I first experienced burnout many years ago when working through university. At the time I thought it was nothing more than stress, however, it’s only now that I realize just what I was putting myself through. I persevered until it became impossible. What I ended up with was a severe relapse followed by a breakdown that would change the course of my entire life.
Burnout has since become a common buzzword. Everyone I know and their dog has experienced it in some way, shape or form. But what exactly is it, why are so many falling victim and how can we work to prevent it?
What is burnout & how do I recognise it?
It’s commonly seen in those who are exposed to constant stress, be it from a job, in school or general life. Therefore burnout is the unwanted product of chronic stress. The recovery period can be long and complex, many choosing to seek therapy. While it can be a temporary condition, if left unaddressed it can be potentially serious and leave behind chronic health issues.
Sixteen Common Warning Signs of Burnout.
Here are just a few common symptoms. Please note this is not an exhaustive list and, like many things, symptoms may manifest differently. You might see a bit of yourself in all of these, or only a few.
Physical Symptoms of burnout.
- Are you tired and feel drained of energy?
- Are you constantly sick? I.e Suffering from colds, stomach bugs?
- Do you get frequent headaches or muscle pain for no apparent reason?
- Experiencing a change in appetite or sleep habits?
Emotional Symptoms of burnout.
- Do you feel a sense of failure and self-doubt?
- Are you feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated?
- Do you have a sense of detachment or feeling alone?
- Are you experiencing a loss of motivation?
- Are you increasingly cynical and negative?
- Do you have decreased satisfaction and have a hard time appreciating your accomplishments?
Behavioural Symptoms of burnout.
- Are you withdrawing from responsibilities?
- Are you isolating yourself from others?
- Do you procrastinate, taking longer to get things done?
- Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope?
- Do you take out your frustrations on others?
- Are you skipping work or having other related attendance problems?
If you feel like any of these resonate with you, perhaps it’s time to think about the next steps?
How To Fight Back Against Burnout.
Recognize and acknowledge that you have a problem.
The first step to overcoming any issue is to first accept that it’s a problem. Only then can you work towards moving past it. If you’re not sure if burnout applies to you, ask yourself the above questions again. Write them in a journal or a notebook, and be entirely honest with yourself. While you might not want to hear the answer, it’s going to hit you sooner or later.
Prioritise your self-care.
Self-care is paramount if you want to break out of the burnout cycle. Make sure you are covering the bare basics of personal care first and foremost. Are you eating right? Drinking plenty of water? Sleeping and getting enough rest? What about basic exercise like a walk around the block?
Once you have the basics then you can work on adding other small pieces to your self-care, such as creative hobbies or other things you enjoy.
If you’re suffering from burnout it’s likely that you’ve exercised a ‘self-care is selfish’ attitude for the majority of your life. It’s time to throw that assumption out the window and start seeing self-care as a gas tank that needs filled. Your car can’t run on fumes, and nor can you.
Learn to say the word ‘no’ in work, your personal life and pretty much anywhere it applies. Delegate tasks that absolutely need done and set realistic goals for everything else. Above all else, stop loaning yourself to others who wouldn’t lead themselves to you.
Seek support, both personal and professional.
Seriously, you need to ask for help. I know it can feel awkward, but it’s an essential part of burnout recovery. In fact, it’s an essential part of life! Society tells us that we need to be able to do it all. Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps! But keep in mind, your bootstraps are currently on fire, so it’s time to call in re-enforcements!
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn to do is ask for help when I need it. On more than one occasion I’ve had to pull on my big girl pants and say those three little words to my husband, my boss, and a doctor. Each time I was met with a different response, but they were all in my favour.
You may not always be met with the same compassion and grace I was, but that shouldn’t deter you.
Take regular breaks.
Allow yourself to take breaks both throughout the day, and throughout life in general. You’re allowed to take a day off. If that means turning your phone off and delegating, then so be it. I used to have a manager that, even during annual leave, would answer emails and phone calls. He once took a vacation to Spain and still picked up his phone! How crazy is that? If we can’t get away from our work, how do we ever expect to switch off!?
Know your triggers.
Do you know why stresses you out? Why? It’s important to understand why you might be feeling this way so that you can take the necessary steps to prevent reduce or prevent it. For example, my stressors came from several different locations, the most pressing of which being my work life. I spent all my time at work both mentally and physically. When things started to go wrong at home, it only added to my already wilting shoulders.
And, eventually, like a weathered bridge, I crumbled.
Take the time to sit down and look at your life and the avenues within it. Is your workplace toxic, or does it require you to be switched on all the time? What about life at home, do you get enough help with daily chores, bills or childcare?
Find management techniques that work for you.
Be sure to find the things that help you unwind and incorporate them into your daily routine. Here are some ideas.
- Make time in your calendar for hobbies and the things you enjoy.
- Try keeping a journal or writing.
- Get creative and take up creative hobbies such as painting.
- Disconnect from your phone. Set aside a for you to completely disconnect from screens each day, and stick to it.
- Set aside time on your calendar to ‘check in.’ This could be weekly or bi-monthly. Are all prescriptions up to date? What about any upcoming appointments? And, most importantly, how are you feeling?
- Take time to exercise, even if it’s just a walk in the fresh air.
- Have you tried deep breathing? I used breathing techniques everyday in some capacity. In work, when I feel angry or overwhelmed, I try to take myself off to the store room or toilet to take some deep, meaningful breaths. It’s not fool proof, sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad day. But taking the time to breathe and check in can help center me enough that I don’t go into ‘meltdown.’
- Reach out to a friend or family member for support. Even if it’s just to vent about what’s currently going on in life. Recently I reached out to a friend to talk about my work addiction. Yes, it was embarrassing because I had let it get this far. Now, after my three AM breakdown, I’m in a cleared position to be able to tackle my issues with work both in my day job and the work I do from home.
These are just some of my own personal stress management techniques. If you have anything you’d like to add, please get in touch!