuda with local psychotherapist Lorrie Peniston.

The two met at the University of Pennsylvania and were subsequently hired to provide resilience training to soldiers and staff in the US Army, from 2011 to 2014.

“One of the things that Lorrie and I are excited about, and that sets us apart from other folks, is we teach people skills to prevent burnout and manage their stress in a healthy way,” Mrs Davis Laack said.

“Those who attend the seminar will get hands-on tools, tips and strategies that they can use both at work and at home and implement as soon as they walk out of the door. The goal is for them to leave feeling a sense of hope and to know they can go out and accomplish whatever it is they set their mind to.”

One thing that’s stressed in her presentations is the importance of having high-quality relationships in place. People who have that at work are happier, healthier, more successful and better able to accomplish their goals.

Her expertise has been featured in The Oprah Magazine, Forbes.com, SELF magazine, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Steve Harvey Show and Huffington Post Live.

She’s noticed a lot more younger people are suffering from burnout than before.

“Most of the people I work with are in the 25 to 50 age range and that’s the sweet spot for it,” she said. “One thing I notice is how much earlier it’s happening in people’s careers. I’m getting calls from people in their mid- to late-20s.

“One person said for them it started in high school. They had good grades and worked extremely hard to get into a good college. They never slowed down until they eventually found themselves burnt out and completely exhausted. I think as people start to form their families and have their children that only adds another layer to it. We are all addicted to being busy and feel we have to constantly have something to do.”

Her biggest reward is having people say her advice changed their life.

“Those little success stories are really wonderful to hear,” she said. “I can’t describe it. It’s seriously like a drug for me. I want to get more of it because it’s so thrilling for me to see people make those connections and see the light bulbs go on.”

The seminar takes place at O’Hara House, 1 Bermudiana Road, from 5.30pm until 7pm. Tickets, $60, are available at bdatix.bm or by calling 232-8499.

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Published Feb 24, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 23, 2016 at 10:11 pm)

Understanding and preventing burnout

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