Whether you are going through a burnout or a depression, or both, as is often the case, you will still suffer in much the same way and would still benefit from treatment. One thing is certain, unless something changes, the problem will not go away on its own. If things didn’t work out before, they will not suddenly go well after having taken some time off.
That change can be biochemical or situational, it can involve a new attitude or new skills, it can even be as simple as deciding to accept your old situation as it was, but this time without the constant struggle to change it. Whatever it is, something must be different.
Treatment of depression and burn-out
The two main forms of treatment are psychological or pharmacological. Regardless of the cause, both forms of treatment can be beneficial. Sometimes a combination of both treatments is most effective.
It is generally recommended that for mild to moderate forms of depression, the psychological treatment called cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) is the best choice.
If the response is not adequate, then medication can be added. For moderate to severe depression, a combination of antidepressants and CBT is usually recommended from the outset. In reality, additional factors such as attitude about medication, or availability of affordable psychological services, often play a major role in determining treatments.
Antidepressants target brain chemistry. Most people feel less bothered by events when they take medication and can thus cope much better with situations. Cognitive behaviour therapy seeks to change how we interact with the world by either teaching us new skills or by examining and altering the attitudes that affect how we react to and interpret the events around us. It can help us set limits. It can teach us to question our standards, our attributions, and our biases. And it can help us develop a better sense of priorities and balance in our professional and personal lives.
Here is a short list of suggestions that you could consider if you think you are vulnerable to burnout.
Learn to work well without going overboard
Most of us would have no trouble walking away from a shoe store if the pair we wanted cost $500. We would feel that they were not worth the effort it took to earn that money. Why then can we not also walk away from work that demands too much of us, not in terms of money but in terms of the effort it takes to earn that money?
Life is a marathon
The racer who runs the first mile quickly because he has energy would most certainly burn out before the end. The secret is to keep a reasonable pace that can be maintained throughout the race. In our professional lives we often have the energy to give a little extra in order to reach a goal, impress a boss, or make a little extra cash, but we rarely consider the longer term consequences of such a pace. Having time to do things that may not seem productive, such as indulging your personal passions and hobbies, or even just to sit around, is essential in keeping your life pace reasonable.
Recognize when your personal standards are too high
To do so you must learn to rely on the judgement of others. Don’t rely on your own biased judgement, especially if you never feel that anything you do is good enough. Try to base your judgement on objective measures of performance, such as grades or sales figures. Ask yourselves how you would judge a colleague with the same numbers. Usually, it will be much less harshly. And remember, just because a task can always be rendered better with more time, doesn’t mean it isn’t already better than is required.
Be able to admit to yourself when it is time for a change
Then, you can choose work that is better suited to your personality. This is far easier that trying to radically alter your nature. For example, a procrastinator will have an easier time answering phones in a customer service department, where they must simply be available and knowledgeable, than they would be in a job where they would have to produce written reports with no fixed deadline.
The last step belongs to co-workers and employers. They must recognize that good employees, the so-called “go-to” ones, must be protected. When an important project must be done and we have two employees or colleagues – a competent but over-worked employee, and a less competent one who has some spare time – whom will we approach to do the work? Just because the good employees normally deliver the goods does not mean they have unlimited resources. Cutting them a little slack will do everyone involved a world of good.
How to help someone with depression or burn-out
If you suspect someone close to you is suffering from depression, here is some advice:
- Encourage the person to express their feelings
- Express your concerns but do not try to control the situation
- Offer your help with daily tasks
- Encourage the person to consult with a professional
- Be understanding
- Offer information
- Once treatment has started, allow the process to take its course