Burnout is a serious issue and is something that can seriously derail you and your creative spirit. Over burdening yourself can become reality for some of us, and realising the signs that you’re burning out is essential in maintaining mental and physical health.
Burnout is defined as “a stage of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress”. Burnout will leave you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful.
The first thing to remember is that there’s a significant difference between stress and burnout. Burnout can occur when you’ve been subjected to large amounts of stress, but is not the same as too much stress.
Stress, by and large refers to “too much” — too much to do, too much pressure, too much work. Burnout is characterised however by a sense of emptiness — lacking in motivation, not caring about things anymore and failing to see any redeeming quality in the situation.
helpguide.org identifies a few indicators that you’re on the road to burnout:
- Every day is a bad day
- Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy
- You’re exhausted all the time
- The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated
There are also a series of signs that identify burnout physically, emotionally and by behaviour. These include:
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time, frequent headaches and changes in appetite
- A sense of failure and self-doubt, loss of motivation and an increasingly cynical attitude
- Withdrawal from responsibility, isolation from others and procrastination
These symptoms closely mirror those of depression, and much like depression, burnout can increase gradually over an extended period of time. If you feel that some of these symptoms are starting to creep up on you, there are steps you can take to preemptively address them.
Again, helpguide.org provides some great burnout prevention tips:
- Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes reading your bible, writing in your journal, or doing gentle stretches.
- Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
- Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
- Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
- Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
- Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress can help you regain your balance.
If you feel like you’ve already gone over the cliff into burnout territory, there’s very little you can do to slow the momentum of the fall. If you’ve reached this point, you need to address your burnout seriously — continuing to struggle through this will only lead to more physical and emotional stress. There are three broad but effective post burnout strategies:
1. Slow down
Take your foot off the gas for a moment. Identify areas of your life that are adding the most weight and cut them loose, if only for the short term. You will need to force yourself to slow down, which may mean fighting against the way high capacity people have programmed themselves — to be doing something all the time. The hardest step is to stop and take a deep breath before asking from help.
2. Get support
Don’t isolate yourself. It’s a natural instinct when you’re hurting or feeling removed. Just remember, the people who care about you will be the most important asset you have in dealing with your burnout. Even talking with someone you trust and sharing your feelings will help. Don’t feel like you’re burdening those people either — the ones that care will not even think twice.
There are a few things to note here. Burnout is a sign that something in your life isn’t working well, and if you can leverage the situation to help you identify that “something”, then you’ve already taken a positive first step towards recovery. Think about your dreams and goals and use this as a chance to start again with a clean slate.
Finally, it’s healthy to acknowledge that burnout causes you to lose something. Leaving these unrecognised will inevitably start the cycle again. Ruth Luban’s “Keeping The Fire” characterises those “somethings” as:
- Idealism or dream with which you entered your career
- The role or identity that originally came with your job
- Physical and emotional energy
- Friends, fun, and sense of community
- Self-esteem and sense of control
- Joy, meaning and purpose that make work — and life — worthwhile
Hopefully, burnout isn’t something you’ll encounter in your life. But, if the warning symptoms are there, take the steps in this article and make sure that you seek appropriate help.