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Burnout: It’s Time to Address a Modern Affliction Heavily Affecting Egyptians

August 19, 2022
man in white shirt looking down
Photo Credit: Yassin Mohamed

It seems as though more and more people are feeling emotionally exhausted — depleted, unable to finish a task or mentally bring themselves to enjoy a break. Burnout essentially appears in forms of severe physical and mental fatigue, muscle pain and lowered immunity.

Above all, burnout is described as torturously yearning for sleep, yet fighting a battle with insomnia. Burnout ultimately feels like being attached to the rim of an endless spinning wheel – a form of freneticism that essentially leads to frustration and defeat.

Overload burnout is a combination of restlessness and hopelessly trying to silence a haywire of thoughts and self-deprecation.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as a “syndrome” — a set of conditions that can lead to the development of a disease — making burnout a state of “chronic work-place stress”, rather than merely a state of exhaustion. Moreover, the WHO defined it as a phenomenon characterized by feelings of depletion, a visceral negativism towards the workplace, and severely reduced professional incentive or motivation.

The status-quo promoting “hustle-culture”, in Egypt and around the globe, has led to soul-crushing burnout, which calls for a reformation of current work culture. There have been several attempts to alter the current work-week structure, to benefit employees. Indeed, in 2021, the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the United States introduced the 32-Hour Workweek Act, which would reduce the standard workweek hours from 40 to 32.

The UAE has also recently amended its standard working hours and adopted a four-and-a-half day working week, in which employees work eight hours, from 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM from Monday to Thursday, and from 7:30 AM to 12:00 PM on Fridays.

There have been several studies exploring alterations to the standard workweek, focusing on potential benefits for employees. From 2015 to 2019, Iceland carried out a research study to test the efficiency of a four-day workweek, with 2,500 working participants. The study revealed workers felt more energized with an increase in socializing and hobbies when shorter workweeks were employed.

A local painting class in Cairo, providing respite with a view.

The study serves as an example of what improvements can be made to prevent burnouts and improve individuals’ work efficiency. The study shows the efforts society put in to make changes and refine the current working system – in an attempt to improve the workers’ mental health.

However, reducing official working hours alone will not eradicate burnout entirely. What is needed is “Slow Productivity”, described by the New Yorker as maintaining an individual’s work volume at a “sustainable level”, thus, enabling the individual to work sequentially — finishing a few tasks at a time — before assigning them new obligations. This is in-contrast to having an individual’s work volume continuously increasing, as well as their stress levels.

Along with impeded productivity, overload burnout can also cause a loss of identity. Though a competitive workforce is standard and can drive productivity, competition can lead to employees working overtime and putting in more time and effort than required. Egyptian law specifies that the maximum working hours for employees are “eight hours a day or forty-eight hours a week”, and with an ailing economy and an overly-glorified overwork culture, burnout is almost an inevitable consequence.

Noha El Nahas M.A., Founder of Heal Counseling Center/Adjunct Faculty of Psychology at the American University of Cairo (AUC), told Egyptian Streets that overload burnout happens when someone works for excessively long hours, without having any mental breaks – ultimately leading to severe exhaustion.

The reason behind this distressing feeling can be due to poor management, the heavy workload, or the dysfunctional dynamic within the work office. This usually occurs with “workaholics, or overly-ambitious people,” said El Nahas, who strive to place unrealistic expectations for themselves. Thus, increasing the amount of work they take on – leading to an overload burnout.

“People experiencing a burnout, and are overloaded with work, usually require excessive mental stimulation – thus, increasing their intake of caffeine. Over-caffeination increases people’s stress levels and reduces the duration of sleep, hence, causing irritability,” added El-Nahas.

Overload burnout also has psychological elements. El-Nahas revealed that there are assessments psychologists carry out to determine the patient’s level of burnout. People who are susceptible to experience a burnout usually develop stress, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.

El-Nahas continued saying that someone experiencing insomnia “can eventually become pathological” – meaning that, people will not only be deprived of sleep, but may develop a sleep-disorder, where the body forgets how to properly fall asleep and requires medication.

El Nahas also offered a professional opinion on how to properly cope and deal with burnout. Once a person begins to feel the exhaustion kicking in, it is the number one key or sign of a possible burnout syndrome. El-Nahas also said that a person’s body usually sends signals that it is exhausted, like unexplainable back pain or a sudden collapse.

