It’s not unusual, in the busyness of the world, to find yourself speeding, spinning, and inevitably, crashing. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.
Two-thirds of employees experience burnout and the problem I see so often is that, as the name suggests, you need to have been ‘alight’ to burnout in the first place. It’s most common in (although not exclusive to) those of us that adore our work, as we’re more likely to devote too heavily and work ourselves into exhaustion. But there is a healthy balance out there. You can find a happy medium that helps you balance each element in your life.
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions, but your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” – Sam Keen
Note: I’ll refer to ‘work’ a lot in this post, but burnout can come from anywhere – family stresses, financial problems, anything, so replace ‘work’ as you see fit.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
As with any ailment, the earlier you notice it, the easier it is to stop. Knowing what to look for and what the potential causes could be will help you take a step back before the cycle gets too much.
- Thinking negatively and overly-critically
- Dreading seeing certain people/places, and wanting to leave once you’re there.
- Low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Limited/no appetite
- Feeling dissatisfied
- Being absent from work/social life
- Feelings of emptiness
- Physical ailments like headaches, illness, or backache
- Being irritatable
- Feeling that your work/relationships/goals don’t have meaning or make a difference
- Feeling unrecognised for your work and effort
- Blaming others for your mistakes
- Escape fantasies and/or debating running away/quitting work/changing roles
Where does burnout come from?
Burnout can come from almost anything. If any situation is causing you repeated, high levels of stress, it can burn you out. But, sometimes the stress is underlying, hidden in some deep-rooted ‘off’ feeling or masked as something else. Here are some common causes:
Common sources of burnout:
- Feeling out of control
- Excessive amounts of work
- Having unclear goals or expectations
- Working in a dysfunctional team or organization
- Experiencing an excessive workload
- Having little or no support from your boss or organization
- Lacking recognition for your work
- Having monotonous or low-stimulation work
Remember, this ‘work’ might not be professional work, burnout can be apparent in many parts of our lives.
How to avoid burnout:
Work with purpose
The first step in how to avoid burnout is to make sure you’re in alignment. Do you believe in what you’re doing? Do you believe in the bigger picture? I’ve loved jobs, but not aligned with the ethos and mission of the company, and that’s enough to slowly wear you out. Even if you don’t feel uncomfortable in your job, if you’re not feeling motivated, you might be slowly working yourself into a rut. Consider a change. Is there something you’d prefer to be doing? A passion you’d like to follow? The more in tune your thoughts, purposes and principles your actions are, the easier you’ll find it to work without burning out.
If you love what you do, but not how you’re doing it, take time to write down all the problems you currently have with what you’re doing. Try to find solutions for as many as you can, then take the rest to anyone that can help you, a friend, family member, your boss, HR, whoever it may be.
Consider why you feel out of control
Humans love control. The less we feel we have, the more desperately we try to find it – even if it’s in a completely different part of our life. Often people over devote to their work in times of difficulty at home. Or take on too much work, because they feel it’s their responsibility to. This causes them to burnout. So, try and find the reason why you might be feeling out of control.
- Do you feel you have little say in your life/job?
- Are people always asking you for more?
- Do you feel you have enough time for yourself?
- Do you feel like there are impossible expectations on you?
When you know where the lack of control is coming from, you can start to tackle it. Set up your priorities and learn to say no. Make your priorities and boundaries non-negotiable (eg. have Sunday for me-time, don’t work past 6pm, only take on tasks I can fit into my schedule, etc.).
Find ways to manage your stress
When we’re stressed, the first habits to go out of the window are often what keeps us from burning out. Exercise, hobbies, good food, a good amount of sleep, spending time with family and friends. All of these things help you manage stress and have a life outside of work.
Increase your self-confidence
Improving your self-confidence is one of the best things you can do in any field of character building. People with the confidence and belief to trust themselves, no matter the situation, will take challenges head-on and experience less stress.
The most effective way to improve your self-efficacy is to just start doing things. Small things at first, little challenges and new things to try, then move on to something bigger, and something bigger, and so on. As you watch yourself mastering task after task, you’ll build confidence.
Take breaks (even if you don’t feel like you need them)
I can’t stress this enough – take breaks! If you don’t tend to notice when you need breaks, schedule them in and make them non-negotiable. Take Sundays for yourself, go for a walk mid-afternoon, even just leave your desk to grab a coffee and a quick natter with a colleague. These little breaks will keep you grounded, give you good thinking time and a chance to reset. You might be surprised how productive you are once you’ve refreshed yourself.
Have multiple projects in your life
It might sound crazy to add more to a plate we’re saying is already too full, but having multiple outlets for our time, energy, passion and ambition can actually help us to better balance our life. Having one outlet can lead to us becoming obsessive about giving 110%, especially when we’re not seeing the results we want to. Spreading your interest among a few projects will help you better manage your energy and your ambition.
Isolation is a key symptom and contributor to burnout. When we’re devoting heavily to one aspect of our lives, another has to be sacrificed – most often, it’s our social life. I think we demote it because we can’t measure it – there’s no definite return. But, having a good social life will help you be more content and fulfilled, which in turn makes you more productive. So make sure you get out and leave your work at work.
Generally, try to look after yourself. It’s important to listen to your body as well as your mind, keeping the balance between work and play, social and alone, fun and focus.
Keep up the great work. Love, Ella-Rose xx