By Francesca Sullivan
You have a demanding, high-pressure job but lately you can’t seem to make decisions or summon any interest or energy for projects at work. You are needed more than ever yet all you feel like doing is closing your phone and being alone. You feel unsupported and colleagues always seem to be doing the wrong thing. You’ve been having trouble sleeping and have lost your appetite for food, fun and life in general. If any of this sounds familiar, it could be that you are suffering classic symptoms of burnout.
Although it’s common for men in particular to go through such times without seeking professional counselling, help is at hand for those who need it. Cairo West Magazine interviewed Dr. Georgette Savvides, one therapist who helps sufferers handle burnout and get their lives back on an even keel.
CWM: What are the primary causes for men undergoing ‘burnout’?
GS: It’s important to acknowledge that stress and burnout are two separate things, even though long-term stress can be a prime cause of burnout. It may be work-related, but not necessarily; it could be financial, or to do with family or emotional problems. Burnout is also unrelated to gender; men and women can be equally affected.
What are the recognized symptoms?
In men, burnout tends to present as increasingly aggressive behaviour, irritability, short temper, volatility and loss of focus. Attention will go to the cause of the stress, but burnout can also result in disengagement and disorientation. Physical and emotional exhaustion are prime symptoms. If you are feeling overwhelmed, suffering from insomnia, finding it hard to concentrate and things are starting to pile up, these are some of the early warning signs. Physical effects can also be more serious and may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches. These should always be medically assessed even though the cause might point to increased stress.
Is burnout widely recognised and addressed, or do men just tend to try and cope?
The percentage of men seeking therapy for burn-out and stress-related issues has increased; men are becoming more open to the idea and I do see a certain number in my clinic. However, women are still far more likely than men to address such problems and look for professional help.
Is it caused by lack of motivation or interest in work?
Lack of motivation or interest in work is actually a prime symptom of burnout. If you feel demotivated and are looking for reasons to be absent from work this can be a tell-tale sign. In the early stages it might just seem like lack of enthusiasm or wanting to avoid projects and responsibilities; not answering emails or regularly coming into work late. Later it can lead to being short tempered with colleagues and cutting yourself off from people, including family and friends outside work, feeling apathetic and hopeless. In later stages, it can lead to depression.
Does mental attitude and personality type play a big role?
Research shows that Type A personalities (natural leaders, people who tend to overload themselves with responsibilities and have high expectations of themselves and others) are more prone to stress. Also people who tend to have a more negative outlook or perspective on situations. The more objective and realistic someone’s expectations are, the less they are likely to become over-stressed.
How can stress and burnout best be tackled?
If someone comes seeking help for stress management or burnout the job of the therapist is not to try to change them – you cannot change someone’s personality – but to challenge the belief system behind their behaviour. Entrenched attitudes to situations can be re-examined and coping mechanisms brought into play, such as learning new problem-solving techniques. Sometimes you may need to re-evaluate your goals to redress life imbalances. The therapist would also suggest ways to deal with the symptoms.
Do you have tips and lifestyle advice for men to avoid reaching this point?
In anyone’s life a good work/play balance is essential, with time management to schedule the number of hours each day given over to work related versus pleasurable activities. Make time for happiness! If someone is burnt out they need to reduce their work schedule to spend more time with friends and family, arrange trips and weekends away and so on. On a daily level it’s important to develop healthy relationships with work colleagues, communicate properly, have boundaries and learn to say no. Being a constant people-pleaser will eventually lead to burnout.
Exercise is a very helpful ongoing tool for dealing with stress since it releases neuro chemicals that sustain your mood in a balanced manner. Just thirty minutes in the gym three times per week can be all it takes, but if you play regular sports such as football or tennis, or practise yoga or Pilates, this is equally good.
How can the family be more supportive?
By recognizing the early warning signs. If a man is lacking in motivation, seems edgy and irritable, over sensitive or just not feeling well in himself, then be ready to talk about any issues with concern. Now is not the time to make too many demands, try to relieve the pressure by being accommodating and understanding.
Is stress ever a positive thing?
Some people perform better under a certain level of stress, and certainly the kind of positive stress that follows a good event such as a promotion can be a motivator for improved performance. Some stressful events are also positive – a wedding, for example. Reaction to stress and how it affects different people is a very individualistic issue, and some people are more tolerant of stress levels than others, depending on their own time-line. It only becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with their day-to day functioning and impacts negatively on relationships with other people in their liv