July is Mental Health Awareness Month and in recognition, the GO! & Express will publish a series of three articles examining three common mental health problems that South Africans face.
For this week, we will be discussing burnout.
The first thing we need to understand that burnout is not necessarily the same as stress.
According to Masithethe Counselling Services director Jackie Orsmond, key characteristics of stress include:
- Over-reactive emotions
- A state of urgency and hyperactivity
- Loss of energy
Stress can also lead to anxiety disorders and can lead to a number of health issues.
In contrast, features of burnout include:
- Blunted emotions
- A feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
- Loss of motivation
Like stress, burnout can also lead to serious health issues if left untreated such as heart disease, hypertension, chronic insomnia, high cholesterol and a weakened immune system.
There are a number of causes for burnout, the three main ones being work-related, poor lifestyle or certain personality traits.
Netcare Akeso practising psychiatrist Dr Dumakazi Mapatwana said that burnout was not something that happened immediately but built up over time.
“Burnout is a complex reaction to sustained extreme stress. It is not an overnight phenomenon, but rather a gradual process defined by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that follows chronic and severe stress, which is most often work-related but may include other kinds of stress, like caring for a sick family member,” she said.
Orsmond said there are signs that people can look out for to help figure out if they are suffering from burnout.
For example, you may have burnout if you are constantly tired, if caring about work or your home life feels like a waste of time, if you spend most of your day on tasks which you find boring or overwhelming and if you feel as if nothing you do is appreciated or makes a difference.
Both Orsmond and Alberton said that it was important that burnout was identified early.
“Sadly, it is often only when burnout has progressed to the point where it is seriously impacting their lives, that people seek the help they need,” Alberton said.
Orsmond proposed what she referred to as the ‘Three R’ approach
“Recognise: Watch for the warning signs of burnout. Reverse: Undo the damage by managing stress and seeking support. Resilience: Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health,” she said.
“It is important for all of us to take care of both our mental and physical health, especially in difficult times. We need to be alert to initial signs and red flags, and act on those because if they are ignored and not addressed, burnout can have significant consequences, including serious medical conditions,” said Mapatwana.