Stress is a normal way of life. It is something we experience on a daily basis. But what happens if stress becomes too constant and too much for us to handle? It causes you to feel helpless, exhausted, completely drained of happiness or joy. If so, then you may end up being on the road to burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion which is caused by both excessive and prolonged stress or exposure to stress. Usually, burnout is something that occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally and/or mentally drained, and you’re unable to meet constant demands in your daily life. This could be things like deadlines or going to events. Or different areas in both your professional and personal life.
And as the stress continues and starts to overwhelm you and weigh you down, it can cause you to begin to lose interest and motivation in things that you once enjoyed.
Burnout is something that we see reduces productivity. It takes away energy. It can have you feeling very cynical or resentful towards people. And it comes to a point where with burnout, you eventually start to feel like you have nothing more you can give. You just can’t do it all and you can’t do it anymore.
Where can you experience burnout?
The effects of burnout can spill into every area of life. This would include home life, work-life, social life. Burnout also has physical effects on our bodies. It can cause long-term changes where you are you more vulnerable to illness. You may get sick easier, or you start to get migraines a lot easier or maybe a lot more frequent because of the stress, overwhelm, and worry. This is why t’s important to deal with burnout right away.
What are some ways that let you know you’re on the road to burnout?
You might be feeling that every day is a bad day. You may start to feel that caring about your work or home life may seem like a total waste of energy. Like it’s not worth it. Perhaps you’re exhausted all the time. A majority of your day may be spent on doing things you find very dull, or overwhelming. So, there’s no real enjoyment there.
Another sign is you may feel like nothing you do is making a difference or is ever appreciated or even acknowledged.
Now, most of us have days where we feel tired, overloaded, unappreciated, and that’s completely normal. However, when you begin to feel like that, most, if not all, of the time, then you may be burnt out.
Burnout is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is not something that happens suddenly. It can creep up on you if you let it. Now the signs of burnout are often very subtle, usually at the beginning, but they worsen as time progresses. With burnout, you need to think that these early symptoms are more like red flags that are warning you something is wrong and may need to be addressed. If you pay attention to the signs, you can prevent a major breakdown which could lead to burnout, but if you ignore these signs, you will eventually lose.
What does burnout affect?
There are different aspects that burnout affects in the human psyche and physique. Some emotional signs or symptoms would be a feeling like you’re a failure, self-doubt, defeated, trapped, feeling detached or in the world, having a lack of motivation, and losing a sense of satisfaction.
Some behavioral signs may be withdrawing from responsibilities, isolating yourself, procrastinating or taking longer to get things done, and developing addictions to food, drugs, or alcohol. You may also become irritable and take out frustrations and anger on other people, skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.
Some people try to use the words “stress” and “burnout” synonymously; however, they are, in fact, different. Burnout is the result of an unrelenting sense of stress, but it’s not the same as stress.
Stress involves too many pressures. The difference between a stressed-out person and a burnt-out individual is that the stressed-out person can imagine that if they can get everything under control, then they will feel better. Burnout on the other hand is different. It deals with feeling like you are not being or doing enough.
Being burnt out is talking about feeling empty, and mentally exhausted. You’re having a lack of motivation and you are kind of at the point where you’re indifferent or beyond caring. People who experienced burnout often don’t see any hope of a positive change in whatever circumstances they are going through. Excessive stress deals more with feeling like you may be drowning in responsibilities. However, burnout is the opposite. It is a sense of feeling like you have nothing else to give.
Usually, you’re aware of being under a lot of stress because it’s a normal part of daily life. We don’t always notice burnout when it happens.
What causes burnout? Where does it come from?
Usually, it can stem from a job or other stressful environments. Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk of being burnt out. That can be from a hard-working office worker, a nurse, or a stay-at-home mom who has to take care of the kids the housework, being an engaging parent, and also being a life partner to someone.
Now, burnout is not necessarily caused solely by stressful work or having too many responsibilities or too many expectations. There are factors that can contribute to burnout as well. They can include things like lifestyle and personality traits. What you do in your downtime to relax and how you look at the world can also play a big part in causing burnout.
Some work-related causes of burnout can make it seem like you have little to no control over your work or what you do. A lack of recognition or reward for any good work that you do can cause burnout. If there are any unclear, unspecified, or even overly demanding job specifications or expected expectations can also contribute. Doing work that’s unchallenging and doesn’t make you have to think or engage you and working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment can also cause burnout.
