Hotels and restaurants, and education lead the field in burn-out. One in ten workers suffer from burn-out. In the hotel and restaurant sector the proportion of people suffering from burn-out has increased substantially. Burn-out symptoms are most common among people working in education and those working in hospitality industry it seems. In both sectors around one in seven workers suffer from burn-out. Pressure of work, no control over their own work and a bad work atmosphere all increase the chance of a worker suffering from burn-out.

The actual physical burden of work is not related to burn-out. High pressure of work increases the risk of workers suffering from burn-out threefold, compared with workers who have little or no pressure of work. Workers who have no say in their own work have a three and a half times greater chance of suffering from burn-out as people who do have a say in their work. Moreover, working in an indifferent or unfriendly atmosphere doubles the chance of burn-out.

Burn out is characterised by extreme tiredness and feelings of exhaustion

(read below, the “disillusionment phase” of stress). These symptoms are sometimes called emotional exhaustion.

All too many patients I have seen the past few years are showing signs of burn-out, and many are so busy with life that they aren’t even aware themselves! Burn out is a stage of stress that many of us potentially go through at different stages of our lives, and it can happen to a university student, a mother with young or teenage children, a school teacher, a businessman, in fact any busy person can slide into a burn out phase during a busy or hectic period of their lives.

Let me paint a picture of burnout for you.

Here is the scene of a lady I recently saw as a patient who emigrated from America to New Zealand to start a new life with her husband and their three children. Jill and her husband work almost full time as well as trying to raise a family. They bought a house cleaning franchise to build sufficient income to support a growing family, and Jill does some cleaning as well as all the book keeping, in addition to the household chores. It is 3 in the morning and Jill is tossing and turning in bed, fighting with her pillow. She has had sleeping problems for the past nine months, ever since moving to NZ from California. She has been pacing the kitchen and dining room, and having imaginary conversations with her husband, even drafting an imaginary letter of resignation from her job, fighting a sense of outrage and inadequacy and worrying about your lack of interest in your allotted tasks and lack of care for your children.

Jill has recently been arguing a lot with her husband due to his desires yet her complete lack of interest in sex, as well as concerns about her husband’s increase in alcohol consumption. Jill was recommended to try an anti-depressant by her doctor, and was also recommended a sleeping pill. By the time Jill had seen me as a patient, she was on the verge of marital separation and extremely tired and well and truly burnt-out to say the least. Do you recognise any of the above, you could be suffering from a case serious burnout like Jill, and you will need to take action before this ends in heart failure, cancer, a stroke ……….or even murder! Unless you have been living under a rock the past ten years, you will have noticed that many people seem to be “flipping” out these past few years. It is incredible how many violent altercations are happening on our highways, in our schools, in our families. It is called stress. Can you imaging the stress and burnout with regard to our fine law enforcement officers world wide? Stress does funny things to people, some react unpredictable, others just “clam up” whereas others become hostile, aggressive and extremely violent.

Burn-Out Health Check

Be totally honest – yes or no?

  • I often feel sad, not much seems to interest me anymore.
  • My friends are all having fun, but my relationships seem empty or worthless.
  • I feel tired even when I have had my normal eight hours of sleep, and can wake up exhausted.
  • I am bored with my work and have difficulty concentrating, my memory is “shot”.
  • I carry too much responsibility, I am finding it hard to cope with my job.
  • I have got to a point where other peoples’ needs don’t concern me, my fuse is getting shorter.
  • I feel emotionally empty at the end of a normal working day.
  • My workload is far too heavy to do properly.
  • I do not feel as sensitive as I used to feel, I am more snappy and critical.
  • Sex is the last thing on my mind, my partner says yes and I say no.
  • I often worry about my ability to do my job after hours.
  • I get headaches or tight muscles in my neck, shoulders or upper back.
  • My boss has completely unrealistic expectations of me.
  • I often drink or eat too much, I love chocolate, sweet foods or salty snacks like chips
  • I am often ill and always seem to be “coming down” with the latest germs doing the rounds
  • I wake up in the morning dreading the thought of going to work, at times I even “hate” my life.
  • I am no longer interested in social activities and rarely go out.
  • I have problems if I miss a meal or don’t eat on time.
  • I stay up to late and work or play games on the computer.
  • I am drinking more alcohol than I used to, or drinking several nights a week.
  • I am often depressed on Sunday evenings.
  • Life generally seems pointless to me.
  • There is not much in life I look forward to.
  • I take less care of my appearance than I used to, I seem to be ageing so fast lately!
  • My family constantly complains about not seeing enough of me.
  • I spend a lot of time watching TV when I am not at work.

    If you have answered ‘yes’ to even five of these, you could be on the way to burnout. Take action before it is too late.

The 4 Stages of Burnout

1. The Honeymoon Phase
During this phase, your new job, relationship or life seems to be the answer to everything! You are extremely happy and fulfilled and your enthusiasm knows almost no bounds. No task is too demanding and you are never loathe to walk the extra mile. You feel fulfilled and stimulated. You say “yes” to everybody and want to please. Your energy levels are great and you can take on the world. Life is good you think after you come back from that wonderful holiday.

2. The Reality Check
Your rose-tinted glasses are coming off and you have to realise that your partner, life or boss is not the perfect after all. You also realise that that woman talks about you behind your back at work, or your husband stays out late at night or you are put out by the fact that the boss has not agreed to pay you overtime. Your kids or partner take you for granted and you are always “picking up after everybody”. You are starting to get annoyed at people a bit more and get the occasional sore neck or headache. You may be drinking wine a few times a week and perhaps have between one to three coffees a day. You may take pills for period pain or a headaches once or twice a month. When you find yourself coming home later and later in the evenings, you are beginning to experience disillusionment, as you realise that your job or relationship does not satisfy all your social and/or financial needs. You haven’t been on holiday for ages it seems and things are looking a bit stale. You work even harder, but this does not seem to be the answer and you become tired, disillusioned, dispirited and frustrated. But you tell yourself that “tomorrow it will be all better”.

