"Burnout may be overcome and prevented," says social worker Martha Bramhall, "but it takes marked behavioral and situational changes."
She has devised a treatment plan, beginning with a four-week phase "where the burned out worker schedules his or her time as if ill and in need of special care and extra rest."
Among the crucial elements of this four-week regimen:
Diet -- Eat a "diet of high protein with six small meals a day. . .to keep the blood sugar constant under stress." She recommends vitamin supplements and foods high in the stress vitamins -- C, Bi, B6 -- and panothenic acid.(She advises checking with your doctor before going on this or any other dietary regime."
Exercise -- Perform a daily energizing and relaxing routine. For energy, pick an exercise -- like walking, jogging or swimming -- that works the heart and lungs. For relaxation, try meditation, a relaxation tape or lying quietly and concentrating on your breathing.
Rest -- Get at least seven hours a night. Take a 15-minute rest period in the morning and the afternoon.
Personal Relationships -- Cut back on draining social interactions. If possible, single out a trustworthy friend and share your emotions. Try to begin analyzing the process of how the exhaustion happened. (Don't push too hard for explanations at first -- concentrate instead on changing the behaviors.)
Work Habits -- Set up a plan that will let you cut back on some of the most exhausting tasks. Try temporary job sharing with co-workers, meeting only the most important needs or using some sick leave.
Implement these elements in a four-week plan:
Week One -- Ask for support and help in carrying through the regime from your friends, family, colleagues and supervisor. Ask for simple favors from others -- like getting you a cup of coffee -- twice a day for the entire four weeks.
Spend reduced time in the office, but don't take extended leave. A vacation alone won't cure or prevent burnout. Cut back on your most stress-provoking duties. Each morning write out a schedule that allows you to alternate performing different kinds of tasks.
Week Two -- Add some hours, but continue reduced time at work. Resume some, but not all, of your most stress-provoking duties. Try to take a three-day weekend at some place restful.
Week Three -- Go back to work full time. Have someone help you take an objective look at your work setting and list the situational factors that are distressing (work overload, excessive paperwork, cramped or ugly surroundings). Begin to analyze how you typically react to these stressors, and decide what attitudes or values you have that help you react this way.
Week Four -- Bring work back to its normal level. Examine your list of situational stressors and your typical reactions and decide which you are able to change. Priortize these factors, design a change strategy and build a time frame for each. Share your plan with those at work who can be helpful and supportive. Form an ongoing support group which meets on a weekly basis.
"Remember that no matter what the individual worker does to deal with work-related stress," Bramhall says, "conditions of work overload, excessive overtime, no sanctioned time out and excessive amounts of paperwork will continue to deplete the energies and potentials of good workers."