Burnout syndrome essentially consists of a form of emotional exhaustion due to an excessive workload, which affects those professionals involved in delicate or, sometimes, problematic interpersonal relationships related to their job.

The phenomenon mainly affects those professionals engaged in the so-called helping professions, who work in the health, welfare and psychological fields; in detention facilities, in the rehabilitation centers or in the police force.

But, in reality, a burnout can affect anyone who has to deal with people in situations of hardship or suffering at work, from teachers to career guidance experts.

People affected by burnout begin to manifest an increasingly accentuated emotional detachment from reality, which can sometimes lead to depression problems, alcohol and drug abuse or more serious dissociative states.

When dealing with this type of disorder it is important never to underestimate the first warning signs and focus above all on prevention: in fact, the risk is to let oneself be absorbed by the problems of others to the point of losing sight of one’s own .

The 4 stages of burnout

The first thing to know about burnout syndrome is that it starts and develops in a subtle and silent way. There are no obvious symptoms to warn us of its presence and to the untrained eye, it can appear simply as a normal state of stress.

To understand its significance well, we need to start from the way it manifests itself, that is in 4 phases:

1 – The first is that of idealistic enthusiasm, in which the subject (usually at the beginning of his career) is dedicated to his work in which he shows a very high interest in all cases he comes into contact with;

2 – The stagnation phase follows, where one realized that the work that is being done is far from expectations. This phase is characterized by a general decline in dedication and gratification with respect to one’s profession;

3 – The third phase, frustration, is characterized by a sense of inadequacy and uselessness: the subject tends to avoid, as far as possible, moments of confrontation with others in the workplace and sometimes shows aggressive behaviour;

4 – During the fourth phase, not surprisingly called apathy, a real alienation is reached on a professional level accompanied by an almost total inability to feel empathy.

Burnout: causes and effects

Although it is often attributed to a character predisposition of the affected person, many studies have shown that, in reality, the causes of this syndrome are mainly to be found within the working and social context in which theses persons work.

The risk of falling into the burnout trap increases exponentially in a work environment in which the sense of belonging is lacking, if not entirely absent, or in which the human value of the work done is not recognized.

Of course, an individual’s predisposition also contributes to increasing or decreasing the risk of being a victim of Burnout: a particularly introverted subject, who tends to set unrealistic goals or has expectations too high in relation to his profession is certainly more likely to experience the syndrome.

The effects can also manifest themselves on a physical level not only on a psychological level, especially if the person suffering from burnout generally tends to somatise. This can lead to headache, dizziness, nausea, irritable bowel, intercostal muscle spasms or visceral pains.

How to prevent burnout syndrome

Once experienced the burnout syndrome is far from easy to eradicate. Succeeding on your own is practically impossible and it is always necessary to turn to experts in the field who are able to provide the cognitive tools to fully understand the problem and rationalize it.

But, of course, this is not the place to talk about the possible cures of burnout; we will rather talk about prevention.

The best way to avoid it is primarily to approach your work rationally, setting realistic goals and with the right amount of emotional detachment.

Once you understand that there are situations in which it is not possible to intervene, the next step is to face your work trying to be as productive as possible but without being overwhelmed and above all, preserving one’s own schedules outside the work environment which must not be invaded in any way.

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