What is burnout?
Burnout: It’s a word that we’ve heard about a lot in teaching, the health industry and other front line professions over the last 2 years but what is it? It’s not (at time of writing) an officially recognise diagnosable condition. The world health organisation define it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
They characterise it 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.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
What does it feel like?
I personally realised I was suffering from burnout when we came back to work after the pandemic but I think that in reality I had been dealing with it for far longer. For me it looked like constant exhaustions, getting ill all the time no matter how healthy I was being, it was a feeling of being completely overwhelmed to the point where I didn’t feel I could do a good enough job no matter how hard I tried. The worst part was that I could see I was no longer being the teacher I was capable of being even though my lessons were still good and I met every deadline my heart wasn’t in it and so it was a constant cycle of pushing myself to breaking point, feeling hopeless and taking out on everyone around my (especially myself). For others it will look different there’s no one feeling, symptom or action that is ‘typical’ and all outcomes aren’t the same. Don’t think that because how you feel is different to others that you don’t have the right to seek help and make changes.
What causes it?
- Lack of control. The inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments, workload or the impact you have.
- Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Maybe you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages or shows disinterest in your work.
- Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused.
- Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work just like in your personal life, you may feel more stressed.
- Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
Can you change it?
This all depends, first and foremost seek professional help for any mental or physical impact it may be having on you. Secondly evaluate your options. This is what I did. I started by looking at what I could do to improve my work situation. I made a list and try very hard to implement these in my work place: I set myself self-care goals around work-life balance, protecting my mental health and creating a positive workspace. I started leaving work early, I took up meditation and trained in mindfulness to support not just myself but others, I delegated more, I rearranged my classroom and brought in more scents, plants, images and soft furnishing to make it a nicer place for me, my team and the children. I took up blogging as a way to chart my journey. I then gave myself time to see if these things worked…and they did to a certain extent. Unfortunately for me the biggest issues causing me burnout was the dysfunctional workplace dynamics I was experiencing, this I had little control over and so choices had to be made. Dysfunctional workplace dynamics aren’t something solely experienced in schools nor was it my first experience of them. I made the decision to walk away but what to do next? I was lucky enough to find a really excellent careers coach who helped me to evaluate both my skills and what I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to walk completely away from teaching (I say without arrogance that I’m very good at it) nor did I want to no long help others. As part of my role I have trained in and have done a lot of coaching over the years so for me I decided to use this experience and of burnout to help others. I am now working as a burnout coach helping teachers and others to avoid my own situation, to manage their self care and environment before they need to leave the profession.
If you think you might be suffering from work place stress or burnout here are my 3 top tips to try and beat it:
Talk – I’ve said it twice but I’ll say it again…talk to a professional about getting support for any physical or mental effects you might be experiencing. It’s also a good idea to reach out to a teacher friend, partner, parent, friend, neighbour anyone you feel comfortable having a bit of an offload on, it’s not wrong and it’s not selfish!
Timeout – Sometimes we just need some space and distance to think, to step away, to get some perspective. Either set aside a weekend no work, no social media, just quality time with loved ones, if you can go away for a change of scene. Otherwise you may want to take a couple of sick days to just have a break and regroup – burnout while not a condition can cause them and it is OK to step away, do not let the attitude of your workplace stop you from taking the time you need.
Self care – What are your self care non-negotiables? Make a list. Decide how you can slowly work these into your life. It can feel uncomfortable so don’t rush yourself introduce one or two at a time establish them as a weekly routine before moving onto the next.
As a coach I am able to offer support and guidance either through 1:1 or group coaching or if that’s not for you some general hints and tips from my Instagram or Facebook pages. I also currently have a couple of course out you can complete independently on teachable the 7 days to beat burnout and discover yourself courses. Links for all of these are below.