Detecting Burnout

The aim of this Fulcrum is to offer an awareness tool to help in the early detection of the onset of stress burnout.

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The World Health Organisation declares stress to be the most lethal disease of the 21st century. Some 40% of doctor’s visits are stress related. A third of the workforce in most companies are burnout candidates.

Up to a point stress is a natural part of our performance mechanisms. Cross an elusive unseen threshold – a given situation may be stressful for some and thrilling for others – for it to become a toxic experience.

The world is an insensitive place

The human is made to be ultra-sensitive at many levels. Fierce competition, unforgiving deadlines and the 21st century state of frenzy disconnect people from their natural sensitivity. Many of us get used to living in a state of lesser well-being and to suppress the body’s warning signs, sometimes at great personal cost.

Two kinds of burnout

There are two kinds of burnout:

1. Contained burnout
Example: Being burnt-out of a relationship or an occupation. A burnout is contained to the specific event. Example: “I can’t bear the thought of working for company x ever again”.

2. Cascading burnout
A chain-reaction event, from the perception end to many systems in the body going out of sync in terms of systemic deterioration and illness, natural inner rhythms, hormone and energy balances.

Three prime stress-induced outcomes

There are many stress-induced outcomes. Here are three that stand out. It is important to note that how a person perceives and responds to experiences and situations – one’s inner skills – has a decisive impact upon the nature of stress that they harbour.

1. Mental fatigue
The incessant demands to focus, think, concentrate, solve problems, innovate; in ways that rob energies from other systems in the body and go out of synch with the natural speeds, timings and regenerative wave-like cycles of the body and thinking processes, leading to mental lethargy.

2. Emotional depletion
The emotions play a vital role in the domains of human refinement and human interaction. In their purity, the emotions are rarefied, potent energy fuel – the emotions are not a singular quality but a whole bar, from high to low grade – that both fuel and lubricate human engagement, thereby reflecting a person’s quality of being. When over-used or wasted at the wrong level – an emotional outburst can consume a tank-load of fine emotions in a blip – it leads to a perilous state of energy depletion. Because there is no such thing as an energy vacuum in the human mind and body, when a person’s fine emotional content is burnt out, a coarser form of energy moves in to take its place. The engine still runs, albeit at a significant loss of performance. Low-grade, coarse emotional energy – think of a car with burnt out engine oil and low-grade fuel – weakens the immune system and leads to well-being deterioration, magnifying a person’s vulnerabilities.

3. Physiological bio-chemical wildfires
Over exposure to toxic stress causes the sympathetic nervous system, together with the endocrine system, to stay on protracted stress modes, to the point of eroding the fine tuning of the body’s homeostatic balances and oversaturation of stress hormones such as cortisol. Over time this results in bio-chemical wildfires – another name for inflammation – in nerve synapses and real physical burnout of nerve-ends and brain atrophy – by degree, depending upon severity. This bottom-lines complex processes that happen in the body but enough to get the point across.

Now combine the above three. It’s not a pretty sight. In caring organisations, with some know-how much of the above can be intercepted and prevented.

The auto-pilot syndrome

In many cases, a stress burnout – especially in its sudden, immobilising manifestation – comes as a shock surprise to people close to the victim. The reason for this lies in the body’s remarkable auto-pilot capabilities. Let’s explain this important actuality.

The human body is animated with life force. Life force is not a singular, but rather a spectrum of energies blending in different potencies, levels of refinement and intensities, determined by a person’s nature of pursuit, circumstance and quality of inner process.

Next to being a vessel for a breath-taking range of energies, the body has a remarkable replication capacity. Over time, aspects of a person’s unique theatre, mannerisms and body-language become programmed into a person’s habitual expression.

When a person is operating in her or his inspiration zone, it creates the space for life force’s finer, potent end to flow through her or his actions. None of us are there all the time but hopefully at least 51% of the time. When a person is exposed to toxic – as against healthy – stress in ways that increase stress factors to beyond manageable, the person retreats into self-preservation mode which affects the range and quality of the life force that flows through their being.

So, the natural vibrancy, vitality and bright eyes give way to the relative dullness of the autopilot. And we have just arrived at the crux of the matter: How good are you at spotting the onset of the human autopilot, when a person’s behavioural trend indicates that the autopilot – which is a normal part of our daily life when in the right balance – is overly present?

There can be many reasons for the autopilot taking over. One is the early onset of burnout. Learning to pay attention and act in time adds an important detection skill to a caring leader’s toolbox.

Please do leave a comment – your feedback is most welcome.

David Gommé

World Copyright 2019© David Gommé

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