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Overwhelm and Burnout and things that go bump in the night

In my work I deal with a considerable number of burnout cases. These are people who were working but suffered from a collapse. They become unable to work, unable to do anything except worry.

The symptoms of burnout are very subtle and very easy to miss. By the time many people 'see it' it is too late resulting in long periods away from work, and strained family relationships.


In order to avoid burnout it is important that we are prepared and make outselves resilient. This can best be achieved by rigorously maintaing balance in one's life. Here many people complain that "work like balance is a myth" and with this in mind, I am going to offer some tips from my practice.

The areas that need to be in balance are family, social life, recreation, spiritual life and work. Notice how work was the last?

If I ask people what they value they often reply 'family' but sadly in terms of the time they spend with their family, it is far less than the time they spend at work. So firstly why are these elements critical and secondly how can we achieve balance?

Family is obvious. We are raised in families, we have cousins, or relatives, parents and siblings all of whom are connected with us. It is critical to our well being to maintain as much as possible relationships with our families. How often do we take out children out? How often do we spend time with them? With our spouses? With our siblings? Do we forgo outings or if we go are we distracted? It is essential to our mental and physical and spiritual well being that we make time for our family. That we set aside time where we turn off our phones or messages and enter into their world. That we colour with our children, that we help our spouse prepare a meal or allow them to help us in a building task. When our spouses come home do we listen to them or are we too busy trying to tell them all about our day? When we notice our spouses, or children sad or lonely do we reach out to them or do we offer trite solutions, or worse ignore them? Are we tolerant? All of us have a sibling or a relative that is noisy, or talks too much or complains are we tolerant with them? Do we for a moment set aside our pride to enter into their world?

Social life is also important. We need to spend time outside of ourselves and our world with others. This does not mean exhausting ourselves going to every event, but it does mean making time to be with others. Call a friend, go to a movie, join a sporting club, go on a hike with others. It is important not to be isolated. One of the catastrophic side effects of the Covid scare was that people avoided other people. Still to this day, I meet clients who will not go on a bus, or in a crowd and they avoid all social settings for fear of getting sick, They spend their times in their rooms or they work remotely and they slowly start to die. Unless we socialize, we lose our capacity to relate to others. This is particularly evident when I deal with young children. The children who grew up seeing masks and gloves on everyone and being forced to sit alone in cubicles simply do not know how to relate to other people. They can become aggressive or selfish. This is not because they are defective, it is merely because they have been deprived of that critical time wherein they learned how to deal with other people, Suddenly your co worker speaks far too loudly, someone in school takes your lunch spot and so forth. Without practice we simply forget how to interact.

Recreation is very misunderstood. It is often felt that recreation means going on a large vacation, engaging in extreme sports and waiting for the weekend. In fact recreation must be a part of our everyday activity. When we have a break, or a pause at work instead of wasting it or being idle, use that time to learn something different, read a book or pray. The change, the pause, in particular prayer will give us renewed strength to work and to accomplish what we have set out to do. If you are a knitter, bring your knitting. Engage in art, or photography. go outside for a brief walk.

Recreation simply means to reset ourselves, to begin anew. It is like a spa for our brains and is essential for our wellbeing,.

I have seen people who consider this 'goofing off' and believe they must be completely productive all the time. Studies have shown however, that they perform poorly in comparison with those who chose to recreate and refresh their minds.

A spiritual life is essential for our mental well being and health. We are created in the image of God and as such are programmed to seek Him and to engage our faith. It is in the practice of our faith, in attending Holy mass, in our prayer life and in our reading of spiritual books that we come to understand that we are loved and that our lives are far more than what we see. We are less overwhelmed because our spiritual life and relationship and encounter with God provides very much needed guidance and direction when life threatens to drown us with concerns.

Work must be understood in relation to the whole of our life. Our relationship to God comes first, then our family, then our relationship with others and lastly work. It is important to understand that we need to work but that work cannot nor should not consume us. My clients who suffer burnout are led to believe that they are somehow responsible for the office or the department and work long hours trying to achieve the impossible. They say yes to all demands and neglect other aspects of their lives. When the management changes or they lose their job or are passed over for a promotion they go into crisis. Their productivity fails, they become a liability and in particular they typically become very depressed and anxious.

Had they only had balance and insisted on balance but we become obsessed with our jobs, our titles, our salaries and being busy. We forget we must nuture the rest of our body, mind and souls to live in balance and peace.

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