There are a lot of things that people would like to avoid in life, whether it is the rain or a tiring trip up a long flight of stairs. Even for such trivial matters, when we avoid them by putting on a raincoat or taking an elevator, we are practicing experiential avoidance. However, what about with more important aspects of life? Is it still as harmless?

Experiential avoidance is attempting to avoid internal experiences, while burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. The link between the two is a correlation between them, with experiential avoidance corresponding to an increase in the chances of experiencing burnout.

Experiential avoidance is linked to burnout in more ways than one, so deeply entangled that it can be seen in almost every aspect. In this article, we will explore the link between experiential avoidance and burnout, how they interact, and how to deal with the end results.

The Link Between Experiential Avoidance and Burnout

Burnout syndrome is when emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion occurs due to long-term stress. It is often characterised by feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained, and eventually, it can lead to serious difficulties in the workplace, including a lack of interest and motivation, among various other problems.

One of the various things associated with burnout syndrome is the excessive use of food, alcohol, and drugs to feel better or not feel at all. There are also many times when those suffering from burnout will skip or be late to work due to not wanting to be there.

On the other hand, experiential avoidance involves attempting to avoid internal experiences, thoughts, feelings, memories, and physical sensations by any means. In fact, experiential avoidance does this even if it is potentially harmful in the long run, seeking only short-term relief.

Therefore, using a substance or outright avoiding the source of a problem, such as drinking or showing up late, are classic examples of experiential avoidance. The relationship between experiential avoidance and burnout does not end there, either.

How Experiential Avoidance Promotes Burnout

Experiential avoidance is something everyone does, and it can be positive when used appropriately. After all, avoiding unwanted experiences is natural, like staying out of the rain or moving away from danger. However, it becomes an issue when used to deal with serious problems, especially stress-related problems, as it never actually solves them.

When stress is left to fester, it becomes harmful. Hence, using experiential avoidance to find relief in the short-term can lead to serious consequences down the line, and if a great deal of your stress comes from the workplace, as is the case with many people, burnout could be right around the corner.

Some instances where experiential avoidance in the workplace promotes burnout include:

  • Avoiding challenging, fulfilling work for fear of failure
  • Not changing careers due to a fear of the worst or doubt
  • Refusing to delegate for fear of a mistake being made

The common trend is not doing something because of the slight discomfort or negative emotions it may involve, choosing the immediate short-term relief at the cost of a long-term solution. Making such choices may give a degree of positive feeling in the moment, but not dealing with stressors can lead to burnout.

How Experiential Avoidance Hurts Coping With Burnout

Experiential avoidance can give a feeling of relief in the short-term, something previously mentioned, and one of the biggest reasons people turn to it. However, it is a very harmful practice and an ineffective one. In fact, it has been found to maintain psychological distress, not eliminate or lessen it.

More often than not, what experiential avoidance actually does is magnify the problems you are trying to escape from. Perhaps avoiding a problem angers or frustrates those around you, or perhaps it allows the problem to grow worse, which is likely the case where burnout is concerned. However, even in the best-case scenario, it solves nothing.

A good example of how experiential avoidance hurts coping with burnout can be seen by taking a look at the “Three R” approach to dealing with burnout:

  • Recognize the signs of burnout.
  • Reverse the damage by seeking support and properly managing your stress.
  • Resilience is key, and it can be built by taking care of emotional and physical health.

You may notice that the three R’s are the opposite of what one would do when using experiential avoidance. To deal with burnout, it is necessary to actively think about, act in accordance to, and take care of your stress and health. Experiential avoidance is the exact opposite, attempting to avoid problems and the act of solving them.

A Vicious Cycle

If experiential avoidance is the main way someone deals with stress and the causes and symptoms of burnout, they may be in further trouble still. After all, experiential avoidance already lacks the ability to help one free themselves from the condition, so there is nowhere to go but down.

Burnout causes a lack of motivation and interest and can lead to things such as substance abuse, but it also breeds a variety of other concerning symptoms, such as:

  • Self-doubt and a sense of failure
  • Helplessness and detachment
  • Self-isolation and withdrawal from responsibilities

While those are only a few of the things one might exhibit if they are experiencing burnout, many of them appear closely related to experiential avoidance. For instance, self-doubt, a sense of failure, and helplessness are all emotional symptoms that could lead one to avoid not only the causes of burnout but work itself.

As for detachment, self-isolation, and withdrawal from responsibilities, they are all direct examples of experiential avoidance. If one continues in such a manner when experiencing burnout, it will only cause the problem to continue indefinitely until properly treated.

Psychological Flexibility

To deal with burnout, it is important to recognize the role experiential avoidance plays and deal with it accordingly. While it may seem like an overly simplified answer, and it is, the focus of dealing with experiential avoidance is taking action, also known as active coping. With active coping, the goal is to push forward and deal with stressors directly.

However, while active coping is the overall goal, there is a method used specifically for experiential avoidance called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It is a series of strategies to increase psychological flexibility, which is the ability to accept and experience the moment and then change or persist according to the situation.

Psychological flexibility has not only been proven effective at reducing the usage of experiential avoidance, but it is also considered a buffer to psychological distress. Therefore, not only does it reduce the usage of experiential avoidance, but it also combats stress, the biggest factor that causes burnout.

More than that, its usefulness as a way to focus attention and awareness onto negative thoughts, such as those experienced by burnout sufferers, helps prevent emotional and physical exhaustion and the reduced sense of accomplishment and helplessness that follow. So, psychological flexibility affects both experiential avoidance and burnout.

Conclusion

Experiential avoidance and burnout are inexplicably linked. Not only does one promote the other, but there is a cycle of mutual destruction caused once the effects begin to show. Moreover, they share common methods for coping, with psychological flexibility greatly benefiting both experiential avoidance and burnout syndrome.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this Blog article are not intended to amount to advice, and you should not rely on any of the contents of this Blog article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this Blog article. HealthWorkerBurnout.com  disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this Blog article.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4956262/

https://contextualscience.org/act

https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/13407/Hinds_oregon_0171A_10549.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279286/

https://repository.hkbu.edu.hk/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1156&context=pe_ja