Burnout is a condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It can zap the joy out of your career, friendships, and family interactions. Burnout makes it hard to cope with stress and day-to-day responsibilities.
What is the difference between stress and burnout?
Stress is about having too much. Too many pressures demand too much of you physically and mentally. It is as if you are ‘drowning,’ but still feel that if you get everything under control, you will feel better.
Burnout is about not enough. It is as if you are ‘dried up.’ Being burnt out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, and it may feel increasingly challenging to see any hope of positive change in your situation.
There was a time when I encountered countless stressful situations and I experienced the effects of ‘burnout.’ I was constantly exhausted - both mentally and physically - and experienced constant stomach aches, headaches, and trouble sleeping.
I felt empty and frequently fell ill – every 3 weeks or so! I made good friends with my doctor that year!
Only now, when I am reflecting back on this time do I recognize that I was experiencing the effects of burnout. I was unable to manage my stress, taking on too much work and worry, and not caring or knowing how to care for my own needs.
However, I soon made a change because I knew feeling this way wasn’t sustainable. I began to put myself first. I noted what situations were in my control and out of my control.
I began exercising more, creating a healthy sleep routine, managing my stress, and reaching out to friends. Over time, I got back to being my usual self, but a more resilient version of me.
Burnout looks different for everyone! You can experience burnout too! Constant exposure to stressful situations, such as caring for an ill family member, working long hours, or witnessing upsetting news can lead to burnout. The best way to deal with burnout is to prevent burnout in the first place.
Imagine your house is about to catch on fire - it’s easier to put out the small sparks that start it rather than a whole house that goes up in flames.
So how can you prevent burnout?
1) Recognize when these symptoms are happening
How do you know when you are overwhelmed? What are the signs? Are you feeling any of the symptoms of burnout?
Feeling exhausted (mentally & physically), isolated, desire to escape fantasies, irritable, frequently ill, trouble sleeping, feeling like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated or has meaning, negative attitudes at work, feeling empty, etc.
Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your body and helps your heart work more efficiently. This will give you more energy to tackle daily activities.
Exercise also acts as an emotional booster, giving you greater confidence and strength.
3) Eat a balanced diet
Eating healthily has an incredible boost on your body and mind. Especially in stressful situations, you want to make sure you are nourishing your body and your brain appropriately, to give it the fuel it needs to do your daily tasks.
4) Practice good sleep habits
Sleep impacts every part of our lives, so it is important to ensure we are getting the best sleep we can. Some ideas are avoiding caffeine before bed, creating a regular sleep schedule and turning off screens before bed.
5) Ask for help
Reaching out to friends, family, or a therapist when you need help can go a long way.
6) Work with purpose
Does your work have meaning to you? What is needed of you from your job? What isn’t? Check and make adjustments.
7) Learn to manage stress
Do you know how to manage your own stress? What tactics do you use and are they effective?
8) Reserve ‘me’ time
Schedule free time for yourself! Make sure you are doing things you know you enjoy. What does ‘me’ time look like for you?
Burnout is real, and it’s important to care for yourself every day, not just when you start to feel its effects.
In such an unusual time, it is more important than ever to make sure you are caring for yourself, preventing burnout in you, and in others around you too.
This blog was written by Michelle Jacobs, an Occupational Therapy student at Queen's University.