There are times in all of our lives when stress is unavoidable. We can all feel pressure from work or our personal lives. Feeling exhausted after a long day, we take some time in the evening to relax, have a good rest, and wake up feeling refreshed.
However, it's not always that simple. What happens when you wake up just as tired as you were when you went to sleep?
Those who experience stress frequently, are overly committed to their work, or work in high-pressure environments such as care can often suffer from burnout. But what is burnout?
According to the WHO, burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed ... ”. People experiencing burnout can find that stress becomes overwhelming and increasingly difficult to manage; no amount of rest will ease their fatigue. Over time, this leads to intense feelings of exhaustion, where the most mundane tasks feel like a mountain to overcome. Sufferers of burnout can become distanced mentally from their work, feeling a loss of purpose and self-belief. Overall, this results in reduced productivity and can cause other physical and psychological illnesses if left untreated.
Red Flags & Prevention
So what are the signs of burnout? And how can you prevent it?
Burnout comes on gradually, with symptoms that worsen with time. For that reason, it is crucial to be aware of the early signs and to take action if you notice them in yourself. As someone who has suffered from burnout on separate occasions, I understand the importance of raising awareness around this often-overlooked stress condition. Here are some red flags to look out for:
Loss of enthusiasm. The days are getting worse, you feel negative about things and there seems to be no relief.
Isolation. Often, people with burnout feel emotionally unavailable; the prospect of socialising is overwhelming. One of the most damaging aspects of burnout is how it causes you to drift from your friends and hobbies.
Constant exhaustion. You have intense fatigue that seems to be worsening each day. No matter how much sleep you get, you wake the next day feeling exhausted. You are finding it near impossible to relax.
Neglecting self-care. You find yourself so caught up in work or other things that you stop looking after yourself properly. Cooking turns into takeaways; takeaways turn into skipped meals. Late nights and early mornings eat into your rest time.
Lower productivity. You are starting to miss the occasional day at work. When you are at work, you are procrastinating and are not motivated to work efficiently anymore.
Health complications. Studies show a link between burnout and a weakened immune system, making you more prone to illnesses. Furthermore, depression and anxiety are commonly linked to burnout.
As previously mentioned, burnout is a gradual process. It doesn't happen overnight. Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger thinks of burnout as a 12 stage process, starting with an excessive need to prove yourself and ending in lack of purpose and complete physical exhaustion. Below is a brief outline of his model (I would highly recommend becoming familiar with this model, as it has helped me keep things in check):
A compulsion to prove oneself (excessive ambition)
Neglecting own needs
Displacement of conflicts and needs
No longer any time for non-work-related needs
Increasing denial of the problem, decreasing flexibility of thought/behavior
Withdrawal, lack of direction, cynicism
Behavioral changes/psychological reactions
Depersonalization: loss of contact with self and own needs
Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
Increasing feeling of meaninglessness and lack of interest
Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening
So now we know how to notice when we are burnt out, but how do we prevent it from happening in the first place?
It's not all doom and gloom; there are many techniques and skills out there to help manage stress. Here are some habits that have allowed me to keep burnout at bay:
Mindfulness. Remove yourself from the pressures of daily life and be alone with your thoughts, without judgement. Meditation and journaling can increase your self-awareness and help you to stay in tune with your mind and body. Above anything else, it is vital to have a kind inner voice. Acknowledge your achievements and avoid putting any unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Self-care. Fundamentally, you have to look after yourself; a healthy body is the first step to a healthy mind. Establish a healthy sleep pattern and diet. I find that meal prepping for the week in advance can do wonders, freeing up your evenings and ensuring you stay on top of your diet. Exercise is important too. This doesn't have to mean going to the gym or joining a sports team; go for regular walks outside and get some much-needed daylight in the process! Also, try spending less time on your device - trust me, this works (seriously, try it).
Organisation. Do you ever feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day? Do you find yourself struggling to keep on top of all your tasks? It sounds simple, but writing a to-do list and clearly defining your goals for the week is a great tool for productivity. Not only does it give you a better sense of direction and time management, but this practice also helps you to acknowledge everything you have accomplished. Look at you, having another super-productive week - go pat yourself on the back!
Take time out. A desire to prove yourself can sometimes make you feel guilty about having a break. Despite this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking time out. In fact, studies have shown a link between regular breaks and increased productivity. Holidays are there for a reason - use them!
Change. If you are finding yourself at the point of burnout, the chances are that your environment is the cause. Self-care and breaks may provide short-term relief, but once you are back in the same environment that caused you to burn out, it may happen again. Sometimes change is needed. Whether that means moving job or moving home, removing yourself from your source of stress will prevent you from reaching burnout in the first place.
Reach out before Crisis Point
Above all else, the best thing you can do if you feel that things are getting too much is to reach out. There is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes you just need to get things off your chest; even if they can't offer any advice, having someone who will listen can make all the difference. What's more, hearing an alternative perspective can change the way you think of your work.
With this in mind, if you are concerned that someone you know may be suffering from burnout then try to be the support that they need. Lend an ear, validate their emotions, and offer practical support if you can; whether that is helping with their household tasks or giving them a healthy environment to relax.
Certain professions and lifestyles are more commonly associated with burnout but the truth is, this stress-induced condition can affect any one of us. If there is one thing to take away from this blog, it is the importance of self-care and reaching out before crisis point.
If you are interested in learning more about mental health awareness, you might find this course by CPD Online College useful.
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