Burnout originates in the work place, but it does not stay there.

The term "burnout" evokes such a negative image. For some reason, I picture an ashtray of burnt out cigarette butts. I really hate that word. When I started to feel overwhelmed and exasperated while doing rehab work, then again in a school setting, I knew a change was needed, but I was so entrenched in the feelings of fatigue, loss of self efficacy and simply being overwhelmed with the piles of work, I did not have time to look for a change or the mental capacity to formulate a plan.

What is interesting to me is that the very definition of burnout according to the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the fact that it results from chronic workplace stress. It is a workplace syndrome. But, it does not stay in the workplace, does it? Symptoms of burnout permeate every single aspect of our lives. Our work lives, our efficacy as therapists and our relationship with patients, their families and co-workers, but it also seeps into our personal lives. It affects our relationships with friends and family, our sleep, our balance at home and our play and leisure. When you are burnt out at work, you feel burnt out at life.

The WHO recently changed the definition of burnout from a “stress syndrome” to a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The thought behind the changed definition is to help dismantle the misbelief that burnout is “nothing serious”. The WHO is trying to stress that those who are experiencing it need occupational support. This is true and kudos to the WHO for making this distinction, but what about other supports beyond occupational support? Yes, it originates in the workplace, but it does not stay there. 

If you are experiencing burnout, what supports do you have outside of the workplace to help you manage the stressors of the rest of your life? Do you have a close friend or family member you can confide in? Do you have someone who can watch your kids to give you time to rest, re-energize, exercise or find a new job? 

Getting through burnout may require some intervention in the workplace, but don’t forget about the toll it takes on the rest of your life and think about how you can make changes for better mental health across all the domains of your life, work, and play/leisure.