The term "burn out" was developed in the early 1970s to describe a particular array of symptoms that were mostly seen at that time in people serving in the helping professions: doctors, nurses, teachers and health support staff were all affected. These individuals, many of whom went into their careers with a strong belief in the kind of service they wanted to give back to their communities, were struggling.
Symptoms of Burn Out
Their symptoms included:
- Chronic tiredness (and when they try to sleep they don’t feel rested)
- Tense muscles
- Digestive difficulties – ulcers, constipation, irritable bowel and so on
- Paranoia, developing phobias and sometimes obsessive behaviours
Nowadays it is easy to label this range of symptoms as "stress" and treat it accordingly, but burn out syndrome highlights three main characteristics that separate it from the general symptoms of stress:
- Complete emotional exhaustion – this often includes a lack of any sense of personal achievement. Even if the person has achieved things, they don’t experience any joy in their achievements and may not even notice them.
- Cynicism – their attitude changes as they lose their zest for life, in some cases they start to question their initial vocation or the ideals that led them to their chosen career. Everything is seen as difficult or irritating.
- Inefficiency – there is a lack of motivation to complete tasks (or even start them) and jobs that they used to finish quickly somehow do not get done.
How Does Burn Out Develop?
Burn out is not limited to the helping professions. As economic crisis continues and job security wanes across all industries, we can expect to see more of it. There are a number of theories about how it develops. Work overload is a frequent contributing factor – alongside working long hours (over 40 hours a week), having little or no recovery time and being in circumstances where you feel you are constantly being watched. One of the best indicators that burn out may be occurring is when an otherwise stable personality starts looking to ‘numb out’ with the use of alcohol, recreational drugs or other similar habits. They may complain about feeling exhausted or empty inside, you may notice behavioural changes (particularly if someone becomes more intolerant or impatient or is withdrawing from their usual friends and activities).
Treating Burn Out with Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can have a profound effect on those suffering with burn out because it works on several different levels at once. Firstly, an aromatherapy massage treatment can relieve tense muscles and some of the other physical symptoms of burn out. Secondly, inhaling the essential oils (via a vaporizer or in the bath) can help to support your emotional symptoms. If you want to try aromatherapy to support your recovery from burn out (or to prevent you getting it), try the following:
- Regular aromatherapy massage – If you are recovering from burn out, ideally you need to receive a number of treatments within a short space of time. These should help you to regulate your physical symptoms, and particularly to help you recover your interest in life outside of work. If your circumstances permit it, aim for two treatments a week for a four week period, then spread the treatments out to once a week for six weeks before dropping down to once a month (or once every six weeks).
- Inhalations between treatments – Recovering from burn out is a slow process; one that depends on you making significant changes to how you do things. Inhaling the essential oils regularly can be a small way of starting to make these changes.
One option is to use the essential oils in the bath – put a maximum of 4 drops (in total) of the essential oil(s) you particular like in a deep bath. Soak in that bath for at least 20 minutes. Candles, music and atmospheric lighting are optional (but recommended).
You can also inhale the essential oils by using a vaporizer during the day. You can add up to 10 drops of a selection of any of the following essential oils to your vaporizer. Keep topping up with water (if the vaporizer runs dry) and your choice of oils as required.
Essential Oils for Burn Out
It is almost worth having Burn Out just to have an excuse to regularly use the essential oils that are particularly good at supporting you at this time. All of the essential oils listed here help to relieve the physical and emotional symptoms of stress, improving sleep and in some cases aiding with digestive difficulties. There’s something more too: a large number of them are known for their abilities to help you rediscover your zest for life, kick-starting your libido and renewing your interest in other people and other activities.
Try any of the following essential oils either on their own or in combination with each other to help you in cases of burn out. They have been grouped (for your convenience) according to their predominant fragrances. To treat burn out successfully, you will need to find the essential oils that you like and respond to best. Choose the ones that help you feel calm, happy, uplifted and enthusiastic:
- Floral notes - Rose, Neroli, Jasmine, Geranium
- Woody or earthy notes - Sandalwood, Vetiver, Frankincense, Black Spruce, Silver Fir, Cedarwood (Cedrus deodora or Cedrus atlantica), Patchouli
- Spicy notes - Cinnamon, Clove, Benzoin, Black Pepper, Peppermint, Nutmeg
- Herbal notes - Palmarosa, Clary Sage, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Petitgrain, Fennel
- Citrus notes - Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit, Bergamot
Other Options to Consider
Recovery from burn out (and the prevention of burn out) requires finding the balance between work and play. It can also mean focusing on healing your emotions, values and attitudes, especially where work is concerned. The following therapies can be of particular help: