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I'm Ronan Harrington, an international keynote speaker that delivers "world class" resilience programmes to leading organisations including Sky, KPMG and the UK Government.

The clip above helps people understand that Burnout is a messy spectrum hidden in plain sight, and it's also a public health epidemic, not a personal failure. This diagnosis is critical to inform real solutions to burnout.  

For more about me, click on the home page or read my deeper diagnosis of Burnout.  

My Deeper Diagnosis of Burnout

As a burnout keynote speaker, I usually begin my talks with a provocation: ‘we’re experiencing mass burnout and are in danger of reaching a tipping point where we can’t recover.’

 

This is not hyperbole. According to Gallup's recent report, Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures, 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out "very often" or "always" at work. A study by Indeed, reveals that employee burnout has only gotten worse over the last year: more than half (52%) of respondents are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic. 

 

When we think of burnout, we typically think of being signed off work. It’s actually a messy spectrum that’s hiding in plain sight. On one side, we are rested, fresh, revitalised; and on the other side, we are exhausted, lost our zest for life, and unproductive. How many of you reading this are on the depleted side of the spectrum? As a burnout keynote speaker, I like to start with the most obvious of questions: ‘When was the last time you felt fully energised?’

 

Most people cannot tell they are burnout out, because it has become so normal, the invisible sea we swim in. It’s therefore helpful to return to the World Health Organisation’s diagnostic criteria, which characterises burnout along three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings negative or cynical towards one’s career

  • reduced professional efficacy.

Despite countless news articles dedicated to the subject, there’s still a relatively shallow understanding of the underlying mechanism of burnout. It’s essentially a physical phenomenon, where the demands of life become too much for our bodies to handle. Medically speaking, chronic stress increases your allostatic load: the cumulative burden of chronic stress on a physiological level. 

Through a cascade of effects, burnout: 

 

  • Disrupts your sleep, where you detoxify and renew at a cellular level

 

  • Impacts the gut, disrupting the microbiome which regulates our immune system; and mood via the gut-brain axis

 

  • Increases hypertension, lead to higher insulin and increased risk of a diabetes and heart problems

 

  • Taxes the adrenals, which produces these stress hormone adrenaline, eventually creating adrenal fatigue 

 

  • Creates free radicals (unstable atoms) which damage the mitochondria cells, which are power house of the body

 

  • Triggers chronic inflammation which is at the root cause of many chronic illnesses

A 2017 Harvard study suggested that stress could be as important a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke as smoking or high blood pressure. The internet age is like living in a smoking room with people occasionally blowing smoke directly in your face.

 

As a burnout keynote speaker, I have to pause at this point, to give people a brief lesson on complexity science, which I will repeat for your benefit too.  

Your body, like our climate system and the economy, is a complex system. Like all complex systems, it exists in a dynamic equilibrium or balance. All complex systems go through long periods of stability followed by rapid change into a new system state. 

The reason they remain in a stable equilibrium for a long time is because they have buffers that absorb negative impacts and disruption. Think about how a downturn in an economic system can be absorbed by public finances if its running a healthy deficit; or how polar ice caps or rainforests are buffers that absorb carbon.

Complex systems also have breaks on change. Think about Incumbent business resists reforms to capitalism, or how our Immune system fights off pathogens.

 

However, when a convergence of factors happen, it erodes our buffers and overwhelms our breaks on change. This creates a rupture point, where the system is pushed by converging forces out of one equilibrium and into a another one. This kind of change is alinear and rapid. 

 

Once you’re in a new equilibrium, it’s very hard to get out of. The same applies to burnout. The compound effect of stress depletes your capacity over time. Your buffers are eroded and the breaks on change grow weaker. It only takes a small convergence of factors to shift our system into an incapacitated state. 

As a burnout keynote speaker, I offer a six step plan to go from a negative downward spiral to a positive upward spiral. It’s designed to help us regain a sense of control over our lives, which paradoxically starts with the ability to fully allow all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that are beyond our conscious control.

 

Being able to tolerate difficulty and sit with ourselves (one of the main capacities that mindfulness gives us) means we are less likely to reach for additions to fill the internal chasm. From here it’s about listening to our body and prioritising renewal and recovery. Once we’re back on our feet, we need to actively anticipate threats to our resilience and where we’re likely to be over exposed at work, home, in our primary relationships and in our health. Prevention is better than cure. Of course, we can’t avoid adversity, so as a keynote speaker, I teach people the neuroscience of mindsets, and how the right beliefs and attitudes can help you weather any storm.

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