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Opinion

Burnout! 

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I had seen and felt the signs, considered the possibility, but burnout can be deceptive. Unlike COVID, pneumonia, appendicitis and the like, burnout does not consistently exhibit itself in terms of absolute pain, life threatening conditions such as extreme difficulty breathing, bleeding or delirious episodes or some dramatic manifestation. Worst of all, society does not generally consider burnout as a serious medical condition and, here in the Philippines where we have failed to give mental health issues the proper recognition, people tend to be dismissive and tell you to just sleep on it.

One of the reasons we misdiagnose it is because the condition comes on ever so slowly, much like the tires on a car where the tread or the rubber wears out slowly and before you know it, they are worn out and dangerous to continue using. Sometimes burnout comes on faster as a result of an unfortunate series of events. A very popular personality I know had the usual workload for several months, then several trips got added to her daily grind, so she found herself juggling work and time. Then she caught COVID and that prevented her from doing her regular exercise for about a month. Then she finally acknowledged that she could be burning out.

In my case, I was also doing the same grind or routine that I did before COVID and post-COVID lockdowns. In fact, I felt confident that I was fine, given that I stayed in our small farm for the last six months of the 18-month series of lockdowns. I had become a vegetarian, revisited the gym and had not been sick — or so I thought. Looking back, I realized that, like many Filipinos, I felt like a prisoner or someone under house arrest, trying to go for walks became stressful because of the mask mandate and fear of infection. I found myself needing to take a sleep-inducing pill more often, I was using pain relievers more often for my back and muscle aches that had become more frequent and pronounced. After that came allergies in my eyes, then stomach problems. Then I lost interest in hobbies or activities I used to enjoy. Political upheavals in the country stoked a sense of dread and uncertainty, work on TV and print had become “The Daily Grind” and writing or planning for shows became harder and harder. Then one day, the dizzy spells started to happen.

I had no control over the dizzy spells, but I had a choice — ignore or respond. We went straight to Boracay for a 7-day trip, no column writing and no TV show and nothing work-related or stressful on the plate. On the first two days I was like an addict looking for work. I kept wanting to open my laptop, but Karen and Hannah kept me preoccupied with activities while locking away the electronics, to be opened only for an “emergency.” By the third day, I was beginning to enjoy the break and by the sixth day I was seriously considering an unscheduled sabbatical.

Upon our return I underwent a complete blood test, cardiac evaluation, a visit with my ophthalmologist and a GP. It was a much-delayed executive check-up. We also featured “burnout” as a topic on the program Agenda with Dr. Joan Rifareal to highlight the matter and, based on the topic material and discussion, I undoubtedly had “burned out.”

If tires wear out, if knives thin out, why not human beings? Most people attribute it to stress or pressure but the most common cause would probably be the one caused by lack of rest, no breaks from the routine or loop and no opportunities for recharge or recovery.

I always said to myself that I was blessed, that I didn’t have to do a nine-to-five grind or had too much at stake. But I recently heard from the comedian Jerry Seinfeld about how crazy it can get doing talk shows: “Let’s place someone inside a can for five days and watch him do one-hour gigs continuously and let’s see what breaks.” It’s fun to watch talk shows, but if you have to host it, the pressure to have great guests, relevant topics and having no idea who or if someone is watching, that’s rough. It doesn’t really matter what fancy title or position you have in life because we can all burn out from the daily grind, especially housewives, homemakers and helpers who are physically drained every day and contained in a limited area constantly.

Dr. Rifareal acknowledged that taking the 7-day break and having a thorough medical check-up was a good idea because it eliminated anything of a medical-physiological nature. Consulting with a trained professional regarding burnout was the second good step. From there she recommended that people should intentionally go outside their routine, socialize or spend time with people outside the loop or outside the work or stressful environment. This activity also gives us a chance to share, express or compare with people what we are feeling or experiencing.

As always, the need for a consistent exercise program was necessary because the stronger and healthier your body is, the better it is for your mental health and sense of well-being. No need to rush to the gym right away but start with short but frequent walks and work your way up. On top of all this, I add, make it a point to go somewhere you haven’t been to, missed or used to go. Your old university, the old neighborhood, a mall or park or a short drive outside the city. The point is to break the vicious cycle and the daily grind.

Burned Out is not Crazy, it’s being sick and tired of the same old stuff. Now I know why many shop owners in the US used to hang up the sign “Gone Fishing.” Please take a break – before you break.

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