One day it hit him. Alan Shelton, MD, no longer felt passionate about helping others. More than that, he had spiraled into despair.
The Tacoma, WA-based physician was burned out.
Burnout can happen to anyone. It sneaks up slowly, sapping your excitement, motivation, and ability to do your best. You fight the sensation and try your best to reignite your enthusiasm. But eventually you give in and, finally, give up. You’ve had it.
It Starts In the Mind
Burnout is a psychological condition in response to chronic stress, says Christina Maslach, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of Banishing Burnout. She lists three interrelated dimensions of burnout—“exhaustion, a cynical attitude, and negative thoughts about oneself.”
It’s not hard to see how burnout begins, once you know where to look. Dr. Maslach identifies these six areas:
• Demand. You have too much to deal with and not enough resources.
• Control. You feel you lack the power over how you do your job.
• Reward. You’re not getting the return you need for the effort expended.
• Community. You lack the support and trust from people who could help.
• Fairness. You see your circumstances as unjust and biased against you.
• Values. Your job, relationship, or other activity conflicts with your ethics.
If you experience any of these to the point of burnout, you’ll likely feel:
• Frustation. You’re up against the wall with no solution in sight.
• Anger. Your patience is thin, and your temper is hot.
• Exhaustion. You’re fatigued from trying too hard.
• Discouragement. Your lack of enthusiasm has replaced any motivation.
• Cynicism. You harbor negative thoughts about your situation.
• Isolation. You dislike yourself and distrust others, so you avoid people.
• Inadequacy. Your confidence is shot, and you question your abilities.
• Powerlessness. You’re convinced you can’t make things better.
• Helplessness. You feel defenseless and vulnerable.
• Hopelessness. You feel defeated, dejected, and desperate.
Burnout can lead to depression, substance abuse, job absenteeism, and marital problems. “If untreated, it can raise your blood pressure and cortisol levels, putting you at risk for heart disease and diabetes,” says Dr. Shelton, whose own experience with burnout led him to write Transforming Burnout: A Simple Guide to Self-Renewal. “It could also impact your immune system, making you susceptible to other diseases.”
The first step to beating burnout is “admitting you have a problem,” he continues. To regain balance in your life, he recommends regular exercise, sufficient sleep, a healthful diet, and a supportive social network. Turn off your computer and learn to say no. Take up a hobby and have fun.
“The opposite of burnout is enthusiasm, and the key to that is feeding your soul,” Dr. Shelton says. “Meditate, get out in nature, listen to music—and practice being grateful, forgiving, and trusting.”
Ways to Stop the Cycle
Stress stimulates our adrenal glands to produce “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline. Being constantly flooded with these hormones will not only take an eventual toll on your health, it will, ironically make you less able to cope in stressful situations.
Certain herbs called adaptogens can provide adrenal support and help fight against stress, anxiety, and nervous exhaustion. Consider the herbs Rhodiola, Schisandra, Ashwagandha as well as the medicinal mushroom, reishi, which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.
Antioxidants A, C, E, selenium, and zinc, often depleted during stress, can be replenished by taking a daily multivitamin/mineral. Because magnesium levels can often be sapped by stress, consider supplemental magnesium. One of the most absorbable forms is magnesium citrate, which is sold as a powder that can be mixed with hot or cold water.