Recognizing burnout and how to avoid it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often caused by a period of excessive, long-term stress.
This stress may come from our work, relationships, care responsibilities or finances. It is often combined with the sense of a lack of purpose or meaning to our lives, when daily pressures leave us feeling unable to live by our values.
For a short amount of time, we may be able to tolerate feeling constantly under pressure and overwhelmed by the demands that are put upon us by ourselves and others, but for many of us this can eventually lead to... Burnout!
I listened to a podcast recently with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee where he spoke about the experience of burnout and the early signs of it, after listening to this and researching the subject further, I can safely say that I have definitely experienced burnout in my lifetime! But I certainly didn't realise that I was going through it at the time. How much kinder would I have been to myself if I had recognized what was happening? How much less judgement would I have put on myself? And how much sooner would I have sought advice and support?
Early signs of Burnout
According to a study carried out by Mental Health UK in March 2021, 1 in 5 UK workers felt unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work, while 46% of UK workers felt more prone to extreme levels of stress compared to the previous year (www.mentalhealth-uk.org/burnout).
With the rising levels of stress in the workplace, the cost of living crisis and the general pressures of day-to-day life, it has never been more important to be aware of the symptoms of burnout and to pay attention to how you are feeling in order to recognize them.
Dr. Chatterjee outlined some of the early signs in his podcast which I'm going to share with you:
Disconnection - isolating yourself from others, unable to meaningfully connect in relationships.
Emotional Exhaustion - may be reactive and irritable.
Lack of Creativity - difficulty with solving everyday problems and thinking creatively.
Inability to gain pleasure from everyday, simple experiences.
Procrastination - putting off tasks and finding it difficult to make decisions.
Lack of self-care - unhealthy eating habits, lack of movement, staying up late, binge-watching boxsets, loss of attention to bodily hygiene.
Physical exhaustion - no energy or motivation to do anything, fatigue, tired and wired, brain fog.
This is not an exhaustive list of the signs of burnout and many of the symptoms also relate to other health conditions. Equally it is completely normal to experience some of these symptoms from time-to-time, it is when they persist for longer than is normal for you that you may start to consider if they are warning you of burnout.
Sounding all too familiar?
The good news is that there are many simple things that we can do to help steer us off of the path to burnout, here are 5 suggestions for you to get started with:
1. Give yourself a hug! - Literally wrap your arms across your chest, grab your shoulders and give yourself a warm, loving hug.
Often, with long periods of stress, not only do we disconnect from others, we disconnect from ourselves. Re-establishing this connection, noticing how we are feeling, what thoughts are passing through our minds, what sensations we can feel in our bodies and accepting these with loving kindness and compassion can be so important in recovery from chronic stress.
2. Movement - It is well documented that regular movement can reduce chronic stress and improve your energy levels. It doesn't matter what this movement is, choose something that you enjoy and if it's outside in nature where you're getting some sun on your face, all the better!
3. Spend time with friends - often when our lives are full with work and family commitments, time with friends can be at the bottom of the priority list and if we are feeling disconnected, we may not feel motivated to do it. But spending time with friends who light us up, support us and make us laugh has so many benefits to our mental health and can give us a much needed escape from the pressures of daily life. Try and plan regular meetings with friends into your diary, or if this is not possible, try joining a class, group or sports club.
4. Take a cold shower - I know this one sounds a little out there, but there has been so much research into cold water therapy and how exposing our bodies to temporary, healthy stress can actually build our resilience and our ability to manage stress. Dr. Susanna Soberg, a leading researcher in this field, says that regularly finishing your hot shower with as little as 30-90 seconds in a cold shower gives us that immediate, healthy stress response which we then recover from quickly. (If you have a heart condition or any other medical condition which may be negatively impacted by this, please consult your GP before trying.)
5. Scheduled rest - We put everything else in our diaries, why shouldn't rest be in there too? If you plan some time for a restful activity each week, or day depending on your time constraints, you are much more likely to actually do it. Rest can be anything which enables you to mentally switch off for a while and allows your parasympathetic nervous system to take over; yoga, a gentle walk, reading, massage, a hot bath, drawing, painting, meditation, crafting...the list goes on.
Most importantly, if you feel that you may be experiencing burnout, reach out, seek support from family and friends, in your workplace and with a healthcare professional who can guide you back to wellness. You are not alone, so many people experience this and with the right support, you can come out the other side. For more great tips and advice on things that you can do to prevent burnout, I highly recommend listening to Dr. Chatterjee's podcast: Feel Better Live More, Episode #329.