We generally don’t wake up, one day to the next, feeling burnt out. Burn out is a gradual, insidious process. We often miss the somewhat vague warning signs, putting these down to feeling tired or just having “one of those weeks”. It’s often not until we’ve fully hit burn out station, or we have it pointed out to us by partners, family, friends or colleagues, that we recognise how depleted we are.
At a societal level, there is increasing pressure to do more and work harder, both at work and at home. We work harder and do more, and in the end lose touch with what happening for us, how we are feeling and our capacity.
I’ve heard of burn out, but what is it?
Burn out is the cumulative reaction to ongoing life stressors. It tends to occur when the resources we have (such as time and energy) are lost or not enough to meet all the demands we have at hand, or when our inputs don’t result in the output we had hoped for. Some factors that lead to a higher risk of burn out are uncertainty, stressful events, heavy workload and pressure.
Signs or indicators of burn out are:
- feeling overwhelmed or unappreciated
- cynicism or frustration
- emotional exhaustion
- avoiding or withdrawing
- less commitment to activities, i.e. doing the bare minimum
- feeling less satisfied
- taking more time off
- sense of ineffectiveness or failure
- changes in attention or concentration
- increased use of alcohol, drugs or TV/social media
- changes in sleep or appetite
Many of us will experience some of these signs at one point in time or another, which may be completely unrelated to burn out. However if you are finding that these symptoms are ongoing or you are experiencing several of these, you may be burning out.
What can I do to manage burn out?
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re thinking, “help, I’m burnt out!!”, here are some things you can do to not only address burn out, but also take steps towards preventing it.
- Good eating, sleeping and exercise routine. If you can, try to aim for 3 to 5 meals per day, about 8 hours sleep a night and a 10 to 20 minute walk per day
- Saying “no” if you do not have capacity. If it’s hard to say “no”, try saying “maybe” and give yourself the time to think about whether you have capacity or not
- Give yourself breaks between demands or activities, and have some “quarantined time off “ each week, even if just for an hour
- Try to find a balance across the different areas of your life, you are not going to be able to give 100% to each area and that is totally ok
- Write out the things that are stressing you out. Make a note of the ones that are urgent or important (i.e. will this matter when I’m 85?) and which ones can be postponed or delegated to others
- Reconnect with your passions, the enjoyable activities that fulfil you
- Socialise with friends
- Use mindfulness based apps (such as Smiling Mind or Headspace) to focus more on the present, the right here and now, rather than the future or the past
If you are finding that your symptoms are significantly impacting on your relationships, work or other life areas, or you would like some support with managing burn out, check in with your GP and you may discuss whether seeing a psychologist could be worthwhile. You might also be able to access a psychologist through your workplace under an Employee Assistance Program.