Burnout is one of those terms that’s thrown about a lot, particularly in the increasingly overworked, online 24/7 space. But what does it actually mean? And how could it affect you?
Burnout happens when we feel overwhelmed and overworked.
Everyone has a different point at which they feel burned out. That doesn’t make anyone right or wrong; we all have different amounts of stress which we can cope with.
Stress is often an early warning sign. If the cause(s) of stress aren’t dealt with, it can lead to burnout. This can take longer to recover from and have more long-term consequences.
When we hit burnout, it becomes almost impossible to function. Small tasks like going for a shower feel like climbing a mountain. And after completing the task, it can leave us drained all over again.
It could also cause brain fog, or executive function issues. This is where we struggle to think properly, or understand basic instructions. These problems can cause further stress, making us feel worse, and cause issues at work or at home when we don’t understand something.
Our always-on culture, where we’re bombarded with stimuli 24/7, is causing more and more of us to feel burned out.
We often take just a moment here or there to check and reply to work emails. Those replies add up to us feeling unable to switch off from work and take time for ourselves, which makes it harder to relax.
We go through life with more going on in our heads, thinking about this or that, so we start to think more and more about the commitments that we have at work, at home, or in our social lives.
Juggling working from home, while raising kids or caring for other family members, can blur the lines between work and home. You put that with an always-on culture and it becomes increasingly hard to switch off. This increases anxiety or work pressures, especially if you’re dealing with an uncertain job, so feel you have to do more to stand out and keep your main source of income.
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High workload, a lack of support, or the wrong resources to complete a job can also trigger burnout.
Burnout can be triggered by one thing, or a combination. The exact cause looks different for everyone and is unique to their circumstances.
What one person finds stressful another person may find a manageable level of stress.
There’s no right or wrong level of stress to be able to handle. What matters is that when you start to feel stressed or burned out, you take steps to help yourself in the short and long term.
Those who are the most conscientious or sensitive are more likely to develop burnout.
People-pleasing tendencies can mean someone is more prone to burnout because it’s hard to say no. This fear of saying no can lead to overcommitting on what needs to be done.
Perfectionist traits can also lead to burnout as we strive to achieve impossible standards which we impose on ourselves. Loud inner critics and constant negative self-talk can pave the way towards burnout.
Those of us who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are also more likely or suffer from burnout because our brains struggle to cope with day-to-day life in a neurotypical way.
Constantly adapting our ways of thinking, and masking emotions, can add additional stressors which lead to burnout.
It can be hard to admit when we’re struggling, but some things we just can’t do alone. If work is burning you out, talk to your colleagues and/or manager to see if there’s something they can do to relieve some of the pressure.
Remember: asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
Lack of sleep is a big part of burnout. It can make it harder for us to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up in the mornings.
Getting adequate sleep will help mitigate some of the damage as this is when our minds and bodies repair themselves and deal with issues.
To work out if you’re getting enough sleep, turn off your alarm and see what time you wake up naturally. This will tell you how much sleep your body needs per night.
You can then look at adjusting your sleeping pattern to make it easier to wake up in the mornings.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, check out our partner, SleepStation, or try a guided meditation.
A balanced diet can make a surprising difference to our mental and physical health. It’s all too easy to reach for a ready meal when we’re mentally drained, but eating more fruits and vegetables will improve your mental and physical health.
Try to start the day off with a couple of portions of fruit or vegetables. Starting the day off healthily will encourage you to carry on in a similar way.
You can also cook meals in bulk and freeze them so that you have homemade ready meals for those days you’re short on time or energy.
Even a gentle walk in nature can help get out some of the pent-up anxiety and tension in our bodies.
Slow movements such as yoga and tai chi can also relax tight muscles and hyperactive minds.
Do something you enjoy and which takes your mind off work. This could be cooking, playing with a pet, reading a book - whatever works for you.
The important thing is that you disconnect and focus on being in the moment, not everything else that’s going on in your life.
Very few things are ever urgent enough that they can’t wait half an hour for you to walk the dog or read a chapter of a book.
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