by Dr Bibiana Chan
Burnout – A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery
By Gordon Parker, Gabriela Tavella and Kerrie Eyers.
I came across this book recently on ABC Breakfast on TV. My PhD research supervisor Prof Gordon Parker was interviewed to talk about his new book on Burnout. I have long been interested in the topic of Burnout which has an equivalent Chinese term 筋疲力盡 (Jīnpílìjìn) describing a state of ‘total exhaustion’! What is so interesting for me was that the reference to ‘total exhaustion’ in the Chinese concept had a single focus on the physical aspect of the body. The body was so very tired that it had consumed (finished/exhausted) all its strength.
The authors first presented a historical view of how ‘burnout’ is measured and diagnosed. According to the World Health Organisation’s ICD-11 manual: Burnout is
· Energy depletion and exhaustion,
· Increased mental disturbance from one’s job or feelings of negativism and cynicism related to one’s job and
· Reduced professional efficacy.
It is followed by the discussion on how their research team developed a ‘Sydney Burnout Measure’. They have confirmed the following about burnout:
· Exhaustion is a central component
· Loss of Empathy or inability to feel
· Work performance is compromised
What is new?
· Impaired cognition – difficulty in concentrating; lowered attention span, poor memory, distractibility
· Burnout and depression are not synonymous
· Perfectionism heightens the risk of burnout
I vividly remember my own experience of something similar to total exhaustion, impaired cognition and inability to ‘feel’ anything! However, I still pushed myself to work harder. My perfectionist voice was screaming loud and clear at me: ‘Pull yourself together!’ ‘Life has to go on!’ I was also told by my Chinese friends and family, ‘No Big Deal la!’ ‘You are so weak/fragile! Everyone is doing it tough la!’
I wish Prof Parker and his research team would have published this book a quarter of a century earlier! Thus, I could complete the ‘Sydney Burnout Measure’ and ‘Perfectionism Scale’ available as Appendix A & C at the back of the book. The book also provides a very comprehensive comparison of the different features (primary symptom, predisposing personality style, attribution etc.) between melancholic depression, non-melancholic depression and burnout. For those who are keen to dig into the biology of burnout, there is a chapter for you. The book also answers the question ‘what is burnout anyway?’ with real life case studies.
Media CEO Arianna Huffington wrote a book ‘Thrive’ after recovering from a bout of burnout. She advocates for a radical change on how society defines success. She has new insight into the importance of wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving to lead a truly thriving life!
It doesn’t stop from there, the last session illustrated what you can do to make a change. I found this very practical and useful. It outlines seven basic steps to recovery in chapter 19. I encourage you to grab this book and find out the details.