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Chronic Pain and Burnout Part Two

“My candle burns at both ends/it will not last the night.”

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Here in the U.S a large chunk of the American population suffers from some sort of severe or chronic pain, a new National Health Institute (NIH) study says. According to data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 11.2 percent of American adults (25.3 million people) have experienced some form of pain every day for the past three months. The study also found that even more people — 17.6 percent of American adults — suffer from “severe levels” of pain.

I find it important to define chronic pain. Chronic pain is a complicated and stubborn condition, in which sufferers feel aching, stabbing, burning, tingling. throbbing sensation (pain) in their joints, bones, spine or muscles for months and even years. Whether the pain originates from an injury, accident, illness, trauma, chronic stress over time or an unknown cause, chronic pain often lasts far too long — and can impair a person’s ability to function in and enjoy their daily lives.

What happens when you can’t get rid of the pain from an accident, injury, illness, unresolved trauma, or chronic stress over time? The pain is relentless as it can wake you up at night, inhibit your movement, dampens your spirit, creates more stress, force you not to function and drain your energy physically, emotionally and mentally.

You can end up dealing with chronic pain and burnout with no end in sight. You may think like many that burnout is related to job and work performance. It is but as you will see as I explore the topic of burnout that there are many similarities to those who suffer from chronic pain.

Burnout resists simple definition because it affects so many aspects of an individual’s life. In their book, Beyond Burnout, authors David Welch, Donald Medeiros and George Tate, describe burnout as a condition that affects us physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. who authors High Octane Women defines Burnout as a state of chronic stress and frustration that leads to:

  • Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion

  • Feelings of skepticism and lack of involvement

  • A sense of uselessness and lack of achievement

You may think these sound very similar to how chronic stress and you would be right. The difference is Burnout is farther along the Stress continuum and can have severe consequences in your life and body. The symptoms can lead to the inability to perform, function or diminished capacity and ability both professionally and personally.

Dealing with and addressing Burnout is a big part of recovering from chronic pain.

Breaking solutions into bite size portions is easier to assimilate and supports you to minimize becoming overwhelmed by it all.

This will be a series for the next several posts as is there are many parts that make up the whole of Burnout as it relates to chronic pain.

The first few will focus on the physical effects of burnout in chronic pain suffers.

Let’s look at a few more statistics around burnout to let you know you are not alone.

According to a recent study, one in three Americans is expected to burn out on the job in the near future and, in the two years preceding the study, 14% of the work force quit or changed jobs due to job stress.

How can you avoid becoming one of the burnout statistics, especially if you are struggling with chronic pain?

First, recognize some of the warning signs when you have been in chronic pain for 3 months or more:

  • feelings of frustration and never being caught up or able to function in a manner you are accustomed to

  • lack of concentration and foggy focus when it comes mental tasks, recall and complex problems

  • a feeling of lack of control in your work, daily function or relationships; it’s as if you just don’t have energy to focus any longer

  • emotional outbursts of irritation, overwhelm, anger

  • withdrawal and isolation due to chronic pain or unable to cope

  • dread of going to work, getting up in the morning or activities you used to love

  • frequent sickness or health problems

  • increased use of alcohol, drugs or food consumption to cope

  • feeling hopeless and helplessness as if you are drowning with no help in site

  • fatigue is a constant for you

Taking a few days off or a vacation to Hawaii won’t contain the burnout especially if you also have chronic pain. Neither will simply leaving one job for another. Burnout has more to do with attitudes, work styles, and behavior than it does the specific job, situation, or pain pattern.

In other words, if you suffer from chronic pain, burnout can be one of the outcomes that result from the relentless pain that you struggle with daily; however, if you don’t struggle with chronic pain you still can suffer from burnout and it may be primarily an act of self-immolation. (sacrifice)

Take some time in your day to notice if you are experiencing any of the above warning signs. The more of them you experience can be an indication that you are sliding into burnout.

Here is one healthy Strategy with a few options to start to avoid burnout:

Stress management is essential and make sure to:

Begin to pay attention so you know your own responses to stress and chronic stress and develop a plan to manage it.

Break your plan into smaller parts so you can get the results you desire and deserve. Think of the turtle and how it carries it shell everywhere. How? It goes at a pace that works! It doesn’t matter how much you do rather that you are doing something to create relief. Less Judgment and more self-love and care.

Discover what works best for you and your body and practice good self-care habits. Some examples are exercise, take breaks, eat healthfully, leave work at work, make time for play and rest.

Pick one to focus on and practice it. For example, walking can be a beneficial therapeutic movement especially if you suffer from chronic pain. Walking vigorously for 10 minutes is a great energy booster, relaxation booster and problem solver.

Add my Stop, Notice Breath to the Rescue to help you deal with your pain, or symptoms that keep you stuck in burnout or unable to enjoy your life due to chronic pain.

Go to and access my video tool you can use right away and get a great tool.

Next, I will look at the physical symptoms of Burnout and give you a few more tools to help avoid burnout. Stay tuned!

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