Most of us have experienced burnout at some level, whether it’s from over-working or over-doing it in some way and in the largest known study of stress levels conducted by YouGov, ‘In the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.’ So, in tune with Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we’re taking a stand against burnout, looking at the tell-tale signs and how to avoid it completely.
What is ‘burnout’?
Defined as a ‘state of chronic stress’ or ‘total exhaustion’ burnout is where many of us end up when stress builds or that candle, we’ve been burning at both ends, finally runs to the end of its wick. It’s important to recognise the signs that things may be getting too much and how to combat stress for a more balanced and healthy life. Research has proven that long-term levels of stress is bad for our health, causing emotional distress, depletion of memory and attention span, whilst consistently raised levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, can lead to physical illness including coronary heart disease.
You don’t always see it coming:
The first thing to know is that you don’t always see a burnout coming. For one, you may be happy at work or enjoying your busyness. You may have enjoyed moving into your new home whilst starting that new job, but pressure builds and as work mounts up or as your calendar fills you cope, but you could go from a seemingly controlled state to a sudden feeling of total mental and physical exhaustion. It’s as if your internal coping mechanism suddenly decides that enough is enough and goes on strike without even having warned you that there was a problem. But, if you are honest with yourself, there may have been some tell-tale signs that things weren’t quite as they should be…
Signs of burnout
Increased appetite or loss of appetite
Whether stress causes you to over-indulge or lose your appetite completely, a change in your eating habits may be a sign that something else is going on in the mind or body. For some it could be an increase in alcohol consumption or the desire to start smoking again, and for others it could be that occasional trip to the vending machine occurring a little more regularly. This could be the behavioural effect of stress and the YouGov study revealed that ‘46% of participants reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress. 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking.’
Exhaustion & long-term tiredness
No matter how early you get to bed or how many hours you sleep for, you may feel unexplainable chronic tiredness or the very opposite, you may be suffering from insomnia, being unable to sleep despite feeling absolutely exhausted. Maybe your mind starts racing in the middle of the night and you just can’t stop thinking about what still needs to be done.
Memory & brain function
Losing your keys most days? Forgot your handbag in the supermarket, again? Forgetfulness, a lack of concentration or feeling overwhelmed could be a sign that burnout is just around the corner.
When we suffer from long term stress, our whole body is stressed so it makes sense that our immune system would suffer too. If you’ve been having regular unexplainable headaches or you find you’re picking up every cold, bug and sniffle, it may be a sign of a weakened immune system due to stress.
If it seems like your patience has also done a runner recently, leaving you irritable and easily angered, this may be a clear sign that you’re suffering from stress. Combine with a lack of sleep, constant colds and mental exhaustion, and you’ve got yourself a fast track to burnout.
As well as heightened levels of anger, another sign of burnout is detachment; the loss of enjoyment of normal things or your hobbies, a lack of motivation and empathy with others, feeling like you want to stay in bed and hide from the world, and having a generally more negative outlook. Feeling overwhelmed by the day or tasks ahead is a clear sign that not all is as under control as you may have thought. Coping can often disguise itself as control until the cracks appear.
Loss of confidence
The theme for 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. When we’re stressed, we can develop a feeling of hopelessness and feel like we’re not able to cope which leads to a very real lack of confidence, in mind but also in body and in our ability to do everyday tasks. In fact, ‘36% of women who felt high levels of stress related this to their comfort with their appearance and body image, compared to 23% of men.’
How to avoid burnout?
Find your rest
Make time to rest and find relaxation that works for you. This may not be lying in bed all of Sunday, for you that may mean light exercise, walking, an afternoon at a spa, a relaxing massage, or escaping to a café to read a book and sip on a cappuccino.
It’s particularly important that you resist the urge to dive into the biscuit tin during stressful periods; your body needs nutritious, immune-boosting foods that are packed with vitamin C to keep your mind sharp and your body healthy, this will also help you to feel confident and in control when everything else feels a little chaotic. Choose immune-boosting citrus fruits, ginger, garlic, red peppers, leafy greens like kale and spinach, and brain-boosting cashews, walnuts, pistachios and seeds.
Take intentional time away from the stressful stimulus, to process, recover and regain perspective. Too much of anything isn’t good, whether that’s working, exercising or socialising. Slow down, step away and give yourself a break from the ‘too much’.
Organisation, whether it comes in the form of making lists, planning your calendar ahead of time or booking in the help of others, can help you to regain control, rebuild confidence and get back on top of the busyness. If you can better organise life so you don’t have to be working or on ‘full power’ for 7-day weeks, then you will find time to do the things you enjoy again and re-establish something that resembles balance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Say “No” sometimes
There are only so many hours in a day, so if you’re finding that you’re struggling to manage your everyday tasks and duties, let alone all of the extra commitments people ask of you, learn to say no sometimes, for your mental and physical health.
Talk about it
Struggling with your workload? Can’t keep up with the children’s’ extracurricular schedule and get your own things done? Talk about it, with friends, family, colleagues or your manager. They may be able to help or at least offer you advice about how you can make changes so you can feel in control again. And if they offer to take a load off your shoulders? Leave the pride at the door and say yes to some help so you can find time for you again.
Go do something new
Make time to go do something new, whether it’s visiting a new place or trying a new hobby, putting yourself out there to do something different will relight that fire, invigorate your confidence and inspire you to find more time for you. It’s easy to let stress or busy times crowd-out the fun in life, so let a little back in and regain perspective and control again.