When I experienced burnout, I had no idea what was wrong with me. On my path to educate myself about the condition, I have uncovered so many myths about burnout. These misunderstandings and assumptions can hold back your recovery process, so it’s time to dispel all the myths about burnout!
I am not medically trained, and this article does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a severe health condition, then you should consult a medical professional.
What is burnout?
Let’s get started with a definition. Burnout describes a condition of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that arises from an extended period of excessive stress.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome that was conceived as a result of chronic stress at work and has not been successfully managed.” Still, people increasingly realise that burnout can result from pressures outside of work, such as family life.
Dispelling the myths about burnout
Myth 1: Burnout is a sign of weakness
The first myth that I want to dispel about burnout is that it is a sign of weakness. In many cases, it’s often the strongest people who experience the most severe burnouts because they have pushed themselves beyond the limits that other people would be able to.
Myth 2: If you experience burnout you are broken for life
When I burned out, I was convinced that my career and my life were over. I got so much of my personal sense of worth and self-esteem from my job that as soon as I was too ill to work, it felt as if I had nothing left. That was far from the truth. In fact, burnout gave me the opportunity to reconnect with what was important in life; my family, friends, and health.
The psychiatrist I saw assured me that this state of despair and feeling of being broken was only temporary and that I would get better. I respected his medical expertise and experience, but believing this was a massive leap of faith at the time. I am pleased to confirm that he was absolutely right. I did recover and I like to think that I have come out the other side a better version of myself.
Myth 3: If you have burnout on your medical records you’ll be unemployable
The severity of my burnout ultimately led me to leave my high-flying career in financial services. However, this was entirely my choice, and I had no shortage of offers to return to the corporate world. I realised that the most important thing for me was to build a career that gave me the flexibility to work when I wanted and at the pace that was right for my mind and body on any one specific day.
I had to work on myself before exposing myself to high-paced and high-pressure working environments again.
Don’t let a fear of repercussions stop you from getting the medical support that you need. If burnout has pushed you into severe depression or anxiety, you may need therapy and medication to support your healing process.
Myth 4: You just need a good night’s sleep and maybe a few days off to recover
Burnout is an utter sense of physical and emotional exhaustion. One or two early nights, or even a couple of days off work certainly won’t hurt, and they may be a good start, but they won’t fix the problem. It can take a significant amount of time to feel better. You have to take it day by day and take all the support you can get along the way; whether that’s medical help, reduced responsibilities at work, time off or support from your family.
With time, you will begin to feel stronger and to regain your sense of self.
Myth 5: Burnout happens when an individual can’t cope with stress
Often the people who experience the most severe episodes of burnout are the strong ones. They’ve worked so hard in a tough environment, for so long that they have pushed beyond all the limits of what the average person can cope with long-term.
In many ways, burnout is your body’s way of making sure that you take the rest you need and explore how to reduce stress as you get help and recover.
Myth 6: Once you’ve recovered, you won’t experience burnout again
Sadly burnout isn’t a ‘once and done’ condition that you build immunity to.
For some people, the experience of a burnout will inspire them to make lasting changes that keep them well for the long-term.
For others, once they feel better, they may throw themselves back into the same environment and forget to do the things that prevent burnout, which can lead to relapse. It’s essential to keep checking in with your body and mind so you quickly identify a problem, such as feeling stressed from long working hours, before it escalates.
Myth 7: You should keep quiet about what you are going through so people don’t think badly of you
The truth is, unless you let people know what you are going through, they can’t help you. If you hide information about how burned out you are feeling, your boss may keep giving you more work, resulting in your symptoms becoming worse. Equally, at home, unless you tell your family that you are having a tough time, they may not know.
Trying to manage on your own is lonely and makes a difficult time so much harder.
Myth 8: You’ll never escape the stigma of having experienced burnout
Burnout is an increasingly recognised condition, and there should be no stigma attached to experiencing it. If your workplace is not supportive of the time you need to recover and resists making changes to the conditions that led to what you are experiencing, then it could be time to explore other career options once you are well enough.
Myth 9: If you’ve had burnout you won’t be able to progress in your career
Many people experience burnout. Through the recovery process, they often become more self-aware and learn what they need to stay well and perform at their best. Through this journey, they may become even more effective in their existing career, or decide to chart a new career, such as setting up their own business or providing freelance services.
Myth 10: Burnout is rare
A survey by Deloitte in the US found that 77% of respondents had experienced some form of burnout. It’s far too prevalent in our society, which is the reason I have created defeatburnout.com.
Myth 11: Burnout just relates to stress at work
The earliest research on the condition related to burnout within the workplace. However, experts now recognise that it can occur in homelife due to parenting responsibilities and other sources of stress.
Conclusion: don’t listen to the myths
These misunderstandings and assumptions are not helpful to individuals who experience this challenging condition. Instead, focus on learning about the condition from individuals who have researched it and are qualified to support your recovery.
With time, patience and support, you can look forward to a full recovery.
Together we can defeat burnout. You are enough.
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