Coping with Burnout Using CBT

Job Burnout

Burnout is extremely common in present day society. It is believed that disability and co-occurring conditions due to burnout will become increasingly widespread as technology continues to advance at such a rapid rate. Developments in technology within the past decade alone have allowed us to essentially take our work with us anywhere and everywhere we go.

All you need is your smartphone in your hand and you can essentially remain connected to work on a constant basis, which deprives many people of being able to change their routine, engage in non-work activities, and simply just take a much-needed break from work. This, coupled with the other typical causes of burnout, like working long hours, limited to no vacation days, home-life stressors, and an overall poor work-life balance, creates a scenario where burnout is often an inevitable outcome for many people.

Burnout: It Can Happen to Anyone

It is a common misconception that burnout happens after a person is in the workforce for many years or it is a condition reserved only for top executives, presidents of companies, and people in very fast-paced and high stress work environments. Although these are all positions and conditions that can lead to burnout, the reality is that burnout can happen at any age, at any period in life, and among numerous occupations or life roles.

Students, stay-at-home mothers, recent graduates entering the workforce, or people working ‘desk jobs’ are very common profiles of people who can experience very debilitating burnout. The reasons burnout develops really comes down to three primary factors: 1) The nature or characteristics of the job/role; 2) Implementation of healthy coping skills (or lack of) to combat burnout; and 3) personality factors.

A Recipe for Burnout

You can’t entirely blame yourself or attribute burnout to personal characteristics and your own life decisions. It is undeniable that some jobs/life roles are highly stressful and even toxic, making burnout difficult to avoid. However, there are some personality types that may be more prone to burnout. For instance, people with perfectionistic qualities or “Type A” personalities could be at greater risk for burnout, as well as people who have dual life roles (e.g., working mothers/fathers, single, working mothers/fathers, working student).

What is likely the most important factor related to burnout is the coping skills that are applied (or not applied) that can minimize (or enhance) the harmful effects of burnout. This factor can help you overcome a stressful work environment and/or your innate tendencies/actions that might place you at a greater risk for burnout.

Burnout Warning Signs

Some waring signs of burnout include:

CBT Coping Skills for Burnout

Prevention is key when it comes to managing burnout, but even if you feel you are already experiencing some (or many) symptoms, there are strategies you can implement to alleviate your work-related stress. Practicing these skills will not only help boost your overall performance, but it will also help you actually begin to enjoy your work, something that burnout can often prevent.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is one of the most central CBT treatment strategies. It is typically conducted with the help of a therapist; however, you can begin to practice cognitive restructuring exercises on your own to help combat the effects of burnout.

According to cognitive behavioral theory, thoughts and emotions contribute to stress-related issues, which is why it is critical for you to identify the thoughts you have that lead to negative or harmful emotions. Examples of these types of thoughts include:

Many times, you might not even be fully aware that you have these thoughts or that you are saying these things to yourself. This happens when you have been mentally giving yourself these messages for so long that it becomes automatic.

A helpful way to increase your awareness of these self-defeating thoughts is by paying attention to your emotions. In instances when you feel scared, nervous, sad, frustrated, or angry (among many other emotions), try to observe the content of your thoughts in that moment. Your feelings are often a clue that can help you gain some insight to the types of thoughts and internal messages you give to yourself.

With time, negative thoughts can really wear you down emotionally and even physically, leading to burnout, but by increasing your awareness of these thoughts, identifying them, and taking the additional step of writing them down, you will be on your way to being able to replace these negative thoughts with more positive and empowering thoughts and beliefs.

Begin the process by taking each thought that you’ve identified and think of a more positive and realistic thought or belief to replace it. For example, if you often think to yourself that you don’t have what it takes to be a good salesperson or a good parent or if you tell yourself several times daily that you will fail at your job and get fired, think of how you can replace these beliefs with more helpful and less catastrophic thoughts/beliefs.

Sometimes it helps to come up with a personal strength to replace the thought, such as, “I am highly organized and I work hard” or “I love my children, which means I will always do my best for them.” These types of internal messages help to shift your thoughts towards your strengths and abilities, which will, in turn positively impact your mood, your self-esteem, and your motivation to pursue your work-related duties with greater confidence.

Dr. Michael Messina

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