In today’s day and age, burnout has become more and more common within society due to the high pressure and stressful environments within our everyday lives. Noticing the burnout signs is therefore crucial for our health.
Burnout goes hand in hand with chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and chronic stress. Although it highly affects our general wellbeing it is often not recognized as a viable condition and therefore ignored or untreated.
When we are burnt out it affects both our mental and physical health and it can manifest in many different ways within the body.
Feeling burnt out is like a candle burning down to its wick. It takes time before you realize that the flame has gone out and all that’s left is a charred stick.
Noticing the red flags of the onset of burnout is very important – the sooner we can treat it or manage it the less long-term effects it can have on our health.
You wouldn’t only get your car serviced once it is broken down right?
So why do we do this with our brains and bodies…
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is caused when a person has given his/her best effort for too long. This leads to exhaustion, stress, irritability, and depression. The symptoms include feeling burned out at work, having trouble sleeping, and being overly sensitive. There are two types of burnout: Occupational Burnout (Job Burnout) and Psychological Burnout (due to personal life circumstances).
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. You can also experience burnout when your efforts at work have failed to produce the results that you expected, and you feel deeply disillusioned as a result.
What are the burnout signs?
Burnout occurs when you feel exhausted and frustrated from either overworking or long-term emotional stress/trauma. This can be due to anything happening or not happening in our lives…
The most common causes of burnout include:
Stress, lack of control, and feeling like you’re working too much (chronic workplace stress). Burnout usually happens after prolonged periods of high stress and results in physical and mental fatigue.
Burnout symptoms include:
- mood swings
- muscle aches
- weight gain
- Feeling tired, very low energy levels and worn out all the time (physical exhaustion)
- Lack of motivation to even do daily activities
- Feelings of anxiety and stress
- Depressive symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating
Other physical signs of burnout:
- Low immunity – gets ill easily and frequently
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleeping patterns or habits
Other emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:
- Feelings of failure and self-doubt
- Helplessness or sense of defeatedness
- Feeling trapped or easily overwhelmed
- Loneliness or detachment and isolation
- Increase in negative thoughts or pessimistic outlook
- low sense of satisfaction or accomplishment
- Mental exhaustion
- Emotional exhaustion
Other behavioral signs of burnout:
- Withdrawing from responsibility
- Socially isolating yourself
- procrastinating things that have to get done
- increased frustration with others
- skipping or coming late for work
You might be experiencing burnout if you:
Feel that every day at work is a bad day.
Feel exhausted much of the time.
Feel emotionally numb or drown out emotions easily
Feel no joy or interest in your work or life in general, or even feel depressed by it.
Feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
Engage in escapist behaviors, such as excessive drinking.
Expereince difficulty with concentration and focus
Have less patience with others than you used to.
Feel hopeless about your life or work.
Experience physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations.
Is there a difference between stress and burnout?
Stress vs Burnout
Chronic stress leads to the risk of burnout but that does not mean they are experienced in the same way.
Stress is characterized by over-engagement, while burnout is characterized by disengagement. This is due to our adrenal glands not being able to handle the constant stress response caused by stressful stimuli. When our adrenals shut down from chronic stress, we move from engaging with stress to disengaging by numbing the feelings of being stressed out. This can relate to “pushing through” the stress.
People who experience burnout are emotionally drained. They lose interest in things they once enjoyed and therefore become apathetic and unmotivated. They lose their drive and ambition which makes them feel empty and detached. A sense of the pointlessness of trying also tends to set in and some might even feel like they’ve lost themselves.
Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.
Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens. (helpguide.org)
This sense of pointlessness has been felt worldwide by many during the current times of living through a global pandemic. Why would this be the case?
COVID-19 and Burnout – How does it affect us
It has to be mentioned that we are not living under normal circumstances currently, during a global pandemic. Our survival mode is constantly switched on and our brains are perceiving new stressors (whether mental or physical) daily.
Many people have lost loved ones, jobs, etc. and the constant change keeps our stress response on high alert. Our bodies are therefore not given a breathing space to complete the stress response cycle and allow for our stress hormones to settle and come down. Instead, it is constantly spiked and triggered by things that might even seem mundane.
The Corona pandemic has taken a huge knock-on most people’s mental health and that can be caused and appear in many different ways. We are therefore all experiencing some form of burnout, whether in the form of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion, and in the long term this can have huge negative effects on our brain health.
A stressed brain is an unhappy brain and an unhappy brain is not something we want for ourselves… so how can we help ourselves…
We’ve got you. Keep reading.
Recovery from Burnout with Mindfulness
Recovering from burnout is a slow process and usually the longer you have experienced symptoms of burnout the longer it will take to recover. There is no quick fix and it comes down to rest.
It is often ignored because most believe that “there is no time to rest”. It is a double-edged sword – the more we ignore the burnout because we need to get things done the less we actually efficiently get anything done.
In today’s world ‘grind culture’ is still very prevalent. The idea of rest equating to laziness while ‘pushing through’ exhaustion and giving your all 100% of the time is the only way to gain success is an archaic way of approaching things yet it is still viewed like this by many.
Burnout is coming up more and more in the workplace and people are slowly starting to learn how to cope with it in a healthier and more proactive way. Burnout from work and in the workplace is slowly starting to be recognized and addressed by employers.
The importance of mental health and well-being has recently come to the forefront, and many employers are taking this on board. Burnout is slowly starting to be recognized as a physical and mental condition reasoning for it to not be left untreated.
It however is not all hopeless although it might feel like this…
What can I do to prevent or treat burnout?
