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Beating Burnout: Signs and Strategies to Cope

Have you noticed that you’ve been feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, helpless, or detached? Maybe you’ve noticed a decrease in motivation or lowered performance with daily tasks? If you are thinking yes, then you might be experiencing burnout.

Burnout is a concept that you might have heard about before, particularly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic or from people talking about workplace exhaustion. Although this term might be used most in relation to work-place environments, burnout can happen to anyone for many different reasons.

What Exactly is Burnout??

As the term burnout has been increasingly used since the start of the pandemic, it’s important to understand what exactly burnout is. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that can occur when we’re exposed to prolonged or repeated stress. Burnout happens when our lives get overwhelmingly busy, and we’re unable to tend to all the surmounting and overwhelming demands. Although we might be trying our absolute best to tend to each and every demand, burnout prevents us from being our most productive self. It can lead to many negative symptoms that can seep into daily life and gradually affect our mental and physical health if neglected.

Stress versus Burnout

You might be thinking, well how do I know if I’m burnt out or just experiencing stress?? Although sometimes you might hear these words used interchangeably, burnout is much more serious and intense than stress. To put it into other words, I’ve often heard the comparison that stress is to burnout as feeling sad is to depression. Eventually, more minor feelings of stress or sadness can perpetuate to persistent burnout or depression. With stress, symptoms are typically over-engagement in activities, overreactive and heightened emotions, and a sense of panic or urgency to get tasks done. On the other hand, burnout often leads to disengagement, blunted emotions, and a sense of hopelessness or helplessness.

Signs and Indicators of Burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, therefore, it can be hard to identify and prevent burnout. It is a gradual process and build-up of stressors that eventually leads to those feelings of exhaustions and being overwhelmed. Although the signs might be easy to overlook at first, the longer they go unaddressed the worse they can become. Although burnout looks different for everyone, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion – Burnout can lead people to feel mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Tasks that might have originally been simple might seem daunting, overwhelming, and mind-numbing.

  • Detachment – Burnout can create detachment from many different areas in our lives whether it’s withdrawing from loved ones, no longer finding pleasure in our hobbies, or being less invested in our daily routines, work, and obligations.

  • Negative Attitudes and Outlooks – Often when burnout occurs, people develop cynical outlooks and negative attitudes. This might feel like nothing they are doing at work or in their personal life matters. There might also be higher levels of irritability, frustration, and the constant feeling that every day seems to be a bad day.

  • Emotional Numbness – Given the exhaustion that burnout causes, people can be left feeling drained and emotionless. This emotional numbness can be hard to escape as the lack of emotion can lead to a loss of motivation and a state of stagnancy.

  • Physical Symptoms – The prolonged periods of chronic stress can often lead to physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains. People might also experience a change in their appetite. Over time, if burnout is not treated or managed, it can also lead to weaker immune systems resulting in more frequent illnesses such as colds or flus.

Strategies to Cope and Manage Burnout

You might be thinking, yes, I do feel exhausted and burnt out, but what do I do?! To help treat and cope with feelings of being burnt out, finding ways to get support and replenish our energy is important.

Here are a few tips and tricks that might be helpful:

  • Reach out – Asking for help is a great step to take when you notice you’re burnt out. This can be asking friends, family, or others for help whether it be emotional support, social support, or offloading some of your tasks onto others. Seeking professional help from a therapist can also allow you to work through some of the reasons that led you to become burnt out, as well as provide tools for preventing and managing burnout in the future.

  • Build in breaks and Decompress – Taking a moment to decompress and have a break can be so valuable. It allows you to recharge by doing what you want before moving on to the next task or demand. If finding time for breaks is hard, try setting a scheduled break time so that you’re able to re-charge your energy throughout the day.

  • Sleep Hygiene – When we don’t have enough energy and feel so exhausted, it is important to remember the value of sleep. Keep in mind that creating a sleep routine including time to wind down can help us get a better quality sleep. This can help treat and mitigate some of the emotional and physical symptoms of burnout.

  • Mindfulness – Mindfulness has ample benefits. It can help calm our bodies and minds by incorporating relaxation techniques that provide a change in pace in our lives. Mindfulness also provides us with a space to focus on our internal selves which can help us identify when and why we’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Setting boundaries – Don’t overextend yourself! Setting boundaries can help treat and prevent burnout. This might be prioritizing certain relationships or determining where you’re dedicating your energy. If possible, try to also limit your time spent with others who hold a negative outlook that might impact your own perception of the world.

When living in a world filled with constant demands and jam-packed schedules, it’s easy for burnout to occur. That’s why it’s important to check-in with yourself. Take a moment to think about whether there are any signs of burnout, especially during times when there are some extra life stressors going on. If there are, then you’ve already taken the first step in identifying and acknowledging the signs. Next, try out some of the various ways to manage burnout whether it be seeking support, setting boundaries, or a combination of whatever works for you!

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