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How are you all doing? Like many people you may be feeling a wee bit burnt out after the last couple of years. Unless of course you have bounced through everything with joy and laughter, in which case, more power to you my friends! However, I suspect that for many peeps, it has been a slog all the way through.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs but the main one is probably that even though life might be tootling along in a semi-normal way, the fact that we are in a global pandemic is never far from our minds. It lurks beneath everything we do. Also, if you are prone to doomscrolling through the news and social media often throughout the day, then your anxiety might be constantly turned up to an unpleasant level.
One of the consequences of being on high alert for long periods of time is that our systems can become over stressed and depleted as we are not built for it physically or mentally. Our fight or flight survival mechanisms which are designed to protect us temporarily during times of threat can go awry when activated over long periods of time…. with unpleasant consequences.
We are primed to be able to run or fight the big tiger that is attacking us but after the threat has passed, we need our systems to return to normal levels. What we require then is the ability to ‘rest and restore’ after a period of high energy expenditure. If we are not able to do this, then burnout can be the result.
So, just what is burnout? Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands. (WebMD)
Sounds horrible doesn’t it! The good news is that you can heal from burnout and if you pay heed to the lessons learned from the experience, create a more balanced way of living your life.
Here are some of the main symptoms of burnout which often go hand in hand with different levels of anxiety and depression:
1. Exhaustion – one of the main symptoms of burnout is feeling constantly exhausted and drained. This is not about being normally tired but having a deep sense of fatigue in the body and mind that is not alleviated with nightly sleep.
2. Cynicism – watch out for an attitude of cynicism and negativity that starts to creep into all aspects of your life but particularly your work life.
3. Demotivation – loss of motivation is often coupled with a loss of energy, but this is also tied to an increasing feeling of self-doubt about your abilities where previously you felt capable and confident.
4. Irritability – if you find yourself snapping at everyone around you without knowing why, that’s a sign you might be stretched too tight! Being very impatient and frustrated with colleagues can indicate trouble brewing.
5. Illnesses – burnout often goes hand in hand with frequent illnesses and physical symptoms, for example, headaches and stomach pains. Stress and exhaustion can impact your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses that you’d usually fight off with ease.
6. Isolation – this can show up as wanting to avoid socialising, both at work and in your personal life. You may just be tired for a while so this might not be problematic, but if the urge to avoid people lasts too long, it could be time to pay attention.
7. Insomnia – burnout is often accompanied by poor sleep habits over a sustained period. Even though you may be exhausted, when you try and sleep, it ain’t happening. Waking during the night and early morning are other indicators that all is not well in your sleep life.
8. Fantasies – having fantasies of escaping from your life in some way is another sign that you need to take some remedial action. We all wish we could be on a tropical island from time to time but having regular escape fantasies is your subconscious sending you big signals.
9. Disconnection – feeling detached from your work and the people around you is another common sign of excessive stress. This is a self-preservation technique from your body which is trying to protect you but is not good for you in the long term.
10. Brain fog – a feeling of being fuzzy in the head is often a symptom of chronic stress, which leads to burnout. You may be making more mistakes at work than usual, forgetting words, missing appointments, or taking longer to get back to people.
Here are a few things you could do if you’re facing burnout:
1. Reach out to other people – social contact is nature’s antidote to stress and talking face to face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Reach out to those closest to you, such as your partner, family, and friends. Opening up won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends and loved ones will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your relationships.
2. Limit your contact with negative people – hanging out with negative-minded people who do nothing but complain will only drag down your mood and outlook. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together.
3. Connect with a cause or a community group that is personally meaningful to you – joining a religious, social, or support group can give you a place to talk to like-minded people about how to deal with daily stress and to make new friends.
4. Find new friends – If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.
5. Reframe the way you look at work – try to find some value in your work. Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your role helps others, for example, or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
6. Find balance in your life – if you hate your job, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life: in your family, friends, hobbies, or voluntary work. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy.
7. Make friends at work – try and be more sociable with your coworkers. Having strong ties in the workplace can help reduce monotony and counter the effects of burnout. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.
8. Take time off – seems obvious but if burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work. Go on a mini-break, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery.
9. 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 commitments you want to make.
10. Burnout is a sign that something is not working – take some time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
I’ve been through a few burnouts in my time. They are not fun, that’s for sure! One episode was so bad I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. This was a long time ago in my 20s but due to my perfectionistic streak, the threat often lurks just out of sight, so I’m vigilant for the telltale signs. People who are prone to burning out put a lot of pressure on themselves and set unrealistic standards that can be impossible to achieve. This often stems from feelings of being unworthy in some way, inadequate or insecure and therefore needing to prove yourself over and over again.
The secret is to be more compassionate with yourself and accept that you are only human, not a robot, and that you are a worthwhile person who deserves all the good things in life.
Hope this information helps set you up for a gentler and kinder year.
I wish you good thinking