Burnout. The signs and the solutions
Updated: Aug 4
The world we live in today is a constant stream of traffic driven by technology, social media and non-stop stimulation. It is difficult to slow down with so much going on and the expectations from ourselves and others to get things done. We tend to put pressure on ourselves to complete tasks as soon as possible so we can move onto the next thing. This moves us away from the present, as we focus on the future rather than on being in the moment. It is not surprising that so many people are struggling with stress and overwhelm, as we often take on more than we can manage. This sense of overwhelm can become even more intense when we continue to keep going, attempting to keep up with our commitments, eventually becoming mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
What is burnout?
The mind and body can only manage a certain amount of stress. As we continue to function in a state of excessive stress and exhaustion our mind and body start to take strain. The more we push, the more drained we become, losing motivation and productivity. Burnout is a gradual process that worsens over time and can appear out of nowhere, as symptoms are subtle at first, but become worse over time.
It feels like your battery is running on empty as you do not have any energy left for tasks and commitments. You feel hopeless, pessimistic and resentful, and lack determination for even the smallest task, such as getting out of bed. This is a frightening place to find yourself, and can be even more overwhelming when you are not aware of why and what is happening.
Burnout affects our entire ecosystem – work, relationships, emotions, and our physical functioning. It also impacts our immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu.
It is extremely important to be self-aware so we can notice symptoms of burnout when they first arise, that way we are able to take care of ourselves, to rest and take the time to reboot, rather than having to deal with extreme exhaustion later.
Signs of burnout
Frustration, impatience and irritability with others
Feelings of disillusion
Lack of energy to be productive
Difficulty being present with loved ones
Unexplained muscle tension and pain
Change in habits
Change in sleep and/or eating habits
Although the above signs are broad and can also be related to other factors in your life, it is vital to be aware so you can monitor your well-being. Burnout can increase your risk of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, depression and suicide.
It is not always easy to pinpoint what is causing our stress therefore it is important to explore potential contributing factors to find ways to reduce overwhelm. Burnout often results from work and professional demands however it can also result from a combination of life factors such as an intense academic schedule, dealing with problems in relationships and caring for a loved one with a chronic health condition. Each factor will contribute to our stress, as some things are manageable on their own, however when they are combined it can become too much to handle.
So, what should we do when we find ourselves in a state of burnout, or on our way down the rabbit hole? There are a number of useful questions we can consider which will support us in finding our way during such a challenging time:
What changes can I make?
We often over commit when we do not have the capacity to do so. Consider your working hours, and how much time you are spending doing things that are draining your energy and adding to your stress. Make sure that you honour your time, take regular breaks in between tasks and balance your time so you are giving yourself the space to recharge.
Who can I talk to?
It is important to have a safe space where you are able to unpack and discuss your thoughts, emotions and life situation. This can be with an objective person such as a professional coach or therapist, or someone closer to you such as a mentor or friend. Having such support allows you to keep track of your well-being and process where you are at, monitoring and working through challenges before they become too overwhelming.
What are my options?
Consider where you are able to make changes in both your personal and professional life. Perhaps asking for support on a project that is taking up too much time, or sharing certain responsibilities with a co-worker to allow for more time for other tasks. It is also important to speak to your manager and ask for support when you are feeling overwhelmed. In your personal life consider taking time out and saying no to some of the commitments that you have made where you feel you are doing it out of loyalty rather than want.
How can I take my power back?
Burnout can leave you feeling powerless and helpless. Although it may feel like you are in a rut, you still have the ability to make choices. You can begin with small steps – start by considering priorities, what needs to be done right now and what can wait. Then delegate – you cannot do everything yourself and so the tasks that may not need immediate attention can be passed onto someone else. Leave work at work. A large part of recovering from burnout is allowing yourself to have a balance. Once you leave work, leave work! Allow yourself to switch off and relax so you can recharge for the next day.
Where are the boundaries?
Boundaries are vital in all aspects of our life. It is important that you set limits on the amount of time you are giving to others. Before making a commitment, pause. Take a moment to be mindful and think it through before you commit. Ask yourself if you have the time, energy and want to go. Saying “no” is not a selfish act, rather it is self-full as you need to be able to meet an expectation once you commit and over-committing can lead to pressure, exhaustion and guilt.
Am I practicing self-compassion?
Burnout may bring up feelings of loss or failure. It is important to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that you need to slow down. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend in this same situation, considering what you have been able to do, rather than what you have not.
What do I need right now?
In order to recover from burnout, you need to prioritise your physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately we cannot always have the ability to clear our schedules and take a full break giving ourselves time to reboot and recover. Therefore it is vital to prioritise your self-care, doing things which will allow yourself the time and space to heal:
Make sure you make time for restful sleep
Spend time with loved ones
Ensure to take some quiet, alone time to reboot
Move your body every day – physical activity will boost your mood, support your mental and physical health and help with burnout recovery
Eat nutritious meals
Practice meditation, yoga or mindfulness to relax your mind and body
What makes me happy?
Severe burnout can leave us feeling apathetic, low and easily frustrated. You may feel like you have lost your passion, drive and joy for things that once excited you. It is important to try and remember what makes you happy. By writing down a list of things that excite you it may remind you of the good things, such as walking on the beach, laughing with an old friend, or cooking a delicious homemade meal. Ensure to set some time aside to do these things each week, as these will help you find that joy and light once again.
Burnout is a real thing that so many people face every day. It is crucial to take care of yourself and monitor and evaluate your energy and coping to ensure you do not crash. Remember to be compassionate with yourself, and maintain a balance and boundaries in order to allow yourself the time to reboot so you can work smart, not hard.
The information above is not medical advise but is hopefully a good clue on how to identify being overworked or burned out. Be sure to take care of yourself if you do identify with any of the burnout symptoms above. It is important to seek professional advise in the case of being burned out.
That said the best cure is to avoid it in the first place. Recovering from severe burnout can take months and in some cases even years to fully recover. For that reason it is imperative that you take care of your mental and physical wellbeing before it gets to the stage of burnout.