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No burnout with Catherine Vasey

Catherine Vasey is a psychologist; her main theme of interest is health in the workplace and burnout prevention. She is also the author of several books, and, in this interview, she answers three questions.

 

Your company NoBurnout is at full capacity, which corroborates the figures from the Federal Statistical Office (OFS) that announce the continuous increase in the number of burnouts. How do you explain this harmful growth?

The latest statistics in Switzerland are provided by the “Job Stress Index” conducted by Swiss Health Promotion every two years. We observe a clear increase in stressful jobs (too many constraints and not enough resources) and a worsening of health issues due to stress (from 1/4 of affected individuals in 2016 to 1/3 in 2022).

Yes, professional context stress is on the rise. We also increasingly work in the service sector, hence being more exposed to mental overload. We also suffer from a loss of meaning; we are often asked to do work that goes against our professional values. However, the two major factors explaining why the number of burnout victims is increasing in the Western world are:

Increasing sedentary behavior at work and in our private lives. Less physical activity, fewer outlets for accumulated tension and stress that wear down our bodies. We sorely lack activities that help us unwind daily!

New technologies accelerate the pace of work, overwhelm employees with information and emails, and enable having the “office in your pocket.” It’s harder to leave work at work. The strategy to mitigate the harmful effects of stress is active recovery: changing our focus, engaging in physical activities to relieve stress, reconnecting with ourselves, and finding rejuvenation in our private lives. We notice that work tends to invade our personal lives through rumination, work-related concerns, and reminders (emails, phones, etc.). New technologies (smartphones and social media) distract us but do not assist our brains in regeneration. These activities tend to overload our minds and further fatigue us.

 

Do you confirm that hypersensitive individuals (AKA as gifted, zebra, etc. so many little boxes in which so many people like to categorize the complexity of a human being like in an Excel spreadsheet) are more prone to the “disease of the century,” and why?

I would say that hypersensitivity is an additional risk factor. However, to my knowledge, no statistics are showing that hypersensitive individuals are more prone to burnout.

Hypersensitivity is not an illness or a problem in itself; it’s a skill. It allows for more empathy, and delicacy in listening, and is an asset in human relationships, aid, negotiations, or mediation. The flip side is that hypersensitivity entails heightened sensitivity and emotional permeability to the environment.

Similar to sponges, hypersensitive individuals resonate more quickly and intensely with adverse working conditions (noises, interruptions, smells, distractions) and toxic work environments (frustration, conflicts, unjustified criticisms). They tend to accumulate more stress and emotional tensions, requiring a significant amount of energy. They must learn to release tensions and emotions healthily and discipline their minds to avoid being affected and overreacting to ordinary stimuli in their professional life.

 

In Christel Petitcollin‘s book, Je Pense Trop: Comment Canaliser Ce Mental Envahissant (i.e. “Too Much Thinking: How to Channel This Invasive Mind”), which demystifies this hyper difference, she writes unequivocally: “There are very objective reasons for suffering. The waste is immense: years of rejection and wandering, wondering where the problem lies, this nagging feeling of incomprehensible misalignment, a ravaged education stifled by the impostor syndrome, hindered by surrounding jealousies and dotted with episodes of harassment, a chaotic emotional life… ‘The gifted adult, an unspeakable desolation…,’ as stated by Arielle Adda.

And it’s perfectly true, but it can change because it’s not your deep nature to be depressed. With your hypersensitivity, you’re neurologically equipped to experience the joy of living tenfold. Can you feel it, this joy, lurking deep within you, silent yet powerful, ready to surge at the first bird’s song?”

 

Do you consider the adage “you have to work hard to succeed” completely outdated? And precisely, what is success?

This raises the question of what it means to succeed in life. When I ask patients, “What would you have to experience to say at 100 years old: I’ve lived a beautiful life?” People rarely answer having had a successful career or professional achievement. It’s not the profound meaning of our lives. We are happy when we experience pleasure, when we feel a sincere commitment to our potential, and quality presence in our relationships with others, and when it aligns with our values. Work and duties will never deeply satisfy us as human beings.

 

To practice your French, you can play a free card game that allows you to ask yourself the right questions. For reading material, ‘La boîte à outils de votre santé au travail’ and ‘Comment rester vivant au travail’ published by Dunod in 2020 are logical and pragmatic treasures to start this new year on the right BIG foot.

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