What is burnout?
Burnout is often related to work stress, however, anyone can experience burnout, whether work-related or lifestyle-related. It is when we are physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, and while it does not have a recognised medical diagnosis, many experience very real symptoms and complications that come from burnout.
Whether burnout is work or lifestyle or work and lifestyle-related, it negatively impacts every area of our life. It reduces productivity, leaves many completely wiped out with constant fatigue, creates numerous symptoms in our body and means that many are eventually unable to function fully in day to day life.
Long-term burnout can cause long term changes in our health and lifestyle as it affects every part and area of our life. As it becomes more prevalent and is more widely recognised, it has never been so crucial to understanding the best tips to avoid burnout.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
To avoid burnout we need to learn to recognise the symptoms that often accompany it. Though many will, not everyone will get all of these symptoms.
Firstly we need to understand that burnout does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process. It slowly creeps up on us and at first can be mistaken for simply being stressed. In saying this, stress is one of the largest contributors to burnout, so noticing our stress, knowing how stress impacts us, being able to change the way in which we handle stress and making changes to stay healthy while going through a stressful time is paramount to avoiding burnout.
At first, you may feel overly fatigued. Fatigued to the point that it is difficult to get your head off the pillow in the morning. Tired enough that the feeling lasts all day and no good night’s sleep or long weekend has any chance of changing how you feel. We all feel fatigued occasionally, however, if you are feeling like this every day, take note.
We can become so accustomed to feeling stressed and tired that it becomes the new norm. When we tell others that we feel tired, stressed or have a headache for example, often what we will hear is “oh me too” or “I feel like that every day, don’t worry about it” or “Oh don’t worry, after age… we all feel like that” or “we are all stressed, it’s just stress”. We have become so used to feeling stressed and unwell that this new normal has quietly crept up on us over the years.
Our body is always speaking with us, always sending us signs, signals and symptoms.
If we can learn how to listen to our body and respond accordingly, we not only avoid burnout and any number of chronic illnesses, but we have a much greater chance of being able to live and thrive in optimal health, as opposed to existing and surviving in illness.
Receiving these signs, signals and symptoms are red flags when we ignore them. They are often gentle and subtle at first and as time goes on and we continue to not listen, they become louder and louder. This continues until our body gets our attention. If we do a good job at not listening, our body will eventually send us large enough signals to sit us on our arse.
I was great at not listening and my body kept sending signals until I collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It will always amaze me, how far we can continue to push our body and how much our body can put up with before we come crashing down.
The physical signs of burnout
Here are some, but not all of the physical signs to notice if we want to avoid burnout.
- Feeling tired and drained the majority of the time
- Getting sick or run down more often
- Frequent skin complaints and rashes or difficulty healing
- Experiencing headaches more often and aches and pain in the body
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Digestive complaints
- Constantly looking washed out and skin looking sallow
- Feeling puffy and bloated
- Sore and aching eyes
- Foggy mind and head
- Inability to think clearly
- Memory challenges not previously experienced
The behavioural and emotional signs of avoid burnout
- Greater feeling of insecurities
- A constant lack of confidence
- A lack of motivation in almost every area of your life
- Feeling overwhelmed and helpless
- Having a negative outlook and noticing changes in personality
- Feeling like you can’t accomplish anything anymore or not wanting to accomplish anything anymore
- Feeling more alone in the world, feeling isolated
- Not wanting to continue your responsibilities
- Isolating from loved ones and friends
- Not partaking in activities once enjoyed
- No longer enjoying activities
- Taking a long time to do anything, even menial tasks
- Becoming very and regularly frustrated and short-tempered without realising
- Not being able to complete a full day’s work
- Feeling like you need extra caffeine, alcohol or drugs to get by
These are of course not all of the symptoms that can show up for people experiencing burnout and while some may experience only a few, those who go through burnout do experience symptoms in all of the four pillars of health. The physical, mental, emotional and soulful areas of health, wellness and life.
The top 5 tips to avoid burnout
1. Understanding our body is the number one priority
The very first and most important step in avoiding burnout and any other chronic health condition is to understand the signs, signals and symptoms of our body. Each of us is unique, so there is no generic approach that works for everyone.
What is crucial is that we understand what our body is telling us. What it is saying it wants, when it wants it and how it wants it delivered. We need to learn the life skills of how to listen to our body, how to receive that information, and how to respond to that information in a way that works for us.
2. Every Day actions help avoid burnout
Taking a daily approach is crucial to our success in any area, especially health and wellness. Vacations are wonderful and necessary, taking breaks and having long weekends are important, however, nothing is as important as what we do on a consistent daily basis.
Many of us are so rushed and have so much going on in our lives that we forget and fail to prioritise health in any real way that actually makes a long term difference to us. Going to the gym and thrashing out a workout when we are undernourished will not only result in possible injury, illness and a lack of results we are working so hard for, but will in no way, help our body to heal. Going to bed early or having a day sleep on the weekend will not help if we haven’t got the fuel to recover as we rest.
Much like not having petrol and oil in the car. If your car’s light is on, the battery is low and it is slowing down or stopping and starting. Leaving it to rest in the garage for a few weeks won’t do much if you don’t fill it with fuel, replace the oil and recharge the battery.
Consistent and persistent daily actions that take us further towards health and behaviours that contribute to a positive lifestyle are the only way to avoid burnout and health problems that are preventable.
