We all get tired sometimes. After a particularly busy week at work, or maybe towards the end of the school semester. Usually the weekend or a short holiday can make us feel better. But some of us are feeling exhausted all the time, and no amount of rest seems to help. This is called ‘burnout’, and it’s starting to creep up on more and more people.
Burnout can happen to people of all ages who find themselves in stressful environments. So, how do you know whether you’re experiencing burnout? And, if you are, what can you do to help it?
Here’s what you should know…
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What is ‘burnout’?
Burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” When someone is suffering from burnout, they will usually feel overwhelmed, physically and emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands – even ones that might typically be easy to fulfil.
You might have heard the term used to describe someone who has ‘overworked’ themselves at their job. But burnout can be caused in part by stressful environments of any kind. This can include school, home life and care-giving roles, to name just a few. However, it’s not just the situation that causes the problem. Instead, burnout occurs when these stressful circumstances make us stop taking proper care of ourselves. When we don’t allow ourselves time to relax and unwind, our bodies and minds stay in a constant state of stress. This is when you can start to feel the effects of burnout.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of this mental health problem can be broken up into three different categories: physical, emotional and behavioural signs. It’s important to remember that burnout is a gradual process. Most people will not exhibit a wide range of symptoms straight away. Over time however, the problem can become worse.
- Feelings of exhaustion all or most of the time.
- Low immune function, resulting in more illness.
- Change in appetite or sleeping habits.
- Frequent and otherwise unexplained headaches and muscle pain.
- Heightened sense of failure and self-doubt.
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, trapped or detached from the world.
- Feeling unmotivated, especially in areas that were once very important.
- Decreased feelings of satisfaction in all areas of life.
- Turning to food, alcohol or drugs to cope with stress.
- Withdrawing from responsibilities and isolating oneself.
- Increased expressions of anger or frustration towards others.
I’m dealing with burnout! What should I do?
- Don’t overcommit yourself. If your commitments are taking up a large chunk of your time and energy, it’s important to prioritise self-care. When you give yourself the chance to relax and get away from the stress, your body and mind benefit. We recommend communicating this to your family, friends, boss or co-workers, as it will explain why you may become less available while also allowing them to support you through the process!
- Find something you enjoy doing. Burnout can make us feel completely unenthused about life. Finding a hobby to immerse yourself in can help to remind yourself that there are things to look forward to.
- Distance yourself from the problem (where you can). This can be hard, as you can’t just quit your job, stop going to school or drop all your responsibilities. However, if there are certain people, extracurricular activities or unnecessary responsibilities contributing to your burnout, it could be a good idea to give them the chop. This then frees up your time for more enjoyable activities, while also removing negativity from your life.
- Reach out for help. Like any other mental illness, you don’t have to deal with burnout alone. Speaking to someone you trust – whether it’s a friend, family member, doctor or therapist – is a great step in the right direction. After all, when we keep our feelings bottled up inside, they are often harder to handle.
How can I avoid burnout?
We all go through periods of stress and anxiety in our lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean that burnout is inevitable, it just means that we must understand how to take care of ourselves to avoid it.
To protect yourself from burnout, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself from time to time. Take a moment to consider how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Do you constantly feel stressed? Do you have a good balance between your responsibilities and your ‘me time’? Is there anything that puts a big, black cloud over your day-to-day life? If so, what can you do to change that?
The truth is that burnout can sneak up on you very slowly. This is why it’s important to stay in touch with how you’re feeling, so you can take the right steps to prevent burnout before it begins.