It’s official — your job can make you sick.
A few months ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised ‘burnout syndrome’ for the first time in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). It said burnout was characterised by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of disillusionment or cynicism related to your job and reduced productivity”.
So what causes it? The WHO defined it as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Big contributors on the list included: lack of control; unclear expectations; an excessive workload; stressful colleague interactions; lack of social support, and monotonous tasks.
While the WHO specifically classified workplace pressures in its definition of burnout, many of us at some stage in our lives have experienced the symptoms of stress. You don’t have to go to an office to face these kinds of challenges; carers, home-makers, volunteers, and those who are unemployed or under-employed often have to cope with similar issues.
Stress is a serious matter if it’s ignored or downplayed. We might blame the latest virus going around for our persistent headache or debilitating insomnia but, as United States research centre Mayo Clinic states on its website, it’s important to investigate whether stress is the source of the problem. Unchecked stress, it warns, can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Jesus understood how the worries of the world can crowd in on us until they seem insurmountable. But he also confirmed what, probably, deep down we already know: ‘Will all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew, chapter 6, verse 27)’. Of course they won’t; in fact, those stresses are far more likely to achieve the opposite. Jesus goes on to say, “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow, too. Live one day at a time” (verse 34).
Ultimately, burnout is a sign of despair, a pervading sense of hopelessness that circumstances will never improve, the treadmill will never stop and life will never be enjoyable again. But that can change; the most powerful way to counteract the bleakness of burnout is to have hope. If we have hope, we have life.
If you are feeling worn down and jaded, perhaps these words of encouragement from Isaiah (chapter 40, verse 31) will touch a chord: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Wednesday 24 July is Lifeline’s Stress Down Day, an initiative promoting the need to reduce stress. Research shows that 90 per cent of Australians need to stress less, with 74 per cent of people reporting being stressed from work. Funds raised by the event will help to increase the number of trained volunteers.