Mindfulness is a great way to learn to relax but it will not necessarily help a person recover from a burnout nor prevent burnout from happening again. So why does mindfulness not solve the underlying cause of a burnout? There are in fact two essential reasons for this.
First of all, burnout is a gradual process that runs its course based on each individual’s belief and behavior patterns. There are some recognizable character traits that are often associated with a higher risk of burnout; such as having perfectionist tendencies, being a conflict avoider, or having the need to be ‘always’ helping other people. If we do not live up to some of these personal expectations about ourselves and our performance, feelings of guilt, failure and self-recrimination start to build up.
We start to ignore our energy and recovery boundaries thereby resulting in a chronic state of stress
Mindfulness can ease your stress in the short term, i.e. while you practice it. In such a way, it can contribute to lessening your immediate stress momentarily. What it doesn’t do is to take the heat of the chronic stress off. Mindfulness one of the functional tools used to help prevent a burnout but not necessarily to alleviate it.
Stress is like a teakettle of boiling water on a stove. Mindfulness can add cold water to the boiling water thereby keeping it at a simmer rather than having it boil over. Burnout treatment focuses on learning how to turn the gas up and down on the stove itself.
The second reason why mindfulness during a burnout may not be the ideal way to deal with the situation at hand is the ‘staying in the moment’ effect. People in a burnout are often dealing with a negative or depressed view of self, others, situations, even life in general. As mindfulness is about ‘staying in the moment’, maybe you can already see where problems can arises. Mindfulness in such a negative state can trigger a situation where too much attention is paid to the negativity that is being experienced in that moment and actually contribute to getting caught in a progressive downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. Instead of finding a moment of ‘zen’, feelings of emptiness, helplessness, and apathy can gain a firmer foothold in the belief system thereby actually increasing the symptoms of the burnout itself.
Staying at home and doing nothing for a number of months often has the adverse effect that people start to find it more difficult to go back to work. This often leads to a negative spiral where people risk getting depressed. Burnout treatment needs to focus on physical recovery, cognitive and behavioral changes, and eventually on teaching people new skills to, hopefully, avoid any relapse. Treatment needs to include assistance for people by helping them to start resuming work in a gradual step-by-step plan.
I am not saying that Mindfulness should never be used as a tool in cases of Burnout, but rather, that in these cases, a well-trained and experienced healthcare practitioner should be consulted and the technique used with caution.
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