Stress is an integral part of life. A certain level of stress can, in fact, be beneficial - providing motivation, enhancing focus, and sometimes leading to optimal performance. However, when stress becomes chronic, especially in our working lives, it can escalate into a state of burnout.
As a therapist, I've seen an increasing number of clients struggling with the effects of burnout, particularly as work environments continue to evolve. Through this blog post, we'll delve into what burnout is, how cognitive biases may exacerbate it, and how therapeutic interventions can help manage it.
Burnout, a term coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, refers to a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, often coupled with feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness at work. The World Health Organisation included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases in 2019, recognising it as a legitimate syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress.
Cognitive Biases and Burnout
Cognitive biases, the systematic errors in our thinking that affect our decisions and judgements, can play a significant role in the onset and progression of burnout. For instance, if an employee habitually engages in catastrophic thinking (a form of cognitive distortion where one assumes the worst possible outcome will occur), they may perceive their work stress as unmanageable, exacerbating feelings of helplessness and hastening the burnout process.
Similarly, the confirmation bias, where individuals selectively pay attention to information that confirms their existing beliefs while ignoring contradictory evidence, may lead employees to focus predominantly on the negative aspects of their job, feeding a sense of dissatisfaction and disenchantment.
Recognising the Signs of Burnout
Recognising burnout is the first step towards addressing it. Symptoms may vary among individuals, but some common signs include:
Physical and Emotional Exhaustion: Constant fatigue, frequent illnesses, headaches, and changes in sleep and appetite are typical physical signs. Emotionally, one might experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and irritability.
Alienation from Work-Related Activities: Individuals experiencing burnout may begin to view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start to emotionally distance themselves and feel cynical or negative about their tasks.
Reduced Performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. Individuals may have difficulty concentrating, lack creativity, and show decreased productivity.
When to Seek Therapeutic Intervention
If you're experiencing these symptoms and they're affecting your quality of life, it's important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide a safe space to express and explore your feelings, help identify any cognitive distortions or biases contributing to your state, and provide strategies to manage your symptoms and improve your situation.
Therapeutic Approaches to Managing Burnout
The therapeutic approach taken will depend on the individual's specific needs, but some commonly used techniques include:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT can help individuals recognise harmful thought patterns and cognitive biases that may contribute to burnout, and teach them strategies to challenge and change these thoughts.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): This approach involves using mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga to focus on the present, reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
Lifestyle Modifications: Therapists often work with individuals to make lifestyle changes that can reduce burnout. These might include setting boundaries for work hours, incorporating regular physical activity, ensuring adequate sleep, and improving nutrition.
In the face of burnout, remember, you are not alone, and help is available. As a society, we need to recognise and address the damaging impact of chronic work stress. Employers, too, play a critical role in creating supportive work environments that promote mental well-being. The pandemic has indeed highlighted the importance of mental health at work, leading to increased discussions around flexible work hours, mental health days, and the need for mental health resources in the workplace.
Burnout is not a sign of weakness but rather a signal that something significant needs attention in your life. Recognising burnout and seeking help can set you on the path to better mental health and a more balanced life. Remember, it's okay to ask for help. Seeking support is a sign of strength and the first step towards healing and recovery.
Discover a Path Towards Better Mental Health
Navigating life's ups and downs can often feel overwhelming, leading to stress, anxiety, or even feelings of despair. If you're feeling weighed down by emotional turmoil or struggling to find a sense of balance, we're here to help. Our counselling services offer a safe, compassionate, and confidential environment where you can express your feelings freely, explore your concerns, and begin the journey towards healing and personal growth. We believe that everyone has the capacity for change and that therapy can unlock the door to a more fulfilling, happier life.
Unlock Your Potential with Professional Counselling
Our professional counselling services are designed to equip you with the tools and strategies necessary to effectively handle life's challenges. Whether you're grappling with stress, anxiety, depression, or simply seeking a better understanding of yourself and your relationships, we can provide tailored support to meet your unique needs. Using evidence-based approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we can help you challenge unhelpful cognitive biases and develop healthier ways of thinking.