An Overview of Burnout and Ways to Overcome it
Burnout is when your body and mind—which normally handle stress well—reach a limit on mitigating chronic stress and break down as a result.
Typically, burnout manifests as both a physical and mental occurrence within the following three areas:
- Negativity and/or dissociation
While burnout is described as a specific experience with common phases and symptoms, research articles such as “Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis“ highlight decades of debate on whether or not it is a medical condition. Further, though this long-lasting fatigue and disconnect recently did pass as a medical condition by the World Health Organization, it was only under the stipulation of “chronic workplace stress” instead of involving other experiences in life that trigger burnout’s onset.
In ascending order of intensity, burnout phases both mental health clinicians and primary care physicians observe may include:
- Anticipatory or predictive stress associated with a task such as perfectionist tendencies, compulsive achievement, overcommitting, lacking in boundaries, and fear-based focus on approval
- Increased stress indicators that may range from anxiety to lack of focus to less of a social life to the beginnings of resistance toward the work or task
- Stress becomes chronic at this level and is marked by changes like notable deterioration in health and wellbeing as well as less frequent excellence across professional and personal objectives.
- By stage four, an individual may feel a sense of despair, and their health and wellbeing will be even more compromised, particularly in regards to mental health.
- This is the final and most critical level of burnout because burnout no longer comes in waves. Instead, burnout becomes a baseline and way of relating to life.
Because burnout was so newly accepted as a quantifiable diagnosis and medical professionals in the field are understandably working to integrate it into their wheelhouse, health coaches are an additional support system for burned-out clients seeking recognition and relief of their symptoms.
6 Ways Health Coaches Can Support Clients Experiencing Burnout
With the goal of addressing physical and mental healing, the six ways health coaches can support clients experiencing burnout are divided into three physical and three mental solutions.
Physical Healing from Burnout
- Assess Patient’s Physical Wellness
A human being’s physical system is a complex matrix of potential wellbeing. Optimal functioning relies upon going through each system for holistic healing options as well as establishing a high-level overview of how each system is currently operating.
Based on how burnout affects the body, systems to especially attend to when conducting a physical wellness assessment are musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and nervous.
- Encourage Stronger Work-Life Boundaries
Tracing back to some of the earlier phases of burnout helps your client identify and observe where they started to lessen healthier boundaries around that task. You can assist their alleviation from burnout by asking questions such as, “Do you have any insight into why this boundary felt okay in the moment to break?” or “What do you find most difficult about holding that boundary?” Getting into the deeper perspectives and physical sensations pertaining to their relationship to boundaries is a start.
From there, you can empower your patients to make changes to their boundaries. Helpful activities include but are not limited to revisiting work contracts to locate what is truly expected of them, reorganizing their schedules, creating rules around technology use, and exercises in saying “no” to demands that go beyond what their job description says. Furthermore, you can help them carve out time instead for engaging in practices and outings that will increase their personal life fulfillment.
- Explore Holistic Nutrition and Supplements
Of the many systems named previously for being compromised by burnout, time and time again holistic nutrition and supplements show up as productive agents of change. Each and every client will certainly have a different set of burnout effects on their systems—and not all systems will be altered—yet we can invest in an individualized approach to improving their nutritional choices.
Mental Healing from Burnout
- Have a Conversation About Their Mental Wellbeing
One of the many benefits of being a health coach is that you are equipped with the tools to facilitate certain healing across an array of domains. With burnout also having adverse outcomes on mental health, you can step in and make a difference. That being said, know that if burnout progresses into the later stages like phases three, four, or five, it is also part of your leadership duties to recommend patients seek counsel from qualified mental health professionals as well. Many times recovering from burnout requires support from a few modalities.
- Lists About How Clients Feel
Asking how patients want to feel instead of what they think they should do is a wonderful game-changer in the world of navigating the complex emotions that accompany burnout. They can consider what they would prefer to cultivate around work or specific tasks instead of perpetuating endless to-do lists (which oftentimes exacerbate existing burnout). Here are some guiding questions as they formulate their feel-good lists:
- How do you want to feel the moment you show up for work/begin the task?
- How would you describe the feeling you aspire to at a work meeting/in a group situation related to the task at hand?
- If work/a task is affecting your life negatively, what kinds of feelings come up and what feelings would you eagerly trade them for?
- After reflecting on it for a moment, what is the number one feeling you have toward your work/tasks right now? Then, can you tell me what would be the exact opposite of the word?
- Revisit the Nutrition-Emotion Relationship
Nutrition can have many physical remedies to undo burnout, and remarkably food can also boost our minds. Burnout can wreak havoc on many body systems that relate to our emotions, such as the brain itself: In “Psychophysiological Characteristics of Burnout Syndrome: Resting-State EEG Analysis,” researchers report how “subjects with chronic work-related stress revealed functional disconnection between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)…moreover, they observed that receptors which are involved in the HPA regulation (5-HT1A receptors) were reduced in the ACC, the insular cortex, and in the hippocampus…indicating significant structural and functional brain changes and may suggest impaired top-down regulation of stress in subjects with prolonged work-related stress.”
With the brain operating at less-than-optimal functioning, burned-out clients may have little time and attention to eat properly or little time to eat, period. A client who is eating a balance of proper calories and nutrients for their particular makeup may also be so stressed during the meal that they retain more of those calories and less of those nutrients than would happen if their body was adequately digesting.
Depression and anxiety can manifest parallel to burnout, and for that reason, distinguishing the mental health experience of a client is key before recommending specific foods. Some foods are better with depression than they are with anxiety, and vice-versa. As a holistic health coach, you can sometimes work with your client’s mental health professional to develop truly targeted programs.
This article is for holistic health coaches who are working with those suffering from burnout. Your capacity to help and heal at even phase of burnout—from onset of symptoms to habitual burnout—is vast and can encompass strategies that go beyond the six mentioned here. Underscored in the solutions above is the notion that burnout pervades our physical and emotional bodies, an idea supported in its growing field of study such as Alexandra Michel’s article for the Association for Psychological Science entitled “Burnout and the Brain” when she says, “Using cutting-edge techniques, integrative research teams are demonstrating that burnout is not just a state of mind, but a condition that leaves its mark on the brain as well as the body.”