Here are some professional methods to cope with overload burnout recommended by Dr El-Nahas. You can start by evaluating and assessing one’s mental and physical state: irritability, low-concentration level, nervousness and accidental mistakes at work.

Secondly, she encouraged taking action based on the evaluation: taking on a colleagues’ work? Become assertive and say ‘no’ to taking on more work. Issue with time-management? Employ a different method for scheduling and managing your time. El-Nahas also recommends changing one’s daily routine, and possibly adding a hobby.

Prioritize health

Stick to a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take enough breaks, and take time off of screens. Physical exercise on a regular basis is also very important for mental stimulation and physical health.

Make internal changes

Internal changes are associated with how one perceives the situation and how important work is versus one’s mental well-being.

Turn to people around you

Find comfort in friends, in loved ones because human connections can help alleviate the stress and life of work that sucks you in. Or seek professional help because sometimes burnout affects one’s self-esteem. Professionals can help one rediscover their goals in life and who they are.

Reevaluate priorities

El-Nahas advises her clients to have a sense of self-awareness – to know one’s values, goals, interests and skills in life.

Along with an expert’s opinion and advice on tackling burnout, here also are seven ways to deal with overload burnouts, recommended to Egyptian Streets, by seven Egyptians.

1. Take a break from everything

“Try to take a break from all social media, phone in general,” says Alia El-Shafei, 19, university psychology student.

Staying away from social media and phones can help alleviate any psychological distress, as well as boost one’s mental well-being. A research study conducted in 2020, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed that staying away from phones for a week can result in a significant increase in mental well-being and social connectedness.

2. Practice yoga

silhouette photography of woman doing yoga
Photo Credit: Kike Vega

“After doing yoga, I feel a lot better and I tend to have more energy, more capable of pushing through a tough time later on, without encountering another burnout,” says Alia El-Shafei, 19, university psychology student.

3. Listen to music

wireless headphones leaning on books
Photo Credit: Blocks via Unsplash

A change of scenery and fresh air can be incredibly helpful to healing from burnout. This includes listening to music, meditation, or lingering on a balcony; all three in tandem can be a good way to relax the mind, “especially when I don’t have time and I am on a deadline,” says Mohamed Al-Shanty, 23, a mechanical engineering university student.

“Also, if I have a tight schedule, and I want to change my environment, I usually go out alone — because I’m usually exhausted to socialize with others,” says Al-Shanty.

4. Delegate some responsibilities

two human hands painting
Photo Credit: Claudio Schwarz

“If there are any responsibilities someone else can do — usually in the household — I try to take the load off and ask someone else to take over. Whether it’s running errands or cooking dinner, I try to find someone else who can help out, especially if I am burdened with a lot of things,” says Hania El-Nasharty, 23, unemployed.

5. For faith-driven individuals

photo of beige temple
‘The Mosque of Rifai and Sultan Hassan’ | Photo Credit: Omar Elsharawy

“Have the mentality that this is just a period with a certain end date, and that better things will happen. You also have to remember that your goals are and what responsibilities you have. Whatever challenge you are in right now is a roadmap to that specific target,” says Dana Wasfy, 19, university psychology student.

People have also found it relaxing to pray; believing in a higher power relieves people when they are pressured, as they believe that their issues are in more capable hands.

6. Balance is key

assorted notepads
Photo Credit: Patrick Perkins

“Sometimes I finish tasks, not as well as I had hoped — but that’s okay, it just gives me more energy and helps me put in more effort in my next task. I found that I don’t always have to put in 100 percent of my effort, because that will just tire me out quickly,” says Salma Seyam, 23, a second grade teaching assistant.

7. Plan something to look forward to

woman sitting on tiki bar facing silver laptop
Egypt | Photo Credit: Peggy Anke

Omar Bakr, 25, an economics teaching assistant, says that “due to the fast-paced lifestyle we live in this modern age, a couple of months ago I tried working three jobs […] and experienced an extreme overload burnout.”

As a result of this burnout, he didn’t have time for friends or family, let alone time for himself. However, what kept him going was “the reassurance […] that after three months […] I’d have a whole month off from all my three jobs, in which I planned a trip with my friends, so I kept looking forward to that throughout these three months,” says Bakr.

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