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Burnout, burnt out, burning out

Posted by Dr Michelle Woolhouse on 10 February 2020
Burnout, burnt out, burning out

In 2019 the WHO defined executive burnout as a real disorder. A condition that allows a fluctuating but significant mental health issue to be recognised is a very important move forward for our society's current workforce.

Characterised by cynicism, lack of effectiveness, fatigue, a feeling of overwhelm, disempowerment, disconnection, and a feeling of stress and anxiety. All of which disappears when the person is not working and reappears as that person gears up toward work again.

Disempowerment and disconnection are often found to be the cornerstone of most mental health issues and can cause a profound sense of despair, overwhelm and helplessness.

Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, who was a former prisoner of the Second World War in Poland, intimately observed the impact of disempowerment on a person's internal sense of time. The key difference between prisoners of war and prisoners with a defined sentence is the lack of certainty of when the suffering will be over, in addition to no clear path in which a person can choose their behaviour in order to try to make a difference to their circumstances. This is a recipe for extreme helplessness and disempowerment and can in extreme cases cause a person to die.

He recalls a fellow inmate, who was known for his resilience and optimism. During a particularly tough time, where winter was in full steam and the day was beyond comprehension in term of exhaustion, disease, pain, suffering and anguish.  This man prophesied to his friends after a moment of insight that the war would be over by May 31st 1945 and that they would return home to what was left of their families and friends, free to start a new life. The prophecy felt unshakable.  He was committed to this date, this time, this hope, this dream - a new sense of vitality seemed to fill his weakened body and like an elixir, it held his waning health.  May 31st came, then May 31st went.  Within 24 hours, this man became weak and within 48 hours he was dead.

When our circumstances, our lives, our mindset or our health create a prison-like vice around our choices 2 noticeable things occur. The days feel like a death sentence long, arduous, painful, full of suffering, but the weeks and months feel like they fly past. Disempowerment creates an altered sense of time: this is it's distinguishing mental feature.

What is so interesting on the contrary, is that when a person feels empowered in themselves, in their lives, in their autonomy: so too does the sense of time warp again - this time in the opposing direction. Empowerment seems to bring along with it a sense of timelessness, where the deepest feelings of connection bypass the mechanics of time. On retreat, participants often remark how time goes so slowly, yet quickly at the same time. A day on retreat feels fleeting and yet the week feels like a lifetime.

Executive burnout is in some ways a less severe representation of feeling like a prisoner in our own living, and of our own making. We can be a prisoner to debt, to family expectation to a growing business, to a sense of responsibility. By drawing this longbow, extreme circumstances can reveal to those who observe them with intellect, heart and curiosity; a rich and powerful insight into the deeper blocks that can stop us from moving forward.

Executive burnout is real, under-diagnosed, overlooked and often disregarded but like all suffering and discomfort can be a great learning tool to help ourselves reveal a more authentic truth within. Learning to listen to your discomfort can pave a way forward and beyond to emotional maturity and mental growth.

Self-awareness is the key to our own personal sense of empowerment: by recognising a feature such as the distortion of time in our lives reveals to us the depth of what we may be challenged by. By acknowledging that sense of disempowerment we can move towards finding our personal locus of control, supporting the challenging of our own thoughts and working towards strategies of untangling ourselves from responsibilities that may be arduous, debt that maybe onerous and choices that may no longer serve us.

Book an appointment with one of our Psychologists or GPs who can assist you with your mental health concerns.

Dr Michelle WoolhouseAuthor: Dr Michelle Woolhouse
About: Dr Michelle Woolhouse, Whole Medicine founder and principal GP, and her team understand the challenges patients face because they have experienced it either as doctors or patients. The practice was founded in 2009 out of a strong desire to redefine whole person care, to include nutrition and environmental medicine, and integrating mind-body techniques. The practice gained a reputation that challenged the traditional way of delivering patient care. Whole Medicine has flourished to become the choice for an inspired Mornington Peninsula community.
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Tags: Women's Health Men's Health Health and Well Being Family GP Mental Health

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