Burnout is a term often used synonymously with stress or exhaustion in one’s daily life. However, it is actually an occupational phenomenon that the World Health Organization defines as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Burnout is on the rise thanks to longer working hours and an online world that is decimating the separation between home and work life, especially during the current pandemic where more people are working from home, making switching off an even greater challenge.
What is burnout?
Cait Donovan is a burnout expert who offers coaching and guidance to her clients to regulate their nervous system, realign with their values, and prioritise their wellbeing by creating boundaries to protect their energy levels.
“Burnout is technically defined by physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feeling a lack of accomplishment or impact,” explained Donovan.
“Common physical symptoms I see are neck and shoulder tension, frequent colds, fatigue, eye strain, inability to feel rested after sleep, feeling tired but wired when it’s time to go to bed, irritability and frustration.”
If left unaddressed, the physical and psychological implications of burnout can be severe.
Kerry Athanasiadis, psychologist and director of Be You Psychology & Counselling said these can include lowered immunity and other physical and mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
“The consequences of burnout also cause strain on relationships and friendships, as well as reduced productivity at work and frequent absenteeism,” said Athanasiadis.
Why are women burning out more than men?
While nobody is immune to burning out, evidence suggests that women are experiencing burnout more frequently and intensely than men.
The reasons for this are multiple and complex, and reflect broader trends of gender inequity that spill over into the workplace.
Women frequently carry a heavier emotional and mental load at home, and also tend to do a larger share of household chores and caregiving despite working as many or more hours as their male counterparts.
“Another thing that leads to burnout, according to the research, is lack of praise; women are often doing more than their fair share and then not getting the external validation for doing it,” said Donovan.
“It becomes so expected that it goes unnoticed.”
Clients presenting to Athanasiadis’ practice for burnout-related challenges often share common traits including perfectionism and false beliefs about self-care being indulgent or selfish.
“We can’t pour from an empty vessel – we need to spend some time recharging and filling our cups,” said Athanasiadis.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have an endless supply of energy, so we have to give back to ourselves in some way to keep going”.
How can women manage burnout?
General wellbeing practices such as getting enough sleep, consuming a nutritious diet, and moving your body are all important preventative factors for burnout.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation can also be helpful in managing your baseline level of stress.
However, if you’re struggling with burnout, it’s important to know when to seek outside support either through seeing a mental health professional or through burnout-specific support and coaching.
What to expect during a burnout coaching session
Donovan begins each burnout coaching session with a full medical assessment to determine the physical symptoms of burnout and assess if the client is ready for the coaching process.
“I only offer coaching packages to people who are perfect fits for me, so if I believe you would be better served by someone else, I’ll recommend them,” said Donovan.
“Coaching is an incredibly intimate relationship, and you should get exactly what you need from it.”
Throughout the coaching process, Donovan seeks to identify “energy leaks” and strategies for addressing where clients can free up more energy to focus on the future.
“We shift behaviours, beliefs and patterns to be sure that if you’re changing your job, your business or your location, you won’t take the habits that kept you on a burnout cycle with you,” said Donovan.
A crucial success factor in these sessions is self-honesty, and learning to recognise, accept and process difficult emotions. This process is often challenging, but the rewards are well worth it when coaching is successful.
“My favourite transformation that happens is when the women I work with get their spark back and start to like themselves again,” said Donovan.
“Another shift that I love to see is that the women I work with start to have a sense of ease and grace around prioritising themselves.”