Some lifestyle causes of burnout can be working too much without giving yourself enough time to relax, having a lack of any close or supportive relationships, taking on one too many responsibilities without accepting or asking for help from others is a big one, and not getting enough sleep.
Perfectionists often get burnt out. The idea that nothing is ever good enough until it’s perfect can put a lot of stress on someone. Those are the types of people that we often assume don’t find enjoyment in many things. The need to constantly be in control, or reluctance to delegate things to others can cause burnout. They are the people who have a sense of needing to have order and structure in their life. And if you challenge that order, or if anything goes against that order. It kind of throws them into this loop of stress. So that’s something that may also you know, may need to be looked at.
How to deal with burnout
When it comes to dealing with burnout, many people opt to just push through it so long as you keep on keeping on. And we know that’s not necessarily true. As we all know, the machine needs to be well oiled to keep running at a proper and functioning rate. So, trying to push through the exhaustion and trying to continue as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage will only cause the burnout to hit you harder and faster.
When you recognize burnout, it is important to kind of pause and change direction by learning or identifying how you can help yourself overcome it to feel healthy and positive again.
Three R Approach
This is what we call the three R approach:
Recognize – watching for any warning signs of burnout
Reverse – undoing the damage by finding some kind of support and learning to manage stress
Resilience – building resilience to stress by taking care of both physical and emotional health.
The first tip of dealing with burnout is to turn to other people. Remember, when you’re burnt out any problem or issue can seem insurmountable. Everything looks bleak and dark and gray. It’s difficult to find the energy to care, let alone take any action to take care of things.
One of the most effective ways to deal with burnout is to reach out to others. Humans are very social creatures. That’s just how we are. Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress. Talking face to face with someone who’s a good listener is one of the fastest ways that you can get your nervous system to calm itself down and to give you that sense of stress relief.
The person that you talk to doesn’t have to have the “fix” any stressors. They just need to be a good listener. Someone who’s willing to listen without necessarily wanting to respond. This can be a partner, family member, a friend. The one important thing that I think we often don’t realize is that if you open up to somebody, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unloading your burden to others or you’re going to make yourself their burden. Most friends and loved ones are people that care about you and will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them. And that will not only strengthen your friendship but will also give you a sense of some relief from the stress and the overwhelm that you are feeling. This in turn may help you try to not focus so much on the stressor itself, but it will also help you focus on making the time that you do have to spend with loved ones more positive and enjoyable; not only for yourself but for them as well.
You could be more sociable with coworkers that can also help you buffer out job burnout. An example would be whenever you take a break at work, instead of just engaging on your phone, you could engage with some of your coworkers. You could maybe schedule social events together after work such as going out for some drinks after, going to see a movie on the weekend, or joining a book club. Something that will just get you to disengage your mind from all of that.
Another important thing is to limit contact with negative people. We often talk about toxic relationships. If you are hanging out with any negative-minded people who do nothing but complain, they will only drag down your outlook on life, on other people, and your mood. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together. Do enough to get the job done. In some circumstances, in a working environment, if it becomes too much, you may want to reach out to a boss or a supervisor that can help you figure out the best way to deal with someone like that.
Another great one is to connect with a community group that is personally meaningful to you. This could be a religious, social, or support group. Something where you can have a place to talk to like-minded individuals about how to deal with daily stress. It could also be a way to make new friends.
Some places of work have a professional association, you could attend meetings and interact with others that are coping with maybe the same workplace demands. You could find new friends if you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to. It’s always it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand that social network that you have. You could reframe the way you look at work. You could try to find some value in your work. Now, again, even if you feel it’s a mundane job, you can often focus on how your role helps others. An example would be providing a much-needed product or service. You know if you start focusing on aspects of the job that you do enjoy (even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch), that can change your mood and your attitude towards your job, and it can help you gain a sense of purpose and control again.
If you hate your job, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life. This could be in your family and your friends, in a hobby, some kind of volunteer work or opportunity. Focus on parts of your life that bring you joy.
