Burnout is a common phrase in the corporate world, its something we hear a lot of, but do you know what it actually is, and how to avoid succumbing to it?
Burnout can be something that many of us think won’t happen to us, “I’ll take a break / holiday soon”, “I’ll do nothing this weekend”, “my hours will be better after this project, I’ve just got to get through it”. Sound familiar?
What is burnout?
So, what is it? Burnout is defined by the Psychology Today as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” No mention of how much, how long of specifics of what causes it, which means it’s different for everyone. If you break it down, burnout can happen over a timeframe and before you know it, boom… you are exhausted! So, ask yourself, do you perform at your best (in any part of your life) when you are exhausted? I’m guessing not.
What causes it?
Many things and the as Boris said, you should be ‘Alert’ because it can happen in any part of our lives. It is not simply a result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks, though those both play a role. We can also recognise it in our mood with cynicism, depression, and lethargy being key characteristics. These often occur when we feel out of control with a situation and under pressure. Having to work late whilst picking up the kids and making dinner? Having to suddenly look after a sick relative and be responsible for their wellbeing? Insert your own example here.
Equally impactful is working toward a goal that doesn’t resonate, or we feel lacking in support. If a person doesn’t tailor responsibilities to match a true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, they could face burnout. Add to that a mountain of mental and physical health problems that often come along with it, including headaches, fatigue, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as increased potential for alcohol, drug, or food misuse.
So, to that end we can recognise the signs (which is good news) – are you suffering from mood swings? Are you unusually snappy? Are you struggling to switch off? Are you suffering from headaches or stomach issues? Are you drinking more or looking for other stimulants to switch off or keep going? Recognising change in ourselves is a good step to taking control. Some signs to look for (or listen to others if they see them in you).
- Excessive drive/ambition. Common for people starting a new job or undertaking a novel task, too much ‘pushing on’ without time for recovery can lead to burnout.
- Pushing yourself to work harder. Ambition pushes you to work harder, not always smarter!
- Neglecting your own needs. You begin to sacrifice self-care like sleep, exercise, and eating well.
- Displacement of conflict. Instead of acknowledging that you’re pushing yourself to the max, you blame your boss, the demands of your job, or colleagues for your troubles.
- No time for nonwork-related needs. You begin to withdraw from family and friends. Social invitations to parties, movies, and dinner dates start to feel burdensome, instead of enjoyable.
- Withdrawal. You begin to withdraw from family and friends. Social invitations to parties, movies, and dinner dates start to feel burdensome, instead of enjoyable.
- Behavioural changes. Those on the road to burnout may become more aggressive and snap at loved ones for no reason.
- Depersonalization. Feeling detached from your life and your ability to control your life.
- Inner emptiness or anxiety. Feeling empty or anxious. You may turn to thrill seeking behaviours to cope with this emotion, such as substance use, gambling, or overeating.
- Depression. Life loses its meaning and you begin to feel hopeless.
- Mental or physical collapse. This can impact your ability to cope. Mental health or medical attention may be necessary.
What can we do for ourselves?
Firstly, listen to your body. If any of this resonates then making some simple changes can be beneficial and stop you reaching the point of burnout. Some things to focus on are listed below:
- Exercise – Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost. If you are stretched for time, you don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap these benefits. Short bursts of activity such as HiiT or short walks are convenient ways to make exercise a daily habit.
- Eat a balanced diet – Eating a healthy diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids can bea natural antidepressant. Adding foods rich in omega-3s like flaxseed oil, walnuts, and fish may help give your mood a boost.
- Practice good sleep habits – Our bodies need time to rest and reset, which is why healthy sleep habits are essential for our well-being. According to the National Sleep Foundation, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual, and banning smartphones from the bedroom can help promote sound sleep hygiene.
- Ask for help – During stressful times its important to reach out for help. If asking feels difficult then remember that whilst we may feel burdensome, our loved ones are there for support – pick someone you feel most comfortable with.
What can we do for others?
Whilst you can’t take away someone’s stress, offering support can help to lighten their emotional load.
- Listen – Before jumping into “fixing” mode, offer to listen to your friend or family member’s difficulties. Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference. Often people need someone to witness their stress and suffering, and listening can go a long way.
- Validate feelings and concerns – When friends and family members are feeling the effects of burnout, saying It doesn’t sound that bador I’m sure things will get better — while meant to offer reassurance — can feel invalidating if someone is really feeling low and hopeless. Instead, offer validation by saying, “You’ve been working so hard, I can understand why you feel depleted.”
- Offer specific types of help – Individuals who are burnt out are often too tired to think of ways that others can help them. Instead of asking, “How can I help?” offer to drop off a meal, pick up dry cleaning, or do a load of laundry.
- Kind gestures – Sending flowers, a thoughtful text message, or a written card can remind friends and family members that they are not alone. Because they’re often working long hours, people with burnout can feel lonely and underappreciated. But small gestures of kindness can be nurturing.
- Research resources – If friends or family members need additional support, like childcare, a house cleaner, or a psychotherapist, offer to research and crowdsource for specific resources to help ease the stress.
Burnout is the result of prolonged pressure and stress so putting in place good, daily habits will help you manage that stress. Self-care is important, and even more so will the pressure is on so keeping ‘self’ high up on the priority list is just as important as work, family and other external factors of life.