3. Exercise helps in every way
Exercise, activity and movement are absolutely essential for our wellbeing. Our body was made to move and to enjoy that movement. Many of us have not moved in a way that consistently supports our body for extended periods of time. Something we really need to change.
There are many reasons why many of us dislike exercise or choose not to involve ourselves in exercise on a regular basis, however, this is something that is crucial to our long term health.
Exercise and movement has been proven to positively impact those experiencing burnout and as research show “an increasing amount of scientific work suggests positive effects of exercise-related interventions in patients with burnout”
Numerous studies have shown what we have always known. Exercise is crucial in achieving optimal health, in the prevention of chronic illness and in the treatment of numerous chronic health conditions such as depression. As depression is one part of burnout for many people who experience it, we know that if only for that reason, exercise is an incredibly effective treatment and preventative measure in avoiding burnout.
In a previous article, I discuss the benefits of exercise and while there are many more, all of the benefits included in this article are important points to consider when either wanting to avoid burnout or needing to heal from burnout.
Whether it be a 15-minute walk at lunch, a 45-minute yoga session, a game of touch footy with friends or a visit to the gym, any movement that we can do consistently will be of benefit to us in more ways than we can even imagine. While always exercising within our current health ability, exercising for even a few days provides a noticeable improvement in our energy, our stress levels, our tension, our sleep quality and feelings of confidence and wellness, to name a few.
4. Meditation for heath and wellness
Meditation has been shown and known to improve our quality of life in a variety of ways for many, many years. If you or anyone you know meditates, you will often hear them speak about the many benefits they experience because of their daily practice.
Many will speak of an increase in energy, peacefulness, clarity, focus, calmness and ability to handle stress. Research has shown that “60% of people who practice meditation find that it improves their energy, while for 50%, meditation aids in their memory and focus”
This is an incredibly important point considering energy reduction and a reduction in memory and focus are common signs of burnout.
Meditation has become readily accessible now that there are so many forms of meditation and so many ways to practice meditation online. There is no one way better than another. There is only a way that suits you and a way that you enjoy, enabling you to build a long term and sustainable habit that supports you in a positive way.
Whether it’s 10 minutes or 45 minutes, the practice of regular meditation creates so many positive results in all areas of our life. This is a worthy and well-known tool for wellness that has proven results. There are numerous free online meditations and you can literally meditate anywhere, so there really is no reason to not ensure meditation becomes a regular practice in life, not only to avoid burnout, but as a habit that helps to create our best life.
5. How to avoid burnout with nutrition
Filling your body with not only the right nutrition for you, but making sure the nutrition you put in is digested, absorbed and assimilated is essential for any of us to achieve the health and wellness we really want and deserve. So often, when we start to feel unwell or run down, we diet or go on a “health kick”. Many of us will google what we should do or ask others on social media what we should do to improve our lack of energy, feeling run down and fatigued., for example This is much like going up to every and any person in the supermarket and asking them what we should do after explaining our symptoms to them.
We simply cannot expect our body to perform at the rate we would like and to keep up with our demands of daily life without being nourished and fed with nutrients that are paramount to its basic functions.
If our body is not receiving the necessary nutrients, we simply cannot expect to have the energy, to not only get through our day but to do more in our day than the very basics. In turn, burnout makes it very difficult for us to function at any level at all. The level that we are able to function depends of course on the level of burnout we are experiencing and the current state of our health.
When stress makes it difficult to not only eat a healthy and balanced diet, but also to absorb those nutrients how can we expect our body to give us the vehicle to do everything we need and want to do in our day?
If we are overwhelmed with life and life feels like it is getting on top of us, why would we think missing meals and not getting enough nutrients would be anything but harmful to our health?
When many of us feel stressed and feel overwhelmed, we either overeat rubbish and processed foods, not providing our body with enough essential nutrients, or we simply fail to feel hungry and we struggle to eat anything at all.
To avoid burnout we need to understand our behaviours when stressed. When we look at nutrition for example, we may recognise that when overwhelmed we either stress eat and overeat (usually foods that we find comforting and deplete us), or we find the stress impacts our digestive system and we don’t feel hungry, so we hardly eat at all. Both of these scenarios are detrimental to our health and can lead to ongoing health problems.
Eating what is truly needed for our body to function at the highest level, or to have enough nourishment to heal from chronic stress or any health complaint is essential if we are to avoid burnout. Of course, the best way to know what we need and what is best for us is to get qualified advice and to be taught the skills of understanding how to listen and speak with our body.
Avoiding burnout is such a timely and important subject. Burnout has seen an increase in the last years and I expect to see this trend continue over the next couple of years, so this will be only part one of our burnout series. Understanding our body, taking proactive action towards creating an environment in which our body can heal, learning the skills of understanding our body and forming new and positive habits, patterns and behaviours are the important trends for 2022.
Many of us now understand more than ever, that our health is a top priority for us and for those we surround ourselves with. As we move towards taking greater personal responsibility for our health and what we do to contribute to our health, we have also become aware of how our health impacts every aspect of our life and those we choose to surround ourselves with.
Our loved ones, our employers, our employees, our team members, our stakeholders, our friends and our community, both large and small, are all impacted by the level of our health and the level at which we function. It’s never been more paramount to invest in our health and to make sure the years we live are spent thriving, not just surviving.