It’s an understatement to say that we live in stressful times. The sources of stress are many: work, family, relationships, money, the economy to name a few. Of these, work ranks among the top three causes of stress worldwide.
When we put too much pressure into something, over time, it blows up. Similarly, when we are exposed to long-term stress and mental pressure, our emotions blow up. And this results in burnout.
As of May 2019, the World Health Organization describes being burnt out as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.
Although it most often is associated with work life, burnout can also appear in other aspects of life such as care taking, romantic relationships, and even parenting.
However, we can fight and prevent burning out with the help of emotional intelligence.
In this article, we discuss how emotional intelligence can help us deal with burnout. This will ensure that we are able to not only survive, but thrive in all aspects of our lives.
But first, let’s understand more about burnout.
What is ‘burnout’?
Burnout isn’t the same as stress. And it is important to distinguish between the two. Stress is usually more short-lived and related to a specific event or combination of events. It’s normal and inevitable from time to time, and is temporary in nature.
Burnout, however, is a state of mental, emotional, (and at times physical) exhaustion. It occurs when we bottle up stress over a period of time and don’t actively seek to manage it. This results in negative feelings towards life and poorer performance and output at work. It also impacts our productivity and optimistic outlook towards life in general.
Here are a few emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:
- feeling helpless or trapped,
- sense of self-doubt and failure,
- feeling isolated and detached,
- feeling pessimistic and cynical about things,
- loss of interest and motivation,
- lowered sense of accomplishment,
- low energy levels
Burnout can thus take a severe toll on our mental health. In recent times the uncertainty of the future is increasingly causing burnout among young people.
The extreme pressure of careers, personal lives, and other demands are slowly transforming stress into burnout.
We need strong mental health and emotional skills to prevent getting burnt out in the long-run. Being able to identify the stages of burnout and know when we need to do something about our mental health can help us run the marathon of life confidently.
The five stages of burnout
Just like any other illness, burning out can have multiple symptoms. But typically, there are five stages of burnout which can be easily identified.
1. The honeymoon phase
The beginning of our college life or starting a new job can bring in many new and often contradictory emotions. We may experience excitement, satisfaction, and joy, but also stress and anxiety.
We start to worry about how we will perform in the new context. And, without realizing it, we enter the first phase of burnout: the honeymoon phase.
2. Early stress
In this phase, we start to notice the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. When we have bad days in college or at office, we struggle to be positive. At this stage, we may begin getting headaches, heart palpitations, and fatigue owing to stress.
Our mental, emotional, and physical strength begins to drain out at this stage of burnout. There are also other subtle signs such as irritability and changes in appetite.
3. Chronic stress
We experience chronic stress in the third stage of burnout. In this stage, we constantly get marked by stress and exhaustion. We may also feel emotionally overwhelmed.
As we experience intense stress, we lose interest in socializing. There is also a likelihood of developing harmful habits like consuming excessive alcohol or smoking as a coping mechanism.
In the fourth stage of being burnt out our mental, emotional, and physical condition becomes even more vulnerable. We tend to isolate ourselves from those close to us. At this point, we may experience severe headaches or stomach aches.
Feelings of emptiness and self-doubt begin to creep in. Behavioural changes are also common in the fourth stage of burnout. It is essential to seek help at this stage to prevent it from becoming a severe, chronic condition.
5. Habitual burnout
The final and fifth stage of burnout is termed ‘habitual burnout’. In this stage, burnout becomes severely critical and harmful. It takes over us completely and leaves us with emptiness.
At this point, burnout can trigger other mental illnesses such as depression, physical fatigue, burnout syndrome, chronic sadness, and so on.
What is ‘emotional intelligence’?
Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to identify, manage, and balance our own emotions.
It generally includes four essential skills:
- empathy/social awareness, and
- relationship management
An individual’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) helps them balance their emotions and resolve issues by using the following skills:
The mental ability to identify and understand our own emotions as well as their causes and effects is known as self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to know about the root cause of our feelings of anxiousness, stress, or burnout.
Self-regulation or management helps us to manage our impulsive behaviours and maintain integrity. As human beings, we can’t switch on and off our emotions. However, with skills like self-regulation, we can shorten the duration of certain undesirable emotions or at least work to manage our response to those emotions.
Social awareness or empathy is the ability to accurately understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people. It allows us to then accurately respond to them or to meet their needs.
Another important skill of emotional intelligence is relationship management. It refers to our interpersonal skills such as communication, persuasion, leadership, initiating change, conflict management, nurturing relationships, and so on. It allows us to connect with people in ways so that they feel supported and understood.
How can emotional intelligence help prevent burnout?
Burnout can affect our work and personal life negatively, but we can take certain steps to prevent it.
Even if we are not currently going through the stages of burnout, it is a good tactic to create mental resilience as prevention against future situations of burnout.
Developing emotional intelligence may require some time and practice, but when we are aware of our emotions, we are less likely to allow ourselves to live in a negative mental state. When we have a high EQ, it gives us a sense of control. It helps us to understand that all feelings are not permanent, and that we should accept them as normal and work through them. It could also be helpful as a flag to highlight when to ask for external help.
Several studies have stated that both EQ and burnout have an inverse relationship between them. The higher the EQ, the lower the chance of experiencing burnout. If we can recognize and address our emotional states, we can address burnout. When we experience burnout without emotional intelligence, our emotions get the better of us, and we are unable to regulate them, and subsequently the situation will snowball.
That’s why it’s helpful to work on improving our emotional intelligence. It is something that can help us to thrive in this uncertain world and become mentally strong and resilient.
Yes, everyday life can be tough, crazy and stressful. Most of us often create additional stress for ourselves by overthinking the future. People who are more prone to being perfectionists also often create stressful situations for themselves. This kind of self-induced stress over time then triggers burnout.
Developing emotional intelligence is a powerful tactic to deal with stress. Becoming more aware of our emotions and their limitations can help us control our impulses and enable us to find coping mechanisms.
Similarly, when we are empathetic and compassionate towards ourselves and others, we can have unexpected outcomes from an otherwise bad situation.
However, developing emotional intelligence and EQ is easier said than done. It requires time, effort, and practice. So the first step is being patient and forgiving towards ourselves while at the same time being mindful towards improving our EQ and emotional intelligence skills.
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