- Reduce stress – meditate, schedule a massage once a week, practice yoga or deep breathing techniques, being in nature are all great ways to destress.
- Do something that brings you joy – spending time with friends, baking, or watching your favorite movie. Establish a self-care routine where you do one joyful thing that is personal to you, daily.
- Be conscious and selective about who you spend your time with – People can be very draining specifically if they are constantly using you to let go of their emotional baggage. Emotional burnout is a thing and being an emotional outlet for someone else is not going to help your case.
Be clear with your boundaries and let people know that you don’t have the emotional capacity to be there for them right now. This might seem like a bit of tough love since these are usually the people closest to us that trust us enough for advice and that “emotional release” but the first step to recovering from burnout is to respect your emotions and this can only be done when others respect them too.
- Voice your stressors and speak about your worries – seeing a therapist or talking to a close friend can minimize the feelings we might be feeling around certain pressures but again be mindful of the other person’s emotioanl situation and always ask for consent before ‘offloading’.
- Create something – paint, sculpt, dance, draw or cook. Artistic expression in any form is not only a great tool for emotional self-regulation but also an amazing way to become present and mindful
- Practice mindfulness or meditation – in whatever form this may find itself. There are so many different types of meditations and ways of being mindful that we can practice.
- Reduce exercise – when the body is depleted of emotional, mental, and physical energy it can not perform optimally and although exercise can be a stress reliever it can also be a huge contributor to the overall stress being put on your body. Remember the brain cannot distinguish between mental or physical stress – it is all perceived in the same way.
- Eat nutritious food – in order to build up the body eating properly is very important to maintain optimal micro and macronutrient levels. A stressed out brain needs more fuel and starving it of nurtients is not going to help the situation, in fact it might make it worse. Many people tend to either not eat when stressed or eat less nutritious, fast, and convenient food such as take-out. Try to be really conscious of what you are putting into your body. Eat as whole foods and unprocessed as possible getting balanced meals of fruit, veggies, grains, and a good source of protein is important. Homecooked is always best and why not take the time of preparing your food and eating it as a mindful process – taking note of each step and bite.
- Try to reduce stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, etc. – again this puts unnecessary strain on our adrenal glands as it spikes our cortisol and adrenaline hormones which increases the overall stress on the body.
- Stay hydrated – drinking water is the foundation of our survival and wellbeing. Most people are chronically dehydrated which affects their overall health tremendously. Water also flushes out toxins – which can be in the form of excess stress hormones in the body.
- Go technology-free – technology and social media zaps our energy. . Anybody that scrolls for more than 15 mins can tell you this. The blue light produced by screens also affects our cortisol levels. Try and start and end your day with no technology and instead replace the time that you would be online with a mindful activity such as journaling.
- Natural remedies – Ashvaganda and CBD oil are great natural products that can be used to lower our stress levels by lowering cortisol. This also supports our immune system.
- Eliminate literal and evident stressors or sources of stress – if a big part of your burnout is your job and the high-pressure environment you might want to consider if this is worth it for your health in the long run. This one is easier said than done because many people identify themselves with what they do and base their worth on where they are in their careers. Again this however just buys into the idea of grind-culture. If your job is costing your health then the scales are not balanced… If you are spending your hard-earned money on doctor’s appointments and anti-anxiety medications instead of living and enjoying life then once again is it really worth the effort or the status?
This could also mean simply just taking time off for a while in order to reflect and reconsider – this would also be a great test to if you, your work, and your role in the company is actually valued.
For self-employed or business owners this might be slightly trickier as taking time off means no business. The same thing however stands – taking time off in the short term greatly benefits you in the long term as you will feel refreshed and more efficient and maybe even have a different perspective to approach things in a different way or from a different angle.
- Get advice from mental health professionals – you do not have to go through anything alone and asking for help or support is okay. In fact, it will help you to recover that much faster.
- Take time off to REST – rest is the most important thing you can do in order for your adrenal glands to recover and allow your nervous system and body to heal. This should be scheduled into your daily life. Take an hour of your day dedicated to just you.
In addition to this sleeping properly is very important too. Try and go to bed early enough to get 8 hours of sleep in and maybe practice meditation before to aid in deep, restful sleep. Quality and quantity are important here.
It is ironic that burnout mostly affects workaholics (but also pretty obvious…) and as we know telling a workaholic to rest and not work is well… like trying to take candy from a baby.
Many people find resting really difficult as it has been ingrained into us that in order to be successful we cannot rest. This is so untrue. An absolute myth. This brings us to our final point…
- Take everybody else’s opinions with a pinch of salt – nobody knows your body better than you and it is up to you to stop ignoring the red flags and cuesy our body sends you that things are not well. Through mindfulness, you can become more in tune with how your mind is communicating with your body and vice versa. You become so conscious of the early signs of burnout which can lead you to being able to prevent it from happening again or maybe getting worse.
The amazing thing about using mindfulness and taking time off to reflect is that you start to see situations from an outside perspective rather than live the experience – this is where we start to notice the obvious signs and going back we have the ability to change our mindsets and decisions in order for it not to happen again.
In conclusion, burnout is not simple or easy to treat and deal with especially when it has gotten to the emotional exhaustion stage. There is no quick fix and it can be very tricky and frustrating to navigate. Patience along with a conscious effort to reduce stress, slow down and rest is ultimately how burnout would be treated.
It is so common that many people just operate on autopilot, in their burnt-out state becomes their ‘normal’. It does not have to be like this. Although experiencing burnout is difficult to navigate it can be a great learning opportunity to create positive change in your life. Often struggle leads to growth in many aspects and we can learn to change our experiences through changing our decisions.