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  • Virginia Hurdon

Back to Basics

Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are becoming more open about the current crisis of exhaustion and burnout. And the reasons for that crisis are still going to be with us for some time yet.


I wonder how many have lost sight of even the basics of self care at this point. Why? Have a look at this definition of burnout: ‘Burnout is a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. The significance of this three‐dimensional model is that it clearly places the individual stress experience within a social context and involves the person's conception of both self and others.’ (World Psychiatry. 2016 Jun; 15(2): 103–111). The cause of burnout is usually systemic rather than individual, but it clearly affects the whole of the person in that state.


How does burnout affect our concept of ourselves? Christina Maslach has argued that burnout is an erosion of the soul. That degree of suffering often involves injury to our self-concept.

Our self-concept is often so anchored in our work that when we are not performing well, or the work seems meaningless, our sense of worthiness can take a deep plunge. Our self-image and identity also take a beating. Who am I, if not the competent, capable professional I thought I was?

This, combined with compassion fatigue, the loss of capacity to empathize with others, stemming from mental and physical exhaustion and the need to emotionally withdraw, affects our ability to be self-compassionate as well.


With the combination of battered self worth, shaken identity and loss of compassion, finding motivation to do even basic self care can be elusive.

We all have a spectrum of motivation for any action, from purely internal (self) at one end, to completely external (solely meeting the expectations of others or avoiding punishment) at the opposite end. This includes the motivation for the mental and physical tasks of recovering from burnout and exhaustion. It’s okay to not be internally motivated for every action! Taking pleasure in everyday experiences helps to build internal motivation. It’s a cascading effect, and it can be started by small pleasurable activities, like taking a short walk after supper, watching a funny video, or touching base with a friend. Faith in this process pays off. The improvement in self-worth comes over time as we begin to feel better.

It’s also okay to accept support and guidance- in fact, in many cultures, receiving those gifts honours the giver. Accepting that support can re-open the doors to self-compassion and other healing experiences.

This goes hand-in-hand with work to promote renewal of energy and the development of new perspectives on work, identity, self-worth and purpose.


Coaching brings empathic support and accountability, as well as realistic goal setting and the potential for self-discovery to burnout recovery. These skills support those who want assistance in making that positive cascade happen for them. I would love to have a conversation with you about how coaching can help turn around your experience of burnout.



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