First Aid for Workplace Burnout

Workplace burnout is something that many of us in the Muslim community struggle with, but maybe not something we talk about openly. How do we deal with burnout when it happens to us, and how do we break the stigma surrounding it in our communities?

By Abu Awud

The General Social Survey of 2016 reports that almost 50% of people are often or always exhausted due to work. Many such cases lead to complete physical and emotional burnout. The thing that we need to keep in mind is that Muslims are not immune to mental or physical exhaustion. In fact, with increasing pressures of Islamophobia, discrimination, and tension due to current events, it wouldn’t be surprising if Muslims were experiencing the highest rates of exhaustion and burnout compared to everyone else. So what should one do to prevent and cure workplace burnout?

Earlier this year, I experienced a case of workplace burnout while managing a very large-scale international project, frequent international travel, and a very difficult colleague at the same time. At first I was completely confused and disturbed as to why I was feeling exhausted, mentally drained, and depressed. But over a couple of months, I was able to figure out that my nervous system was being affected by my overworking and not giving my mind and body time to relax and regenerate itself. Here are 3 tips to cure and prevent workplace burnout, or any kind of emotional burnout for that matter.

1. Get tested, rule the physical out, and accept.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they are experiencing burnout is constantly thinking their condition is much worse than it actually is. The solution to this is to get tested for conditions that would be worse, and if everything comes out clear, accept that you were not managing your stress well and continue on to the road to recovery. In the western world, this may be difficult due to health systems causing delays in testing and identification of root causes, but it’s important to find a way to get physical tests done so that you can know for a fact that you are not suffering from something worse than stress and overworking. Another point to keep in mind is that once you are tested, don’t let your mind trick you into believing the doctors are missing something. Doctors do not want to be held liable for ignoring a serious illness and will tell you if they see something wrong. Consult credible doctors and then trust their judgment – do not try to become your own doctor and become obsessed with your symptoms. If everything has been ruled out, you are OKAY!

2. Know that you are not alone.

Because mental and nervous system health is a stigma, especially in our communities, it is unlikely that you are going to hear about others who have gone through or are going through the same thing you are. For this reason, it is likely that you will convince yourself that you are the only one in your group of friends, family, and acquaintances experiencing such an illness and you will feel ashamed. Don’t be ashamed. The fact that you have gone through emotional exhaustion means that you have emotions and that you are thinking about things intensely. Research shows that top performers are most likely to get burned out, so, in a sense, you should actually feel proud to be part of this special class of people. This also creates a level of responsibility when you recover from your illness, and we should remember to try to help others by sharing our struggles so that we can start breaking the silence and stigma around this issue. One of my friends, who is the Imam at our local Masjid, told me that he often has uncles coming up to him and saying, “Do you know so and so is getting counseling,” as though this is something shameful. In fact, mental strain is exactly the same as having a pulled muscle or joint pain and is nothing to be ashamed of.

3. Throw your ego out.

At some point during my experience with burnout, when I was feeling quite devastated, I realized that I had to throw my ego out and seek help in any way, shape, or form that was available to me. I’ve always had a very independent personality and was involved with community activism, sports, and entrepreneurial activities. You could say I was a go-getter and got stuff done myself. When I started experiencing mental exhaustion and burnout, I realized I was not myself and wouldn’t be for some time. Research shows that so called ‘Targets of leadership’ recover from burnout, on average, in about 6 months, while ‘Leaders’ recover on average in about a year. This is a long time, especially for someone who is a high performer at work and active in the community and social circles. Because of this, burnout is also a very good opportunity to practice sabr and tawakkul. It might take some time for you to reach the point where you start thinking of your burnout as a blessing, but if you are able to push through the initial period and start achieving some stability, you will see that Allah has blessed you with a condition which gives you much needed realization and introspection without actually placing a physical, irreversible disease inside of you. Since I started getting a handle on my symptoms, my wife says that I have become much more patient, more ‘in the moment’, and empathetic towards others. These are qualities that are almost impossible to acquire over the course of a few months in normal circumstances.

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There are many things that can be discussed when it comes to burnout, mental fatigue, and symptoms related to the nervous system, but the main thing to remember is that your body has been made resilient by Allah.

“We have certainly created man in the best of stature,” (95:4)

If you give your body and mind time to understand, reflect, and recuperate, it will re-generate itself insha’Allah. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started:
– Burnout at Work (Harvard Business Review)
– Book: Hope and help for your nerves – Dr. Claire Weekes (Available as Audiobook on Audible)
– Your local Naturopath

If you have been experiencing a case of workplace burnout and would like to email the author for advice, write to:

Disclaimer: The author is not a trained professional and responses are not guaranteed

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One response to “First Aid for Workplace Burnout”

  1. Farida Mirza says:

    This article deals with a very important topic: workplace issues that lead to stress and burnout. Workplace related problems are widespread. No one has to go through the turmoil and pain. Detection and professional help is the answer as the author suggests. I hope whoever reads this article shares it as it is a first hand experience. Also, stresses caused by non-professional factors can create pain and stress and can be dealt with in the same manner. A very good article.

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