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What is emotional burnout syndrome and how to cope with it?

Stress can be varied

What is emotional burnout syndrome and how to cope with it? O.Bystrova, Vitebsk

Emotional burnout syndrome is the reaction of an organism, arising due to the long influence of professional stresses of average intensity. At the European conference WHO (2005) it was noted that stress connected with work is a problem for approximately one third of the workers of the countries of the European Union and the cost to solve the problems associated with mental health in this respect is, on average, 3-4 percent of gross national income.

Emotional burnout syndrome is the process of a gradual loss of emotional, mental and physical energy, which reveals itself in the symptoms of emotional and mental distress, physical tiredness, personal abstraction and a decrease in satisfaction at work. The first papers to analyse the problem appeared in the USA. The American psychiatrist H. Frendenberger, in 1974, described the phenomenon and called it ‘burnout’, he investigated a psychological condition of healthy people who are in intensive and close contact with patients in an emotionally loaded atmosphere and rendering professional aid.

Emotional burnout syndrome is considered a consequence of job stress, as a process of deadaptation to the workplace or professional duties, while the basic contributing factor of burnout is excessive overload in situations of intense interpersonal relations. In this connection, the emotional burnout syndrome is characteristic of representatives of the communicative trades such as doctors, medical personnel, teachers, psychologists, representatives of various service trades and managers. It reveals itself in increasing indifference to one’s own duties and to all that is happening at work, coupled with an increase in negativism towards both patients, and to colleagues, a feeling of one’s own professional ineffectiveness, dissatisfaction with work and finally a severe decline in quality of life. It can be caused by an absence of due pay (not only financial, but also psychological) for completed work, and this makes people think that their work has no value. Neurotic disorders and psychosomatic illnesses may develop in the future.

Our age promotes the spread of emotional burnout syndrome, as it is a time of achievements, consumption, new materialism, entertainment and gaining pleasure from life. It is the time when we exploit others and allow others to exploit us. We feel the symptoms of exhaustion if we have experienced pressure. For example, after preparing for the exams, work on a project, writing a thesis or bringing up two small children. Work requires a lot of effort and can have crisis situations or, for example, during the flu epidemic, doctors had to work excessively long hours. People may have symptoms such as irritability, lack of desire, insomnia or excessive need to sleep, lack of motivation and other symptoms of depression. 

When the situation ends, the symptoms often disappear. In this case, days off, free time, dreams, holidays and playing sports can all help. However, if the stress becomes chronic, then burnout can turn into chaos. People themselves play an essential role in the fight against emotional burnout. Following these recommendations, they can not only prevent its occurrence but also affect the degree of its intensity:

 Motivation is increased by making both short and long-term goals in life;

 The use of ‘time-outs’ is necessary to guarantee mental and physical well being (recreation from work);

 Mastering the skills of self-control (relaxation, definition of objectives and positive internal speech promote a decrease in stress levels);

 Professional development and self-improvement (one of the ways to protection oneself from emotional burnout is to exchange professional information with others, giving one the sensation of a wider world, rather than that existing in isolation);

 Avoiding unnecessary competition (there can be situations when it is impossible to avoid it, but excessive aspiration generates alarm, makes people aggressive and promotes emotional burnout);

 Emotional communication (when people analyse their own feelings and share them with others the probability of burnout decreases considerably);

 Keep in good shape (there is a close connection between the condition of the body and mind: excessive eating, abusing alcohol, tobacco, loss of weight or obesity aggravate displays of emotional burnout syndrome).

When seeking to actively prevent emotional burnout, we should try to estimate and carefully distribute one’s own forces; learn to switch from one kind of activity to another; take conflicts at work easier; not to try to be the best always. Moreover, people should not be ashamed of their own problems, it is important sometimes to ask for the timely help of an expert.

By Tatiana Zhukova 

Doctor of higher category, M.D. Ph.D.
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