Take time off if burnout seems inevitable. You can try to take a break from work. Go on a vacation, use up sick days, ask for a temporary leave of absence; anything to remove yourself from the situation. Some jobs offer stress leave because stress and the negative effects and repercussions it has on the body has been something of concern to employers; especially considering circumstances with the pandemic and having things change so suddenly to be able to accommodate working remote or not being able to see everybody in ways we were used to.
Use the time away to truly recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery. Read a book. Listen to music, start a yoga routine in the morning, get up early and have a cup of coffee with no distractions.
Another tip is to reevaluate your priorities. Remember, burnout is an undeniable sign. It’s letting you know that something important in your life is not working. Usually with burnout prevention and treatment, the important thing is to take time to think about hopes, goals and dreams you may have for yourself. Is there something you may be neglecting that is truly important to you? Maybe it’s something you’re passionate about? Take the time to rediscover what really makes you happy and then slow down and give yourself time to rest.
Reflect and heal.
Don’t overextend yourself, learn how to say no.
Some people find it hard to do this but if you find it difficult remind yourself that saying no allows you to say yes to commitments you want to make in the future.
Take a daily break from technology. We are on technology nearly every moment of every day. Simply taking some time in the day to disconnect from technology has been shown to improve not only your mood but your outlook on yourself and on life. It allows you to focus on other things that are important such as family and friends, other opportunities, and it allows you to be reconnected in the world around you. Set a timer each day when you want to truly disconnect. When that timer goes off, put away your laptop, turn off your phone, don’t check email or social media. You need to completely disconnect.
Nourish that creative side. Everybody has a creative side. Regardless of the people that say they don’t, they do. It’s a powerful way to deal with burnout. So, try something new. Start a fun project or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that are nothing like what you have to do for work or whatever is causing you stress.
Set aside relaxation time. Again, set a timer. When that timer goes off, that’s when your relaxation time happens. You may want to do it early in the morning. You may want to do it later in the afternoon around lunchtime. You may want to do it in the evening, after dinner or something. Do something that will help put you in a state of restfulness. Remember, this is the opposite of the stress response.
Remember to get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired and exhausted can exacerbate burnout because it causes you to think irrationally in stressful situations. The important thing to remember is to keep your cool. By getting plenty of sleep you can think clearly and be able to respond in a way that allows you to be proactive, reactive, or whatever the situation requires of you.
Make exercise a priority. One thing to remember is exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout, and it’s something you can do at any time to boost your mood. Once you get the heart pumping and the blood flowing, you’ll see that it’s it can increase and improve your mood. So, one thing that I would suggest is to aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day, or maybe break it up into shorter sessions. You could do 10-minute bursts of activity. Fun fact: a 10-minute walk on your break time at work can improve your mood for the next couple of hours. To maximize stress relief while exercising, focus on your body and how it feels as you move. This could be the sensation of your feet in the ground while you’re jogging or the way your heart is beating.
Have a healthy diet. What you put in your body can have a huge impact on your mood and your energy levels throughout the day. This would mean minimizing sugar and any refined carbs you may find yourself cravings like sugary snacks or comfort foods. These high carbohydrate foods quickly lead to crashes in both mood and energy levels. Caffeine, unhealthy fats, foods with chemical preservatives or even hormones, and artificial food coloring has been seen to affect mood. Eat more omega-three fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources of this is fatty fish which would be like salmon, anchovies, sardines, seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine. If you needed a reason to cut the smoking habit, now would be the time. Smoking, while you’re feeling stressed, may help or may seem calming, but nicotine is a very powerful stimulant that can lead to higher levels of anxiety.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol can temporarily reduce worry, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off.
You may feel stuck, but you aren’t
Burnout is completely normal. It is something that can happen. It’s something that can be preventable. In the instances where you can’t prevent it, you can treat it. And remember you can get through it. It may require you to take a step back, do so time for self-reflection, and really come to terms with what is bothering you. You may ask yourself what is causing it? How can you deal with it, and slowly go through and see if there is an area that is lacking in your life? Is it something you can work on? Is it something that you can you feel you can deal with?
And remember there’s no harm in asking for help. There are therapists, coaches, other professionals that help with burnout, and they have tools and techniques and to help you tackle burnout as you go through your treatment. There are some things you can do. The world is not going to end. The world is not closing in on you. There are ways that you can deal with this, and you are not alone.
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