3. Disillusionment Phase
You now no longer feel enthusiastic and energetic, but constantly exhausted and irritated. You start either losing or gaining weight and your sleeping patterns change. You hate the thought of sex and haven’t kissed, cuddled or had your partner for ages. He or she may even feel somewhat like a stranger, you seem to fight a lot lately, and communication seems pointless because he or she is criticising every little thing you say or do with even the smallest things start off new arguments. You may be sleeping in different beds and haven’t said “I love you” for ages. Watch out, this is how a lot of separations happen, and stress is often to blame. Some folk in the “disillusionment phase” may even start exhibiting compulsive behaviour patterns with with regards to casual sex, drinking or drugs, partying or shopping. You start feeling very angry and blaming others for things that go wrong in your life. Your work and home life deteriorates and you may become openly critical of your superiors and colleagues at work or your family and friends. Anxiety and depression become a part of your everyday existence and you often feel ill, tired and just plain “worn out”. You may be visiting the doctor who says that you are suffering from depression and anxiety.

4. Red Alert Phase
This final stage is serious and unless someone intervenes or you take control of your life it could end in serious chronic illness, or even death. You may have heard of the term “a nervous breakdown”, we are either dealing with the disillusionment or red alert phase here. At this stage, life seems pretty pointless and you feel constant despair. You are completely exhausted and feel as if your mental and physical reserves have been depleted. You experience an overwhelming sense of total failure and a loss of self-esteem and confidence. You feel unable to take charge or make any changes. Your family is falling or has fallen apart, and in extreme cases one or more family members may be exhibiting behaviours which could even land them in the courts or in prison. You may have been charged with drink-driving. This is road rage for some. This can be the beginning for the initiation for cancer in some. I can remember talking to a doctor involved in a residential cancer program involving over 30,000 cancer patients spanning many years in Australia. His views on cancer were that almost without exception, most cancer patients he has seen during his many years of practice had “one or more severe emotional events occur in their lives about twelve to eighteen months before their cancer diagnosis”. Do you have to wait until you get to the “red alert” phase before you wake up to the fact that stress can kill?

Some great diet and lifestyle tips to avoid and counteract burnout

• Never eat starchy carbohydrates (breads, pastas) by themselves. Reduce or avoid caffeine, sugar, alcohol and white flour products. Much better to avoid coffee, even decaf if you have adrenal fatigue.

• Check out the adrenal fatigue FAQ page to see if you have it.

• Eat the foods your body needs, not what you crave & feel guilty for having eaten it. Learn the foods which make you feel bad, and keep a mental list of them.

• Avoid if possible the foods you are addicted to, like chocolate, alcohol, breads, sweets, etc.

• Never EVER skip breakfast in the morning! You will pay the price for it later in the day.

• Avoid fruit on its own in the morning, especially that glass of orange juice, an adrenally compromised patient can hit the floor by 10.00 – 11.00am with a sugar hit like this.

• Avoid or reduce foods with which you suspect an allergy or are sensitive to. (e.g. milk, eggs, oranges, bananas, peanuts, wheat).

• Have salt in your diet, particularly if you crave salty foods like chips. Have salt on your food, or you can add a little salt to your water.

• Avoid foods that make you feel worse, cloud your thinking or pull you down in any way.

• Don’t get over tired, and recognise when you do have fatigue you also need ample rest by allowing yourself some time every day to relax.

• You will benefit from a 20 minute relaxation period three times weekly between 2.00PM—4.00PM. Massage, reflexology or a session of meditation are all ways of relaxing your body.

• For the sake of building up your adrenal gland energy, try to be in bed BEFORE 10:00PM.Sleep in until 9.00AM whenever possible in the weekends. DON’T stay up past 11.00PM.

• Don’t feel sorry for yourself, or be harsh or negative with yourself. Avoid pushing yourself.

• Take the power and responsibility of your health into your own hands. Make whatever lifestyle changes you need to make to regain your health

• Can you recognise yourself in this article? Perhaps you may like to look at adrenal fatigue treatment.

• Don’t expect any job or relationship to fulfill all your needs

• Avoid a career where you have to give to others constantly, unless you are also very good at receiving emotional input from others

• Don’t let your job take over your life. Working overtime as a rule will impact negatively on your ability to do the job on the long run. Work related stress can kill.

• Don’t overwork in an effort to avoid dealing with personal or relationship problems

• Maintain an active social life and don’t give up your hobbies

• Learn to say no before you become completely overloaded

• Accept the fact that you cannot be everything to everybody and that you are not irreplaceable

• If you work in the helping professions, remember that you cannot take responsibility for other people’s problems. They have to do so themselves. All you can do is point them in the right direction.

• Doing things for people that they should be doing for themselves says quite a lot about you and possible unresolved control issues. Go and talk to a therapist about this!

• There is little point in taking anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressants unless you also deal with the source of the stress. Get help if it is something within you that causes you to work to the point of burnout.

• If you can’t change jobs, at least change your attitude with regards to the existing one.

• Learn to set boundaries and to stick to them.

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Eric Bakker is the clinical director of The Naturopaths and holds a Bachelor Degree of Science majoring in Complementary Health Care, as well as separate diploma qualifications in Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine and Homeopathy. Eric has 20 years clinical experience in natural medicine, and received post-graduate natural medicine training in Australia, India, America as well as New Zealand. Eric has four children and lives in the sunny Hawkes Bay

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