Burnout – more than just working too hard
Burnout – the modern epidemic?
I am firmly touching wood whilst declaring that I have never experienced burn out, but the number of people who are telling me that they have is growing, so I thought it would be worth exploring what it is and how to prevent it in a blog article here:
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state exhaustion – physical, mental and emotional attributed to long term and excessive stress. There are thought to be three main symptoms of burnout – though most people consider it to be the first only:
- Exhaustion: Feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained, depleted or fatigued. Sometimes to the point that you are no longer able to continue to work. In more extreme cases, hospitalisation may be required.
- Losing interest in your work or other areas of life. Feeling indifferent or even hostile in situations that would previously have been meaningful to you.
- Creeping doubt: Feeling like you’re not good enough, or that your work is meaningless. Also known as Imposter Syndrome.
What Causes Burnout?
It is widely believed that Burnout is caused by overworking, although there are other factors at play. Generally speaking it’s about being in a state of fight or flight the vast majority of the time and your body not being allowed/able to switch into rest and digest mode often enough and for long enough. This can, in part, be connected to:
- Work-life balance: Are you working such long hours that you don’t have adequate time to refresh, relax and replenish? Do you have an exceptionally high workload with no signs of it relenting? Is the amount of work you have to do out of your control?
- Unbalanced work environment: an environment with high demands, little support or room for growth. Especially if inequality is a feature, or there are ruthless individuals in your hierarchy.
- Personal demands: family illness, care and household responsibilities or financial pressures can all play their part. Especially when there are unclear boundaries and uneven distribution of responsibility.
The nervous system has a huge part to play here. The more we wire ourselves to be “on” all the time, the less our body is able to cope with the increasing demands we put upon it. I recommend that you take some time to read up on the Vagus Nerve and how to support it’s function.
Ultimately, it is important that as individuals, we listen to our bodies, they tell us the truth about how our system is coping (or not). Pay attention to your breathing right now. Is it slow and deep, or quick and shallow?
How to Prevent Burnout
There are a number of things you can do to prevent burnout, including:
- Change your understanding of who you are and what is important (I have lots of other articles on this – this is my number one piece of advice, the rest is just common sense)
- Look after yourself: Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, taking time to slow down, breathe and allow your Vagus Nerve to activate.
- Eating healthy foods and take the time out to be mindful of eating while you are doing so. Chew each mouthful, pay attention to how it tastes and smells.
- Exercise regularly, and when you do, take time to sit afterwards and breathe slowly allowing your body the learning experience of switching from an active state to a restorative state.
- Set boundaries: Think deeply about whether you need to be doing all of the things you were doing and if you were reading this article from a hospital bed, which ones you can see that you could easily have dropped or delegated.
- Take breaks – outside preferably. No phone, no screen, just breathe and pay attention to your environment.
- Talk about how you are feeling. With a trust friend, coach or therapist
What to do if you suspect a colleague is close to Burnout
- Talk to them – feeling supported by you will make a big difference to them.
- Show them this article.
- Remind them that they are a son/daughter/parent/partner etc and that their wellbeing is incredibly important – more so than whatever they are worried about.
- Show them some of my deeper articles on the true source of wellbeing.
Found this helpful? Check out some of my other blog posts, or get in touch for a free initial exploratory chat!