Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Recovery

Most people will be surprised at how common burnout is, especially in fast paced environments where the ‘off’ button doesn’t exist. Work environments can be a big cause of burnout, but being a full time mum, running a business, being under financial stress or training for an intense sporting event are also big life events that can leave you feeling exhausted, out of control, and anxious.


In fact, it’s become such an issue that The World Health Organisation now recognises burnout as an official medical diagnosis.


There are many reasons why burnout can happen, and ideally, we want to prevent it occurring in the first place. However, with our fast paced way of life and continual environmental stimulation, it can happen before you’ve had a chance to realise you were over doing it.


Here are some of the key causes of burnout, what symptoms to look for, and how to recover and move forward.


Symptoms of Burnout


Symptoms of burnout include:


  • Low energy; you feel tired and fatigued a lot of the time

  • You often experience muscle aches and pains, including back pain

  • You suffer with frequent headaches

  • You seem to get ill frequently

  • Alcohol or substance dependency

  • Constantly putting things off and withdrawing


Emotional symptoms include:


  • Feelings of low mood

  • Easily irritated

  • Disinterested and demotivated in work and/or life

  • Feeling like you’re a failure or not enough

  • Feeling alone or completely deflated


Common Causes of Burnout & How To Deal With Them


Overworked


This one is arguably the most common. Workplaces can be overwhelming at the best of times, but having an unmanageable workload would tip most of us over the edge.


There is such a thing as positive stress at work, where you have challenging but rewarding tasks, the odd deadline here and there and a healthy team environment that both encourages you to be your best and supports you.


However, this is very different to having deadlines that are unrealistic, high pressure projects and too much work to get done in a normal working week.


The key problem is not having enough time and space to rest and reboot. Doing high quality work takes a lot of cognitive energy, which is why work/life balance is so important.


We use social time or time outs to tune into areas of our lives that help us relax and take our mind off our work, so without these, we can become fatigued, stressed, tired and even suffer from mental illness.


There are a few different ways you can deal with this, but the key here is actually dealing with it. It can be tempting to run away or pretend everything is fine and keep going, but this could make matters worse.


Here are a few tips for facing work related burnout:


Speak it out - odds are, you’re not the only one in your workspace feeling this way, but you could be the person that ends up making a tonne of other people’s lives easier by speaking up. You can start with a soft approach - vocalise that you’re struggling and ask for help. Express it to your line manager and give them a chance to rectify things.


Delegate - if you have a team of people around you, look to see which areas of your job you can delegate to others. This is a key skill of top managers and directors and a great way to show your own management skills.


Book appointments that mean you have to finish work on time - lots of our clients book personal training sessions at 6pm, and they tell us that this helps them draw a line under their working day and close their laptops. You could book so many things that mean you have to finish work, for example; a dinner with a friend, a yoga class, a drawing workshop, a Facetime with family, or a playdate for your kids.


Lack of Control


Do you feel like you have little to no control over work place matters? Do you feel like your opinions aren’t listened to and your needs aren’t met? Unsure what you can do about it?


Feeling out of control is incredibly overwhelming. You know something needs to change and you want to change it, but you feel like you don’t have the power to.


You might feel like you can’t control your workload, or want to change professions but feel stuck. You might desperately need some personal space but feel like work, family, finances and general life has spiralled out of control leaving you mentally and physically exhausted.


Perceiving a lack of control can lead to burnout because you know you need to stop and recharge, but you feel that you don’t have the option.


In these scenarios, you need to clear your head in order to be able to tackle the problem with practical solutions.


Here are some tips for tackling the feeling of being out of control:


Exercise - this is all about clearing your mind so that you have the energy to address the issues you’re dealing with. Exercise triggers the release of mood regulating hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which will leave you feeling more positive and able to handle your situation.


Write it down - feeling out of control is often caused by having too many things to think about. It all ends up spilling over until you don’t know what to face first. Separate each issue by writing it down, and then you can address things one at a time. For example:


Overworking - can you talk to your manager about your workload? Can you become more efficient by ranking your tasks by priorities? Can you use a task management tool? Can you outsource something?


No help with kids - can you speak to your partner or a family member about helping you ease the burden, even if it’s just for a weekend of breathing space?


Therapy - you can get therapy sessions for free by going to your doctor and talking about your struggles. You can also find local therapists privately, or perhaps find support through work. Therapy can cover a wide range of issues and they can even act as life coaches, helping you change your life to help you feel more in control.


Perfectionism


Sometimes, the pressure we put on ourselves can be the main cause of burnout. We live in a culture that constantly pushes us to do more, with subtle messaging that nothing is ever enough.


It’s important that you challenge this messaging when you start to internalise it. A good tip to confront perfectionism head on is this:


Choose three tasks each week that you are going to complete to an “okay” standard. It could be anything, doesn’t matter how small or big. No matter what happens, once you’ve finished this task to an acceptable level, move on. It’s a great way to train your mind to realise that “good enough” is completely fine.


Inadequate Social Support


Humans are indeed, social animals. Socialising helps us disconnect from work stress and engage in lighthearted, relaxing activities that help take our mind off of things.


This much needed mental break is crucial in order to help you emotionally recover from a draining day or week. Socialising helps lift our mood, is a great opportunity to seek advice and support from others, and helps us be more mindful, with less rumination.


Here are some tips for building a social support network:


Reach out to those you may have drifted away from. We all get wrapped up in life and work sometimes, and it’s easy to neglect friendships and connections. Think of a few people who you’d like to reconnect with, and send them a friendly message. You’ll be surprised how many people also want to reconnect and expand their social circle.


Sign up to a fitness class and go every week. Seeing the same people is a great way to slowly build connections without having to force yourself into uncomfortable social situations.


Spend more time with family. Family bonds are important and can also be neglected when life gets busy. See if you can organise a small get together and help yourself feel reconnected.


Join a Facebook group with likeminded people. As an example, open swimming is hugely popular in terms of a growing community of individuals who want swimming buddies. Lots of niche interests have their own Facebook groups, and you’ll be able to meet people with the same interests as you.


Recovering from Burnout


It is a good idea to seek professional help after burnout. Reach out to your doctor or a licensed mental health professional who can help you recover effectively.


You should also take a break and communicate with colleagues, friends and family what you’re going through. This way, they can understand and make room for your recovery.


Burnout is more common than we’d like, so sharing your struggles can help others experiencing something similar and encourage dialogue around a sensitive but important issue.


Jessica Redman

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