Voices Anand Neelakantan sheila kumar Ravi Shankar Gautam Chintamani Amar Bhushan Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet MAGAZINE People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI JUly 4 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 No Productivity Stress Isolation Hopelessness Anger The Burnout Epidemic High BP Chronic Anxiety Total Difficulty inLoss of Energy concentration Negativity Poor Focus Insomnia Substance abuse, drinking, smoking Emotional numbness Forgetfulness Low motivation Hatred towards the job Having brought countless professionals to the brink during the pandemic, burnout is no longer the elephant in the room. Companies are doing their best to handle the new crisis. By Noor Anand Chawla H e bought the Lalu Prasad Shaw three years ago. Since then it has been hanging in his study facing the plush wine-coloured read, ing couch lit up by a Solveig floor lamp, where he would laze with a glass of red and a book after a long day in the consulting room and doing his rounds in the wards. Often he would close the book and pause just to look at the serene eyes in the inscrutable face of an unknown subject regarding him from its frame with a mellow gaze. Now, after nearly two years of horror, death, despair that face him constantly in the super-speciality hospital where he works in Internal Medicine, he senses futility in all he does. The painting does not give him pleasure anymore. In fact, by the time he gets back home from work, his wife would already be asleep, and he would flop down beside her and drift off to exhausted sleep. His wife, who owns a small art gallery is now home all the time, trying to , negotiate online sales through auction houses. In spite of her best efforts to cheer her husband up, he is no longer the man he was—the streaks of grey on his hair seem thicker, the lines on his face deeper and the bags under his sharp observant eyes now dull and tired. The doctor, who does not wish to be named, can no longer be the physician who can heal himself. He knows too well that he is suffering from classic pandemic burnout. In the car on the way to hospital, in the consulting room and during his rounds, the tiresome thoughts play in his head like a stuck gramophone record. ‘I’m no longer a good doctor.’ ‘What is the point of treating patients? They die anyway Or they are ungrate. ful so and so-s.’ ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ The World Health Organisation (WHO) regards physician burnout a syndrome rather than a disease. The chronic distress that goes with being a doctor is what mainly leads to it. There are three signs that indicate burnout among medical professionals. They are: 1. Deep emotional exhaustion that turns into irritation or feeling downbeat. 2. Empathy diminishes and is replaced by cynicism, negativity and emotional , numbness. Psychiatrists call this state depersonalisation. 3. The doctor feels he is not professionally useful. But by the time the second phase of the Covid-19 wave peaked, burnout affected not just physicians but also a wide spectrum of professionals, such as CEOs, academics, businesspeople, government officers, administrators, policemen and journalists, and also homemakers. Never before have the lives of ordinary men and women, mothers and fathers, bosses and employees, friends and lovers been tested as they are now. People are forced to stretch themselves after the lines between home and work blurred, and multitasking and stress became familiar vectors of life. Take Shreya Bhaskar (name changed), a school teacher in Lucknow. She loved her students, and loved teaching and the pride her work gave in watching children grow intellectually . When classes moved online last year, she began to witness a change in her work and herself. Bhaskar was expected to perform her level best in a state of limbo, as salaries were delayed, students became difficult to communicate with, the parents less accommodating and organisation was thrown to the wind. Her daily routine that she had once looked forward to every day vanished. Before she knew it, she had begun disliking everything to do with school. Her psychotherapist recognised her symptoms of dullness and indifference as classic signs of professional burnout, and recommended time off to recuperate. What is burnout? The term was coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who used it to describe the consequences of severe stress for individuals working in human service sectors and the medical profession. Initially the fallout of , excessive and arduous work was noticed among doctors and nurses, who were most prone to exhaustion, listlessness, and inability to cope. The WHO lists burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, and not as a medical condition. It is defined as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It is characterised by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy This definition also .” dissociates professional burnout from general anxiety disorders by proclaiming, “burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” THE CAUSES 50% 32% 22% 16% 40% 31% 18% 13% 40% 25% 17% uncertain future Personal finances Career growth Self/family physical health Work task and deadlines Self/family mental health Performance appraisal Social distancing/ isolation Relationship issues Being laid off Children’s education * Numbers are percentage of 509 Indian professionals surveyed Source: Survey conducted by The 7th Fold, a boutique HR and well-being firm, in 2020 What LEADS TO burnout When long-term, unresolved stress negatively affects your work and your life. Online searches for ‘signs of burnout’ show a 24 percent increase throughout 2020 compared to the previous year. By limiting the definition of burnout, the WHO has narrowed the scope of a serious global problem. Dr Amrita Basu, an ENT and Head-Neck Surgeon who practices in Malda and Kolkata, is used to treating severe neck pain, headache, foreign body sensation of throat, chronic reflux, and other outwardly physical symptoms. She puts down a lot of such symptoms to work-related stress. “When one’s health in all its spheres is out of balance due to excessive chronic stress, burnout can occur. If not taken care of, various physical and mental health issues crop up,” she says. What are the symptoms? By the definition of American psychotherapist Rachel Naomi Remen who specialised in treating terminally ill persons, handling their family members, and burned-out professional caregivers, “burnout is the loss of meaning in one’s work.” Inspired by the US-based Winona State University’s burnout study, the UK-based mental health and well-being training organisation Calmer has added its own psychological research to identify five stages of burnout and how to prevent it from immobilising you. In its first stage itself, positive coping measures have to be immediately put in place. Stage One is the Honeymoon Phase. A new job, project or location kicks off excessively high levels of responses. Your energy levels are stratospheric. Your commitment to tasks is intense. Your creativity and optimism are in full flow. You jump up to accept responsibility You want to prove . yourself. And your productivity booms. Now comes Stage Two. The predictable-related stressors rear their head. Suddenly some days are difficult. You don’t feel as optimistic as before. Your focus begins to wane. Insomnia is becoming a habit. You feel irritable and exhausted. Appetite is less, so is sleep. And when you sleep you grind your teeth. The job is no longer fun. Your BP is up and the heart rhythm is erratic. You are getting headaches. You begin to neglect personal needs and care. If you don’t stop Stage Two from turning Three, you are headed for Chronic Stress. Motivation is all but gone. You get up tired every morning. You delay decisions both at work and home. Your boss calls you a regular latecomer. You have become resentful, withdrawn, angry, cynical, insecure and indecisive. Quick to anger, you slip into a state of denial and chronic exhaustion. Your sex drive is zero. You are drinking more, both alcohol and caffeine. Stage Four is Burnout. By now you cannot function as normal anymore. All symptoms, physical and psychological, of the previous stages intensify plus a few dismal additions. Self-doubt is a constant now. The headaches are accompanied by chronic stomach problems. Medical intervention is crucial at this juncture before you reach Stage Five—Habitual Burnout. The symptoms have become so entrenched Turn to page 2
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