Burn-out has become a widely used term over the course of 2020 and there’s no surprise why. If constant stress and over-working has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. You may well be sitting there thinking ‘that won’t / is not happening to me I can handle it’, but the truth is most of us have been on the precipice of it without realising, which can quickly snowball into something bigger leaving us feeling helpless in reversing it’s effects.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and drains you entirely, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, irritable and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. To put it simply, your outgoing energy is not aligned with the energy going in – and that constant imbalance is at breaking point. The negative effects of burnout can spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, relationships and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many knock-on consequences, it’s so essential to deal with burnout right away, once you acknowledge it.
Burnout is a slow and gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you without you even realising. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but worsen over time. Think of the early symptoms as red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and actively reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll eventually burn out.
With the media constantly telling us the more you hustle, the more successful you will be, we are facing burnout at an increasingly alarming rate, with the pandemic exacerbating this by 75%. The pressure to “always be on” working late and available to read emails late at night or on weekends; expectations to get more done than is possible and ambiguous performance expectations all contribute hugely towards this trend. We keep up this constant theme of pushing ourselves to the brink because we get a false sense of achievement and safety. So many of us are living out a life that looks good on paper, with the success of external factors giving us a distorted view of happiness.
With the pandemic affecting all of our lives, most of us are also blissfully unaware of the subconscious stress that our bodies are dealing with. The stress of decision fatigue, the unknown, being away from family and friends and not having enough ‘normal’ interactions for our nervous system to feel ‘safe.’ This is not to mention the added pressures people may face in terms of homeschooling and having your partner around you ALL of the time. We’re all trying to navigate and adapt to this new way of life without ever getting a proper break from work.
We are now seeing a brand new type of burnout caused instead by the combination of lots of small stressors that we weren’t consciously aware of pre-Covid.
As a woman, from a biological perspective, the stress that comes with burnout is even worse, with the effects wrecking havoc on your hormones and can make you become moody, irritated, have heavy periods, skin breakouts, loss of libido and more. There is NO up-side.
So how do you prevent burn-out?
1) Get brutally honest with yourself. If you KNOW you’ve been pushing yourself too hard and can feel the effects of it, put the breaks on immediately. Ask yourself truthfully, what does my body need right now? Your body will thank you later. Take the pressure of now and prioritise rest and recovery consistently.
2) Introduce a psychological or physical act that breaks up your workday from your home life. That could be having an evening shower or bath to symbolise the act of washing away the working day, or something as simple as lighting candles to signify when your downtime starts. Change your clothes, put on some fun music. Whatever works for you to allow you to fully switch off.
2) Make exercise non-negotiable. Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost and get those endorphins circulating to boost your mood. Even if you put aside just 20 minutes out of your day to slow down and disconnect. Do it with no excuses, everything else can wait. This will boost alertness and mental health, and decrease anxiety related to stress, ensuring you will be more likely to focus and therefore perform. If you have time to scroll on your phone or watch that Netflix programme you absolutely have time for yourself and improving your own wellbeing.
3) Maintain a balanced diet. Eating a healthy diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids can be a natural antidepressant. Switch to buying only healthy food at the supermarket to avoid the temptation of eating sugary snacks that will cause you to have low levels of energy throughout the day. Ensure that you’re also getting taking supplements and vitamins as sometimes our diets do not always provide us with the nutrients we need. I recommend taking magnesium if you suffer with anxiety, and Vitamin A-D & apple cider vinegar tablets more generally to boost your immune system.
4) Practice good sleep habits. ‘I don’t have time to sleep’ I hear you say. I’ve been there. But this is fundamental for not only your physical wellbeing (improving your immune function) but your cognitive development. If you TRULY want to succeed and be the best you can be you need your 7-8 hours sleep. No question about it. Studies have found that short sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication. Sleep debt is a real concept and one we can never repay. Don’t put it off tomorrow, do it tonight. The bottom line is you cannot achieve optimal performance without taking care of your sleeping patterns. Your self-care should be your biggest priority. So be unapologetically selfish and act on your needs.
5) Ask for help. Being vulnerable and seeking support can be massively powerful. If you ask for help, guaranteed there will be someone willing to help you. You are not invincible, we’re all human. And that’s ok. Sometimes we ALL need that extra support to get us either on the right track or back on the right track.
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