Burnout. At work and in life. What happens and how do you get yourself out of it?

Despite growing awareness around overwork and constant busyness, burnout is becoming a global epidemic. One of the most common causes of burnout is simply taking on too much work for too long. By choice or necessity.

David — a now recovered casualty of burnout, offers us a deep insight into what burnout looks and feels like. And through his story and personal experience he provides a telling example of how you can recover and then stay on track.

David, who is in his 50s, is the head of the cognitive behavioural psychology clinic at a hospital in southern Sweden as well as leading its research unit. In his case, work had piled up on him during several years. He had his clinical work, people management and organisation responsibilities as well as numerous projects to lead. In an underfunded health care sector with staff members constantly stressed, David pushed himself relentlessly to deliver results, as well as look after his teams and others around him. The pressures of being in a classic caring role as well as being a driven professional meant he was stuck in a “meat in the sandwich” situation.

Many of us recognise ourselves in this. We face unreasonable demands, but we push on. We think if we just work a bit harder, we can fix everything. So, we sacrifice sleep, we work a bit more and longer, we stretch ourselves. We cope and we create a façade of calm and collectedness. We go into survival mode. And we often survive for quite a while, but our health and productivity suffer.

David did exactly this. Until he was completely exhausted. In his own words: “I could no longer concentrate. I lost perception of time and could not tell if something was tomorrow or in two weeks, it was all a blur. I could not plan or get organised anymore. I forgot what I had to do, even simple things like when I had to attend a meeting. I was apathetic, had no energy and was unable to do physical exercise. I feared I was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.”

Then life intervened in the most brutal of ways. David's wife and mother of their three children was diagnosed with cancer. David lost her six weeks later.

Unable at this stage to go on he went on sick leave for six months. This meant a break for a while. However, still exhausted and grieving, he returned to work part time. For the following three years he would alternate sick leave with part‐ or full time — working to his absolute limits. This went on until the Social Insurance Agency (Swedish: Försäkringskassan) could not support the case any longer.

He could not work but he had to work. Full time.

At this absolute low point, David came into contact with My-E-Health® through his employer. Sceptical at first, he decided to try the program. And he found that the combination of deep rest using float tank therapy, nurturing counselling and what he labels “kick-arse” psychology worked for him. He says: “After 3-4 sessions of floating, I felt benefits as if I had meditated for hours.” This was the key benefit for me. Complete rest. Freedom from thoughts and pressure. And with My-E-Health® assuming overall responsibility for planning the treatments, it allowed David to finally focus on himself and his own recovery.

Now, David reports feeling high engagement at work. He is proactive, energetic, and again excited over new projects. He feels productive and has managed to put his physical fitness back on track. Life is “good” again.

David is a scientist after all and felt he needed proof that the program really worked. Now he confirms: “the My-E-Health® statistics satisfied my need for scientific evidence. The figures and graphs show where I was emotionally and health wise and where I am now. And they provide a tool for helping me stay on course. This is a longer-term benefit of My-E-Health® that is making the biggest difference — I am now able to manage myself better, take a step back if needed and make better choices, which means I am protecting myself from burning out again.”

He continues: “the My-E-Health® program helped me in several, distinct ways. Firstly, it was a pragmatic, holistic system to help me recover from burnout and then stay healthy. Moreover, I think it fills a void in the (Swedish) health care system. Why? Because whilst the health care system is filled with expertise, there is no co-ordination of the patient's needs. For me, when I was at my most vulnerable, I found myself alone in organising the care and help I needed. My-E-Health® essentially functioned as my case manager.”

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David concludes: ”I hope that organisations use the program to prevent burnout and stress-related illness. It would be great to make it available to people managers. For example, I felt in my role as a project and team leader that you have no effective tools for dealing with early signs of burnout. The stressed person keeps going to work, just like I did, pushes on and subsequently falls sick. This lack of intervention causes so much unnecessary suffering. And from a financial viewpoint — how much productivity and money does the company lose? Presenteeism is harder to quantify than absenteeism but I believe this program will identify this before it gets to that point.”

There is still stigma around burnout where people believe it comes from a lack of personal effort when they are being overloaded, overwhelmed, and overworked. This is wrong. It is often an occupational disease that needs to be addressed. It is not a shame, nor a failure. And prevention is better than cure.

Note: the quotes and testimonial in this text are actual but we have changed the participant's name to ensure anonymity.