Identifying, avoiding and beating burnout

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Am I burnt out? What does burnout feel like? We are living in a fast paced world with pressure to work long hours and lots of social media and technological distractions. We can often compare our lives to the lives of others via magazines and social media which can place further pressure on us to be ‘successful.’ How do we deal with burnout? How do we find a balance of health, family, leisure but also being in alignment with our goals?

“You don’t understand burnout unless you’ve been burned out. And it’s something you can’t even explain. It’s just doing something you have absolutely no passion for.”

Elena Delle Donne

Understanding burnout

There is a sutble degree of difference between burnout and stress.

According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D;

“As you’ll see, many are the same or similar to those associated with stress. This is because the difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, so the best way to prevent burnout is to identify the symptoms as close as possible to the less severe end of these continuums, because the less severe the symptoms, the easier they are to relieve.”

We have quite likely heard of stress being bad for us but with our hectic lives we may not stand still and pause to fully appreciate the severity of the damage to our health that stress can cause.

Stress can have huge consequences on our health according to Andrew Goliszek, Ph.D.

“Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases an array of hormones that not only gets us ready for emergency situations but severely depresses our immunity at the same time. Some experts claim that stress is responsible for as much as 90% of all illnesses and diseases, including cancer and heart disease.”

The 5 stages of burnout

There are many discussions on 5 stages of burnout and 12 stages of burnout. As Sherrie Bourg Carter suggests above it is important to identify early symptoms and signs or burnout and to change our lifestyle accordingly to recover. We will briefly go through the 5 stage model of burnout and also look at certain symptoms. This way you will have a bigger picture of burnout and the you can further read on ways to change your lifestyle below.

5 Stages

  1. Taking on a new challenge that has an initial excitement but pressure to do well or expectations that can cause anxiety. For example starting a new job or career.
  2. The onset of early stress. This can lead to anxiety, heart palpitations, worrying, making impulsive decisions and overcompensating.
  3. The onset of chronic stress. This will lead to stress related symptoms more frequently and can also lead to lack of motivation, further fatigue and more.
  4. Burnout itself. This can cause you to feel like you are ‘crashing,’ further physical problems such as headaches, extreme fatigue, bowel issues and more. Self-doubt and social isolation can also be part of this.
  5. Habitual burnout. This becomes a consistent theme beyond a one off phase of intense stress of burnout. This can also lead towards a depression.

Please note the above list is not a diagnosis and is to be used as a general guideline to show you that we can all have a stressful day or two, but if this stress grows it can become a stressful few weeks and month, and then following on from this burnout can happen. This can also lead to a depression or extreme anxiety.

What does burnout feel like?

I feel it is better to look at the below list including thoughts by Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D which can be symptoms of stress and burnout.

Deatchment from life itself

Social isolation

Headaches

Increased irratibility

Chest pains and breathing difficulty

Heart palpitations

Impuslive behaviour

High energy to low energy and fatigue quickly

Increased illness frequency

Loss of apetite

Impaired concentration and attention

and more.

The key message here is no matter how stressed you are right now, it is imperative to pause this process and create a healthy lifestyle. You can be ‘successful’ and achieve great things that are subjective to you based on intrinsic motivation whilst balancing your health, minimising your stress levels, exercising, getting plenty of rest and sleep and also seeing your loved ones regularly. Below you will learn how I over time have found such a balance coming from a position of high stress, lacking sleep and too much caffeine.

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Breaking the cycle

  1. Before we change our actions we must change our thinking patterns. Take the time to choose why you do what you do. Is this career or job healthy for you or bringing you happiness? Is the motivation intrinsic or extrinsic that is; are you acting based on what is right for you or are you acting based on other peoples success and dreams which may not be what makes you happy? Take the time to find out what you truly want and then create a plan from this which has a balance of health and time with loved ones.
  2. Create you time and self-care each day. write down in your diary or a journal a 30 minute slot each day which is just for you. Reduce your television time, reduce the time scrolling through social media, reduce the time flicking through your phone. Make the time. Use this time for you. Feel free to sit down in a chair and shut your eyes, go for a peaceful walk nearby greenery, listen to a meditation, get lost in a good book. Ideally avoid the screen, avoid negative news, turn your phone off. Commit to this time each day. Something this simple could significantly reduce your stress levels, pressure from life and increase your physical and mental well-being.
  3. Create the environment for quality sleep. I am a big advocate for using time wisely. For example I find pockets of 20-30 minutes throughout my day where I commit to reading a chapter of a book, watch an inspirational or education short video, practice breath work, or meditating. We can be told to get up very early and hear stories of individuals working 20 hour days and more. This is certainly admirable but it can have its consequences and pitfalls. There are significant dangers to our health when we lack sleep. According to professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley Matt Walker;

“Once you drop below seven hours, we can start to measure objective impairments in your brain and your body. The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Short sleep predicts all-cause mortality.”

