Tips on how to manage well being and your work-life balance as an expat abroad, from a Consultant Psychiatrist
24 May 2023| Last updated on 24 May 2023
Turn your life from stressful to stress-free.
With work and life keeping thousands of UAE expats busy, it is easy for a lot of us to become stressed or even worse, experience burnout.
We asked Dr. Bassem Badr, Consultant Psychiatrist at Mediclinic Dubai Mall and Mediclinic Parkview Hospital, to share some tips on how to identify signs of stress, common causes of burnout, and what we can do to help reduce stress and manage our work-life balance in the UAE.
Different types of stress
A person can experience different types of stress:
Stress is the body's nonspecific response to various external demands, resulting in physiological changes. Stress isn't necessarily negative.
Eustress is what occurs when pleasant events or conditions. This usually happens from performance-related activities such as sports and other athletics, giving a speech, or acting, resulting in our competitive edge.
When unpleasant events or conditions happen, this leads to distress.
Burnout is a harmful physical and emotional response that occurs when the demands of a job do not match the resources, capabilities, or needs of the worker.
In this article, Dr. Bassem Badr will delve into what is burnout, the early signs of burnout, and important tips on how to manage your work/life balance in the UAE to help prevent burnout.
Differences between burnout and stress
Burnout is different from stress in that burnout entails too many demands on your bodily and psychological well-being. However, stressed individuals can still believe that if they can just calm down, they'll feel better.
On the other hand, burnout is about not doing enough. When someone is burned out, they experience emptiness, lack of drive, and compassion.
People who are burnt out frequently don't believe that their circumstances will improve. Another distinction between stress and burnout is that, unlike burnout, you normally become aware of your level of stress when it occurs.
For the last several decades, the concept of burnout has been debated among industry professionals. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided clarification by classifying burnout as a syndrome that stems from an occupational phenomenon.
Chronic workplace stress
This condition is a “Syndrome” caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the WHO.
In this context, external factors, such as those from workplace dysfunction, are primarily to blame for burnout.
What happens if burnout is left untreated?
Burnout can affect your mental, physical and emotional state. The feelings of burnout typically occur when you’re overwhelmed at work and feel as if you can no longer keep up with the rigors of your job.
Burnout isn’t a sudden onset of feelings. Instead, your thoughts, feelings and actions progress through a series of stages. The initial stages may not feel like much, but they can eventually lead to a habitual phase that makes it hard to carry out your occupational duties.
What are the different stages of burnout?
1. Honeymoon phase
Like a honeymoon phase in a marriage, this stage comes with energy and optimism. Whether it is starting a new job or tackling a new task, it’s common to experience satisfaction that leads to periods of productivity and the ability to tap into your creative side.
2. Onset of stress phase
Eventually, the honeymoon phase dwindles, and you begin to experience stress. Not every second of your day is stressful, but there are more frequent times when stress takes over. As this stage begins, take notice of any physical or mental signs. You may start to lose focus more easily or be less productive when completing tasks. Physically, fatigue can start to set in, making it more difficult to sleep or enjoy activities outside of work.
3. Chronic stress phase
You’ll reach a point where the stress becomes more persistent, or chronic. As the pressure mounts, the stress is likely to consistently affect your work. Examples include feelings of apathy, not completing work on time, being late for work or procrastinating during tasks.
Socially, you may withdraw from normal work-related conversations. In other cases, you may become angry and lash out at coworkers. Sometimes, these feelings follow you home and can affect relationships with friends and family.
4. Burnout phase
This phase is when you reach your limit and can no longer function as you normally would. Problems at work begin to consume you to the point where you obsess over them.
At times, you may also feel numb and experience extreme self-doubt. Physical symptoms will become intense, leading to chronic headaches, stomach issues and gastrointestinal problems. Friends and family members may also notice behavioral changes.
5. Habitual burnout phase
If left untreated, burnout can become a part of your everyday life and eventually lead to anxiety or depression.
You can also begin to experience chronic mental and physical fatigue that prevents you from working. Your job status may be put in jeopardy if you continue on this path.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
Burnout symptoms vary depending on which phase of burnout you’re in. In general, there are three symptoms to be aware of: Exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.
- Exhaustion - This fatigue presents itself both mentally and physically. The energy you typically have is zapped by persistent exhaustion.
- Depersonalization - This is a feeling of indifference. In other words, you start to feel numb. For example, you may become more cynical in your inner workings or lack the ability to communicate effectively with people.
- Reduced personal accomplishment/performance - This tends to manifest when you feel your work is insufficient and you’re incapable of performing your work. For example, you may lose pleasure in work you previously received joy from. Your usual creativity may wane, and it can become harder to concentrate.
Symptoms may also present as physical, emotional or behavioral.
Physical burnout symptoms include:
- Feeling tired
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Experiencing a change in appetite
- Dealing with headaches or muscle pain
Emotional symptoms include:
- Lacking motivation
- Experiencing feelings of self-doubt
- Failure or loneliness
- An overall feeling of dissatisfaction
Behavioral symptoms include:
- Social isolation
- Not performing your responsibilities
- Work-related anger outbursts
5 steps to improve your mental health and wellbeing
"Evidence suggests there are 5 steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing", said Dr. Bassem.
Trying these things could help you feel more positive and able to get the most out of life.
1. Connect with other people
Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can:
- Help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth.
- Give you an opportunity to share positive experiences.
- Provide emotional support and allow you to support others.
2. Be physically active
Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. Evidence also shows it can also improve your mental wellbeing by:
- Raising your self-esteem.
- Helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them.
- Causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood.
3. Learn new skills
Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:
- Boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem.
- Helping you to build a sense of purpose.
- Helping you to connect with others.
4. Give to others
Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by:
- Creating positive feelings and a sense of reward
- Giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth
- Helping you connect with other people
5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness".
Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
6. At work
- Talk to your boss and let them know what your current struggles are. They may suggest you take some time off to recharge. If this isn’t offered, request a personal day or two to take a step back and reassess your situation. Consider taking a vacation to truly unwind.
- Before you return, find new ways to cope with your job and find a work-life balance. It’s important to prioritize self-care and schedule time for yourself. This can be as simple as taking breaks throughout the day or going on a walk during lunchtime. In stressful moments, it may also help to practice breathing techniques to lower your stress.
- While at work, know your limitations. People in new jobs tend to say “yes” to everything, as they feel it’s necessary to showcase their value to their boss. This can be dangerous. Sooner or later, you may find yourself drowning in too many tasks. To solve this problem, don’t be afraid to say “no”.
- If you’re struggling from burnout and are unsure of where to turn, ask your primary care physician to refer you to a mental health provider. They can help you develop coping strategies to find a happy medium with your work.
Authored by Dr. Bassem Badr, Consultant Psychiatrist at Mediclinic Dubai Mall and Mediclinic Parkview Hospital.