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Dread that Workday

C.B. Gavant

Few of us love work. But for some, the workday is sheer torture. Family First explores professional burnout.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jobs are a major part of our lives. Whether we're teachers or therapists, secretaries or homemakers, chances are we spend as many hours on the job as we do with our families. As Drs. Michael P. Leiter and Christina Maslach point out in Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship with Work (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), our sense of identity and self-esteem are often wrapped up in what we do. This means that if we're not happy with what we do, we're probably not happy with ourselves, either.

Most people won't recognize the symptoms of burnout right off the bat, explains Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a licensed psychologist and executive director of Shemesh Baltimore, an advocacy program for special-needs children. “When a person feels disengaged and unmotivated and begins to question what he's doing, that's burnout. Everyone has days where he or she doesn't feel like going to work, but if it's happening on a regular basis, that's a tip-off.”

A person who's impatient or irritable and no longer feels eager to rise to the challenge of her job is also probably suffering from burnout. As Lena Shore, family therapist and coordinator of The Place, the Jerusalem Centre for Emotional Well-Being, explains, “Burnout is a process. It happens over time. A person can feel tired and disinterested, or find faults in her boss and coworkers. Homemakers who are experiencing burnout can find fault with their family members. At first the feeling comes and goes. You might start forgetting appointments and deadlines, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to sabotage yourself.”

Unlike depression, where a person loses interest in all areas of life, burnout is usually concentrated on the place where the person is feeling dissatisfaction. A person who's burned out and unaware of what's going on can develop troubling physical symptoms – exhaustion, headaches, insomnia, or digestive problems – all of which are a sign that something's off. If these symptoms are ignored, the burnout can develop into full-scale anxiety or depression.


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