There is a reason we spend on average one third of our lives asleep. Mother Nature has included this within our makeup and it is imperative for our recovery and health.

Matt Walker further states;

“You know, when you fight biology, you normally lose. And when you lose, the way that it’s usually revealed is disease and sickness. And unfortunately, that’s what we see with insufficient sleep.”

This is not to say however that we should be lazy in anyway!! Having long lazy lie ins and 12 hour sleeps is not the answer to burnout or a healthy work life balance. What we can learn here is that if we priorities a healthy bed time routine, create the environment for a good nights sleep and we allow 8-9 hours in bed for sleep then we will recover better and perform better the next day than we would if we only had 5-6 hour of sleep. We can learn more on what happens to our brains when we sleep.

Personally for me, I am in a position where I run several businesses and several charity and community projects. I used to have too much caffeine and too little sleep. I now commit daily to getting a good nights sleep but also having a bed time routine and a morning routine which involves a mixture of meditation, collating my thoughts, stretching and exercise, and also journaling gratitude. This daily routine has helped me tremendously with my health, happiness and actually my productivity on my projects.

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Regain your passion for life

Living a meaningful life can help us how to recover from burnout. How do we discover what is meaningful to us?

  1. Make a note of one hobby you would like to begin but you haven’t. Make a note of one person you would like to speak with or spend more time with. Now message that person and create a plan to partake in that new hobby with that person.
  2. Practice gratitude each day. We all have a negative and positive lens that we can look through and they are always available to us. Looking through a positive lens is very different to rose tinted glasses. It is our choice how we view things in life. It is likely that yesterday many good things happened to us (a kind text message, a healthy warm meal, a laugh with a friend, a kind neighbour), but if one bad thing happened we may see this as a bad day. If we practice what we are grateful for each day we clear the mist and haze of the negativity bias and we can see opportunities, beauty and things to be grateful for each day. This gives us a clear mind and clear vision of that day. You can find an example exercise on this on our page resilience coaching.
  3. Gradually live each day in alignment with your values and create your life around things that are meaningful to you. This will give you endless passion and energy each day. More on this can be read here on What is a Meaningful Life?

A conclusion of thoughts

When we are in our twenties we can feel invincible. We may want to setup a global business, we may want to start an incredible new career, we may want to start a family. Success should be subjective to you and this is why living a meaningful life full of things that are meaningful to you is so important for your health and happiness. This is very different to what ‘success’ should look like from social media or a magazine cover. By creating a morning routine, a bed time routine, creating thirty minutes per day you time for relaxation, and creating an environment with coping strategies we can begin to live a life with much lower stress levels and also a life that fills us more often with positive emotions. By creating the environment for a good nights sleep we can thrive and flourish the next day without becoming lazy or becoming stressed via a lack of sleep. We only have one heart, we only have one brain, we only have one body. We are learning all the time about how our mind and body is interrelated and how our thoughts both positive and negative can change our physical makeup. We can achieve wonderful things in this world and for our loved ones, but we do not need to reduce our life expectancy or have a heart attack to do so. Please feel free to explore Meaningful Paths for an entire tapestry of health related articles, webinars, charity projects and digital products that can help you live such a life.

Thanks for listening.

Image References

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References

Burnout | Psychology Today United Kingdom

Burnout and the Brain – Association for Psychological Science – APS

‟Empathy Fatigue” – 1 – Matthieu Ricard

How Stress Affects the Immune System | Psychology Today

Matthew Walker: Why Is It Essential To Make Time For Sleep? : NPR

The 12 Stages of Burnout | Identification, Prevention & Treatment (providencetreatment.com)

What are the 5 stages of burnout? | Calmer (thisiscalmer.com)

Where Do You Fall on the Burnout Continuum? | Psychology Today United Kingdom

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