Oh Hey, Burnout – Can We Talk?

Burnout is categorized by fatigue, depersonalization and a decreased sense of efficacy or achievement. It has been primarily studied in the workplace, but is beginning to be talked about in other settings.

What can we do about it?

The answer is in recovery practices. Research on burnout tells us that a recovery practice entails:

  • Psychological detachment
  • Relaxation
  • A sense of mastery or proficiency
  • Some sense of control (i.e. over your schedule)

So, taking a spa day while you’re low-key stressing about a work struggle? This may check the relaxation and sense of control (i.e. over your time) boxes, but it’s not fulfilling the sense of mastery or psychological detachment arenas. Therefore, it’s not a recovery practice.

Of the four recovery practice parameters, psychological detachment has shown a particularly strong buffering effect against burnout. There are physical and mental components to consider here.

Have you ever felt a sense of relief closing your work laptop at the end of a workday or work-week? That action exemplifies physical psychological detachment. When we look at mental psychological detachment, things get more challenging. Now we’re in the land of cognitive patterns where boundary tactics are paramount. Specifically, behavioral and temporal boundaries are what the research says we want to focus on in order to effectively detach.

Behavioral boundaries include our relationship with technology. Some examples are:

  • Setting autoresponders
  • Delegating administrative tasks
  • Silencing notifications

Technology-related boundaries have been found to be especially useful in professions where high availability demands are present (i.e. teachers and healthcare workers) or if an individual simply has a heightened preference for a division between work and home life.

Temporal boundaries are about time: when are we working? When are we not working? Scheduling work time and recurrent recovery time have been shown to increase psychological detachment.

Communicating needs and identifying where we work are two additional types of boundary tactics associated with mental psychological detachment.

This information made me personally reflect on the fact that “vegging out” doesn’t exactly constitute a burnout recovery practice! It’s still enjoyable and perhaps stress relieving – but there isn’t a sense of mastery being cultivated. However, dialing in tech boundaries and committing to a regular strength training or yoga class – this is a burnout recovery practice.

What’s the role of integrative medicine in burnout recovery and prevention? I’ll go there in my next post – stay tuned!

If you’d like 1:1 support with burnout, consider booking a Naturopathic appointment with Dr. Bloomingdale at Le Center of Health (WA state residents only). If you reside outside of WA, book a Masterpiece Consult where we can strategize for solutions to your individual situation.


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