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Burnout: The What, the Why, and the How Plus 3 Tips on How to Cope

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If relentless stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and utterly exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. Reel yourself in before you crash!

Learn what you can do to put the breaks on, and feel emotionally and physically capable again.

What is burnout?

Burnout basically means a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. And as the stress persists, you may begin to lose the interest and motivation that got you to where you are in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. You eventually feel like you have nothing more to give, but the most concerning part? You may not even care anymore. But that interest and motivation isn’t gone forever –  you can get it back. and feel yourself again, but it requires a lifestyle overhaul.

The negative effects of burnout don’t only affect your work, but also your health, your relationships, your self-esteem, and your social life. This is why we must stop this office plague in its tracks.

Are you on the road to burnout?

SiGNS You may be on the road to burnout:
  • Every day is a “bad day.”
  • Caring about your work or home responsibilities seems like a waste of energy.
  • You’re physically and emotionally exhausted all the time.
  • You face endless tasks you find either dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overloaded, or unappreciated. But if you feel like this most of the time, you may have burnout

Contrary to popular belief, burnout is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and may not include a sudden panic attack or collapse. It is more likely to creep up on you, slowly wearing you down until you eventually can’t find the strength or even desire to continue.

The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but they become worse. Pay attention to any signs as red flags that something about your current lifestyle needs to change pronto. This way, you could swerve a major breakdown.

Physical changes

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional changes

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral changes

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Burnout: Tips on how to cope

1. Physical Health

  • Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can exacerbate burnout by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Exercise. Rhythmic exercise –  where you move both your arms and legs –  is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase your energy levels, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. To maximize this stress relief benefit, try to focus on your body and its sensations and don’t let your mind wander to your worries during a workout. This will help you to detach from your day-to-day, and ground you back to yourself and the world around you.
  • Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks or comfort foods, which will give you a temporary boost – but these quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy. Choose instead to keep your body nourished and strong as this will be the best way to protect it from the physical consequences of stress and burnout.
  • Consume more Omega-3 and magnesium. Foods such as chia and flax seeds for Omega 3 and leafy greens, nuts and dark chocolate for magnesium can work wonders for symptoms of anxiety and help to lift your mood.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol temporarily reduces worry, but since it’s a depressant, it can also contribute to low mood and motivation levels. As for caffeine, it’s known to exacerbate anxiety so consume with caution.

2. Relationships

One of the most effective ways to get past symptoms of burnout is to reach out to others.

Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress and face-to-face communication is one of the most sure-fire ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress.

The person you talk to, most likely, won’t fix your problems; they just have to be a good listener who genuinely cares about your wellbeing.

  • Reach out to those closest to you, such as a close friend, family member, or your partner. They say a problem shared is a problem halved – and sometimes all it takes is talking it out with a loved one after a difficult day at work. They may help you to get some perspective on your alleged failure, or realise that you are not overreacting to a toxic workplace and should take action.
  • Connect with your coworkers. Positive relationships with people you work with can make a world of difference to your mental health at work.  Try engaging with your colleagues to feel less alone and overwhelmed in the face of your work. It can make a huge difference to feel part of a team, and to feel like you have support or even just someone to understand your stress. And if you have work-specific problems, maybe they can offer advice.
  • Avoid negativity. Working alongside negative-minded people who constantly complain will only drag down your mood and sully your outlook. If you have to work with a person who is making you feel low, try to limit the amount of time you spend together – or at least make an effort to steer your interactions into a more positive and productive space.

3. Reevaluate Your priorities

Whether you have a job that leaves you frazzled with stress, or one that is monotonous and unfulfilling, the most effective way to combat burnout is, of course,  to quit and find a job you love instead. However, this is often nor possible or practical.

Whatever your situation, a reevaluation of your priorities could be the life raft you need to get your emotional wellbeing back on track. To start:

  • Find value in your work. Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your role helps others – even if the only ones you feel it helps are your coworkers, try and look at the bigger picture and appreciate the contribution you make each day despite your hardships. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
  • Find balance in your life. If you simply hate your job, and can’t think of a single positive, then 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, and remember that work should not define you or be your sole purpose or activity in life.
  • Set boundaries. If this whole balance thing is proving difficult when you find yourself working late time and time again and feel pressured to continue doing so, learn how to say “no” and value your own time.

We all need to work extra from time to time, but if this goes continually unrecognised by your manager, or it is simply harming your health, then you have to learn to walk away. You shouldn’t feel you have no choice but to do overtime every day – this should be an exception, not the rule – and will only lead to you having to take more time off down the line.

  • Take time off. If burnout seems like a train crash waiting to happen, try to take a complete break from work. These are the moments that annual leave is made for. Or if you are already feeling pretty bad, then you may be entitled to sick leave or mental health days.

Employers are becoming more aware of the need to take time off for mental health now, and you often don’t have to specify your illness anyway. You deserve it. Remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries to come back fighting in a week or month’s time.

  • Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking your email. Being constantly reachable, and constantly staring at a screen of some sort not only gives you tired eyes, but the blue light can hinder healthy sleep, but it can also send constant jolt of cortisol through your body as you twitch at every notification sound and scramble to respond to every whim while you disregard your own needs and right to downtime. We all need some quality time alone to switch off and reflect each day for a healthy perspective on life – that message can wait!
  • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work or whatever is causing your stress.
  • Set aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing help to melt away stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and train your body to find a state of restfulness.

Burnout: The bottom line

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something in your life is not working in your favour – and this needs to change. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams.

Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? Your work satisfaction, your sleep, your alone time?

Take this shaky period as an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy. A reminder to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal, to ensure you can bet back to your most emotionally and physically strong self.

Change your mindset with Selfish Darling’s Gratitude Journal

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