Life

Red flags that you're burned out and how to get back on track

Business Insider US

Healthcare workers are especially prone to burnout in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Healthcare workers are especially prone to burnout in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
  • Some tell-tale burnout symptoms include exhaustion, irritability, and loss of passion or purpose.
  • Burnout doesn't just apply to work. It can happen to people taking care of family members, too.
  • Ways to overcome burnout include setting boundaries and finding support from friends or professionals.
  • For more stories go to www.BuisinessInsider.co.za.

Usually, burnout applies to the context of work, referring to feeling mentally and physically exhausted and finding it difficult to complete your tasks. But it can also apply to other roles, such as taking care of family members. 

Burnout is something that happens over time, not all of a sudden. "I see burnout as a long-term experience of feeling exhausted and/or disconnected from your work or your working role," says G. Michelle Goodloe, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of the Essence of Healing LLC in Atlanta. 

Moreover, burnout can happen to anyone, but it may be more prevalent in certain professions like health care workers, teachers, and emergency service providers.

"I think burnout is way more common than anybody wants to admit," Goodloe says.

The good news is that you can find your way out of burnout. Here are five common symptoms of burnout and what you can do about them.

1. Exhaustion

Burnout can make you feel mentally and physically exhausted or fatigued, like you don't have enough energy to do your work. You also may have trouble sleeping. 

You may notice that you need a lot more sleep, but you're still not feeling rested, Goodloe says. 

As a result, you may also have trouble concentrating. Exhaustion can also be linked to stress symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, muscle tension, and hypertension, according to a 2016 review

2. Feeling down

Burnout and depression sometimes overlap, but they're not the same thing. Burnout is not as clearly defined as depression, and depression is not always connected to work or similar responsibilities. 

A 2012 study of dentists in Finland found that burnout predicts symptoms of depression, but not vice versa.  

"Someone who is experiencing symptoms of depression can also be experiencing some level of burnout," so distinguishing the two can be tough, says Sheilah Ledesma, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Lighter Living Counseling in Fort Lauderdale.

"Sometimes it's a case-by-case basis, where someone really has to come in and take a closer look at what it is that they're experiencing," Ledesma says.

3. Reduced productivity 

"You may notice yourself really struggling through some of the tasks that you're normally really good at," Goodloe says.

You may have trouble meeting deadlines. You may also feel ineffective or lack a feeling of accomplishment, and the quality of your work may decline along with your physical and psychological health. 

4. Loss of passion or purpose

A common symptom of burnout is feeling disconnected from your work and losing the passion and drive you once had for it. 

"I think people can start questioning and second-guessing if they are meant to be doing what they're doing," Ledesma says. "You begin to kind of doubt your 'why,' essentially." 

5. Irritability or cynicism 

If you're burned out, you may become irritable or cynical. This could include having negative or inappropriate attitudes toward others, such as becoming overly critical of or impatient with coworkers, customers, or clients

5 stages of burnout

"The goal is to know your warning signs for each stage (stages after honeymoon) and come up with healthy responses and coping mechanisms to help you move back as realistically as possible to the honeymoon stage," says Ledesma.

Consequences of burnout 

If burnout goes unaddressed, it can lead to several significant consequences, according to Mayo Clinic. They include:

  • Excessive stress
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Insomnia
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Burnout can be harmful to you as well as other people around you. People experiencing burnout can cause greater personal conflict and disrupt job tasks, and burnout can be perpetuated when people interact, as if it were contagious, according to a 2016 review.

The quality of your relationships may also deteriorate, and there may be a ripple effect, Ledesma says. 

"For example, if a woman has her career and she begins to doubt why she is in this field, then there's a ripple effect, where she begins to question her role as a mother, as a wife, as a sister, a friend. It kind of puts you in a state of doubt," she says. 

5 tips to help with burnout

Here are some ways you can address burnout. 

1. Check your capacity

Get a good understanding of your capacity to work in your role.

"This may require some self exploration, some reflections, really checking in on your schedule," Goodloe says. 

For example, "for myself, since starting to work from home, I realised I couldn't see my clients for counselling back-to-back like I did when we were in person. It actually was really exhausting for me, and I was getting close to burnt out." So she started scheduling breaks in between sessions, which helped. 

Also, Goodloe says to keep in mind: "Our capacity changes, especially if we're dealing with new environments."

Take the role of observer and step back to see how you got here, Ledesma says. Maybe you've been working more, you've been assigned to a project that isn't a good fit, or the things you enjoy have been removed from the equation, she says. 

2. Set boundaries

"A boundary is setting a limit or an expectation to take care of a need for yourself, and to protect yourself," Goodloe says. Make sure you're not overextending or overscheduling yourself, and that your life doesn't revolve around your work, she says.  A simple example is taking the email app off of your phone, so that you're checking your email only at your computer, Goodloe says. 

3. Slow down

Take a break when you can. That can mean a vacation that allows you to step away from your role and refuel. 

But even on a smaller scale, "you can dedicate 30 minutes for a lunch break, not where you're scrolling through emails, not when you're on social media, not when you're taking a call and just stuffing your face with something really quick — but intentionally spending 30 minutes away," Goodloe says. 

Beyond taking physical breaks, you can also slow down your thoughts, through practices such as mindfulness and meditation, Ledesma says. 

4. Get some fresh air and exercise

Breathing practices such as diaphragmatic breathing and exercise stimulate the vagus nerve, which can activate your body's relaxation response. 

In fact, a 2013 study found that better cardiovascular fitness seemed to be associated with decreased symptoms of burnout and a better capacity to cope with stress.  

Along with exercise, even just spending some time outside can be grounding and helpful, Ledemsa says. 

"Just being outside, feeling the wind in your face, feeling the warmth of the sun — even if you live somewhere where it's cold, a brisk walk can actually activate the vagus nerve, which is one of the most important pathways in your nervous system." 

5. Talk to someone

"Burnout shows up in a really interesting way in our relationships, so if you notice it's harder for you to connect with the people in your life you normally would connect with, if you're receiving feedback from loved ones, like, 'Hey, are you OK?'" it can feel offensive, Goodloe says. But take it in and consider whether you're showing up differently, she says. 

Talking with a trusted friend is a good start, but if you feel like you need someone with more expertise, try a mental health professional or coach, such as a life or business coach who can help you with your work-life balance, Ledesma says. 

In particular, licensed mental health professionals who specialise in stress management and burnout can be helpful. If your symptoms are getting worse, that's a sign that you may need some help, Goodloe says. 

Best online therapy providers

Insider's takeaway

Burnout doesn't mean you simply need to work less. 

"Sometimes it's the small adjustments that are practical and sustainable that are actually going to carry you through the burnout," Ledesma says.  And you can get out from under it. 

"Experiencing burnout is definitely not the end of the world," Goodloe says. "There are ways to prevent burnout and ways to recover from it. It just may take some self-awareness and practice to do it."

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