burnout, caring for others, carers, caring professions, physical health, maintaining good mental health, mind

Everyone has the potential to suffer burnout and it’s not just related to workers, as some may assume. First introduced in the 1970s by clinical psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, it was considered a period of prolonged exhaustion and reduced interest in work-related activity. However, with the exhaustive pace of today’s society, burnout can readily be applied both inside and outside the home.

Burnout occurs when a person tends to the needs of others, has an exceptionally demanding job, lives with constant stress or doesn’t seem to have enough hours in the day. If this occurs over an extended period of time, people often neglect their basic needs. They might eat too much fast food, drink too little water or struggle to find the time and motivation to exercise. Everything else is placed in front of their priority to stay healthy. The end result is a decline in their physical and mental health, which leads to a period of burnout.

Professional carers, like nurses, youth workers and counsellors, for example, are taught about burnout in their training. They are given advice on how to avoid it and how to keep themselves strong. The problem is some people forget their training and get caught up in their work. Burnout can sneak up on them and, before they know it, they are no good to anyone.

Other professionals, like stock brokers, managers and alike, aren’t always lucky enough to be taught about burnout. Sometimes the demands placed on people in these positions takes over and their health suffers as a result.

Akin are domestic workers, like stay-at-home parents and full time carers. The enormity that caring for children and others can have on ones mind and body is staggering. These people are often on call day and night, seldom have the opportunity to take a break and are often isolated from their community. This can lead to a radical decline in their physical and mental well-being.

So, with so many people at risk of burnout, how can we all avoid it? Firstly, we all need to be physically healthy to support those around us and keep working. Whether it be a manager who is in charge of a company, a stay at home parent or someone in the health profession. Can you imagine being in hospital and having a sickly nurse, coughing and spluttering all over you? Yuk, right? So, to maintain good physical health, we all need to eat healthy, get adequate exercise and have a reasonably healthy life style.

Once we look after our physical health, we all need to maintain good mental health. This is where burnout can really take hold. It might result in a career change or worse. Family members might need to be placed in an institution, if a carer can no longer cope with the task. To avoid this, professionals are taught the value of debriefing. This is basically talking about experiences.

Picture, for a moment, a nurse who works in palliative care. They get close to their patients knowing they have a terminal illness. When their patient dies, they aren’t robots who can just cope with the death of people they get to know. They need to talk to colleagues or other professionals, like counsellors, about their experience to keep performing their job.

People who are isolated at home don’t often have this opportunity. Therefore they need to find support and make use of it. Some find this on the internet, while others attend support groups. The power of connecting with other people in a similar position can be remarkable. Stay-at-home parents do this all the time by attending playgroups or parenting clubs.

Finally, finding a healthy time-out is essential. This doesn’t mean going down the pub and slamming down a few brews or heading to the pokies and mindlessly pushing a button. That’s ok on the odd occasion but the pressures of life can fuel addictive behaviour due to the need to escape. Instead, something like gardening, reading, blogging, writing, walking or some activity which enriches the soul is an excellent buffer to prevent burnout.

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By Kim Chartres