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Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

Burnout - Aug 27, 2006


August 27, 2006

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

Burnout--the mental and physical exhaustion due to work stress--was once thought to strike primarily at midlife. Now psychologists are reporting that burnout is striking at even younger ages with up to one third of American workers between ages 25 to 39 reporting these symptoms. Here to tell us more is psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: Why is burnout becoming such a problem now?

Dr. Sylvia: There is no doubt that chronic job stress is a direct threat to the health of the American public. We now live in an era of lean staffing and job cuts. With reduced staffs and a lack of corporate loyalty now the norm, the American worker has never been more under siege. As a result, most of us drive to have our "A game face" on at all times. However, such a stance takes a toll over time.

Q: Why is it striking at younger ages?

Dr. Sylvia: We are seeing unprecedented levels of competition and achievement from our workers in their twenties and thirties. This generation has been encouraged by eager and faithful parents to succeed in all ventures and as a consequence, work performance has become a primary focus for millions of young people. To get ahead, they drive themselves to succeed without realizing the harm they are doing to themselves.

Q: Are there specific risk factors that make some people more vulnerable than others?

Dr. Sylvia:

Best and Brightest: Burnout tends to hit the best and the brightest in the workforce. People who are used to being at the head of the class do not tolerate mediocre performance from themselves. The very qualities that make you a top performer make it difficult to impose limits on your work. In the end, since there are no limits on perfection, you can fall into the trap of pushing too hard too quickly.

Level of Control: The level of control a person has over his work and the recognition he receives for those efforts are key determinants of whether he will develop this syndrome. If you sacrifice your entire life for a job, setbacks become insurmountable.

Mental/Physical Health Vital: People who develop burnout have forgotten that a career is similar to a long distance race--it must be paced. Protecting your mental and physical health is as important to your success as acquiring the keys to the boardroom.

Q: So burnout could become a problem before you really know it?

Dr. Sylvia: One of the hallmarks of this syndrome is that the victim seems to be the last to know he is in trouble. Burnout is a tricky disorder because no one ever believes that work could become toxic. Burnout victims have to be convinced of the seriousness of their problem. Their solution is just to try harder rather than "throttling back" to regain a sense of stability. "Balance" is synonymous with defeat.

Q: What are some of the key phases of burnout?

Dr. Sylvia: Here are a few of the top phases:

Compulsion to Prove Oneself: Ambition is a dangerous companion if it overtakes your life. Their desire to prove themselves transforms into blind ambition and compulsion.

Obsessed with Success: To prove themselves worthy, they overload on work. Psychologists note their obsession with proving that they are irreplaceable.

Values Shift: Their values shift as they isolate and deny their basic needs for companionship and physical rest. Sleeping, eating and relaxing are relegated to luxuries as they focus on heroic performance.

Intolerant of Others: They often become highly irritable with others and regard others who have work/life balance as undisciplined and lazy.

Turning to Alcohol or Drugs: Tortured by their performance issues, they often drink too much or may abuse prescription drugs. An inner emptiness expands relentlessly at this phase and they may become agitated and withdrawn.

Burnout Syndrome: In the final stages, many burnout victims become lost in depression and anxiety conditions. They can become suicidal and suffer a total mental and physical collapse. Life can lose meaning.

Q: What can they do to prevent burnout?

Dr. Sylvia: There are three things to keep in mind. First of all, you must budget your physical resources. Eat and sleep well and exercise frequently. Secondly, you must find an adaptive activity that is meaningful to you. Whether it is meditation, painting pictures, gardening or gazing at the stars, you must have something, on a daily basis, to help you relax. Finally, remember that social contact is the cheapest medicine. Make a friend and see her often.

For more information, please reference Scientific American Mind, June/ July, 2006.