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Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 225 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is often thought of as working too many hours. Caregiver burnout, for example, is relatively common. Imagine those that spend the majority of their time taking care of others with significant disabilities, or caregivers that take care of those that are critically ill. They often experience burnout. But when you really think about the energy and mental capacity that’s required to fulfill these needs, we quickly realize that’s it really not just about spending too many hours on the job. It’s about so much more.

What are the Symptoms of Burnout?

Note: Be careful here–it’s common for people to become hypersensitive and try to diagnose themselves. If you think you are experiencing these symptoms, please consult a health professional. Wow, I really sounded like a medication commercial right there.

Those with burnout often experience extreme fatigue and depression. A normally happy person starts to become more grumpy and cynical. They may get sick more often.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to burnout. For example, the feeling that you no longer have control over your job and your life is quite common. This is actually one of the major causes of stress in general, too.

Something else that those with burnout often experience is a lack of fulfillment. For example, spending most of your waking hours working towards something that doesn’t meet your career goals can wear you down.

When I worked as a payroll clerk right out of college, I felt this happening to me. The job paid well, but it wasn’t fulfilling. I didn’t realize it right away, but there was a turning point where I realized that I hated every second of every day at that job. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t slow down that precious time between 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and 8:00 a.m. the following Monday. The worst part was that it wasn't just me that felt this way; my colleagues did, too. This job was sucking the life and health out of me (and them!). I was always sick, I was unintentionally gaining weight, and never working out because by the time I got home, I was so drained, I didn’t have any motivation to do anything but sit on the couch and watch TV. Because of all this, my doctor had to up my medication. It was then I knew I had to leave.

When I meet with prospective students that are in the midst of deciding which school to attend or which career path best serves them, I tell them all the same thing:

What do you want out of life, and what are the best options to get you there? -Chip & Dan Heath Click To Tweet

I try to encourage them not to simply follow the money and find a career that pays well–I get it money’s important, but it shouldn’t be the only factor that guides your decision-making. Because if you’re doing something that interests you and you’re good at it, people will take notice and seek you out. You just need to remember to charge them for your time.

What is the Cure for Burnout?

Yes, adequate nutrition is important. This is because many vitamins and minerals help our bodies create those good-feeling hormones that will help offset the feelings of burnout.

Social support is key, too. Having 845 Facebook friends isn’t what I’m talking about here (but do join the Optimal Living Daily Podcasts Facebook Group). It’s the ability to have conversations with others without the fear of losing their love or friendship–being able to vent and have a listening ear. We’re learning that these types of connections increase the levels of the hormone oxytocin in the body. And oxytocin is often called the “antidote to depression.”

But what if you’re in the same situation I was, working at a job that doesn’t provide any fulfillment? You may not be able to just up and quit.

  1. The first thing you can do is find other duties at your job that you find more fulfilling. Beware: you will probably have to do this in addition to the work you are expected to do. But it will be worth it if these new duties bring you satisfaction. Plus your boss will likely appreciate you as well! You may be thinking, “Wait, wait, wait, shouldn’t I do less work if I’m feeling burnt out?!” Well, if these new responsibilities provide you with feelings of fulfillment, then it really won’t feel like work. It will make you feel good, and you get paid while doing it! But let’s say that last scenario is not possible or you tried it and it didn’t help.
  2. Consider spending your time outside of work doing things that do make you happy and do provide you with a sense of purpose. You may think watching TV or surfing the web makes you happy, and it very well could, but chances are they don’t provide you with a sense of purpose.
  3. I encourage you to try something new (and don’t forget to take a break). Change your routine in some way. Maybe it’s as simple as changing the route you take to work every day. Or change how you spend your weekends–call some friends and take a quick weekend getaway. Or commit and take that overdue vacation. Can’t afford to splurge on a vacation? Take a “staycation”: take time off work and don’t go out of town, but instead stay close to home and explore your own town. If you do take a staycation, have something new planned each and every day; otherwise, you’ll probably end up sitting at home watching Golden Girls reruns on TV or playing on Facebook.

Lastly, I will share with you one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie:

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 225 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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