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Burnout: The Impact on Family and Work

Written by:  Melody Hodge and Etain Case

Burnout.  A word that’s synonymous with overwork, stress and exhaustion.  Symptomatically similar to anxiety and depression, it is often misdiagnosed as one or the other.  Rising burnout rates and increased discussion around the subject have revealed how omnipresent the issue really is.   In 2016 and 2017, 12.5 million sick days were reported across the UK, with workload being the predominant contributing factor.

The causes of burnout are not easy to recognise or pinpoint, as the symptoms are inherently deceptive: lack of motivation, frustration, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, or decreased satisfaction.  Many of us suffer such symptoms throughout our lifetimes without necessarily attributing them to burnout.

Do we make enough time to relax, socialise and sleep? Probably not, as most of us have too much on our plates, finding difficulty in that crucial balance between actioning and delegating tasks.

Burnout can have a significant impact on both our personal and private lives, which is evident through this case study:

A single 34-year-old lawyer worked long hours, whilst raising her teenage son and keeping up with a busy social life. She began to feel like she could never get to the bottom of her to-do list, dreaded going into work and felt unable to make others aware of her workload. The issue snowballed:  She sent blunt, angry sounding emails to her colleagues – even started comfort eating, which had a knock-on effect as it fuelled anxieties about her body weight.

Her next step of visiting her GP to seek anti-depressants exemplifies the confusion that exists between burnout and depression. She explained that she was content with motherhood and that her social life was satisfactory.   Her GP then enquired about her job.  She replied that despite her hard work she felt she wasn’t getting any closer to a promotion and felt somewhat unappreciated.  Yet unknowingly, her reasons for accepting excessive workloads while attributing it to others overloading her, were due to the “unconscious family” within her.  The unconscious family – an inherent driver within all of us, is derived from relationships formed in early life.  The unconscious family will determine how we respond to later-life relationships and scenarios, particularly within the workplace environment.

Seeking support in understanding is crucial, as managing emotional turmoil without understanding the causes creates a rush of adrenaline and potential anxiety. If not addressed, second flood anxiety occurs – the mind’s reaction to shutting out the internal noise.  Family is important during recovery; children are especially affected by parental burnout due their sensitive, intuitive natures.  It may be daunting to own up to the impact that burnout has had on our loved ones.

The key to recovery is finding professional assistance that can offer support in examining the internal model and development of the mind; why key relationships at work have negative rather than positive connotations, and the feelings that arise as a result.  Recognising the need for discreet, compassionate and professional support is the first step towards avoiding the slow progression towards burnout.

Rafan House is a clinically-governed psychotherapeutic clinic based in Harley Street. We offer specialised and discreet conversations with individuals, families and organisations who are seeking help with the demands of 21st-century life.