Burnout Survival Guide

"Your body aches. Your brain feels like a mouldy wrung-out dishcloth. You can barely get anything done and, hang on, why are you even doing this job anyway? Is there something wrong with you? Nope. You're just burning out." Imogen Dall. If you are experiencing or would like to avoid any of these then this post is for you.

What is burnout?

Your brain is probably telling you to skip this part and rush to the part where you read on how to survive burnout, but pump the brakes and lets get to understand what exactly is burnout and does it really exist.

Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. A question that comes to mind is "Isn't this just stress?". Well there is a difference between stress and burnout. The biggest difference between the two is that stress involves too much, for example too much pressure that demands too much of you mentally and physically. On the other hand, being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of emotions and not caring about anything.

It is often very easy not to see anything positive in your situation when burned out. While we are usually aware of the stress, we don't always notice burnout when it happens.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of burnout?

Often we cannot recognize that we are burned out because of those subtle differences between stress and burnout. The following is an incomplete list of the signs and symptoms of burnout. These signs could be either physical, emotional, or behavioral.

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Lack of interest in ones's responsibilities
  • Isolation
  • Food and/or drug abuse
  • Showing up late for work, meetings or important events
  • Taking your frustration out on others
  • Procrastinating
  • Lack of motivation and sense of purpose
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Taking forever to get out of bed
  • Lack of concentration

This list is incomplete as burnout manifests itself differently from person to person. The most important thing to note is that burnout is not an event but rather a very sneaky gradual process that starts off with small and easy to miss signs and worsens as time goes on without being managed.

What are the causes of burnout?

Being overworked and undervalued leads to a high risk of burnout. That said, working extra hard with little to no rest is also a great contributor to burnout. As for me, I have personally been burned out because of imposter syndrome (sounds like a title for another blog post). That feeling of being an imposter pushes you to work insanely hard and never take time off, you always feel like you have to do a little bit more. On the other hand, burnout is not solely caused by stressful work environments or too many responsibilities. Other factors like lifestyle and personal traits contribute their fair share. Below is a list of some of the causes of burnout which are due to work, lifestyle, or personality traits.

  • The need to be the best all the time, high achieving individuals
  • Lack of close supportive friends or family
  • Not being recognized and appreciated at work or home
  • Lack of control over your work or life
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
  • Work-life imbalance
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Doing work that’s monotonous or not challenging enough

How do we survive burnout?

Now to the part that your brain was pushing you towards. How do we survive burnout? How do we survive something that sneaks up on us and isn't noticeable until it is a little too late? There is a huge temptation to try and push through the burnout, but this will do more harm than good as it just further drains you emotionally and causes physical damage. There is never a clear path to dealing with burnout as it manifests in various ways, and we catch it at different levels that all require different approaches in dealing with it. However, there a few common steps or tips on how to survive, avoid, or lessen the impact burnout can have on you.

  • Know your limits. You should be self aware enough to pick up on the signs and symptoms at their earliest stages and this can be achieved by knowing your limits both emotionally and physically.
  • Turn to other people. Social contact is nature's antidote to stress. Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to, a listener, someone who will listen without becoming a distraction and be judgemental.
  • Rest is key to unlocking wellness and productivity and is likely to make you happier and healthier.
  • Celebrate your wins no matter how small they are.
  • Make exercising a priority, if you can. Rhythmic exercise is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and the body.
  • Learn to say NO. We are often in high pressure situations because we cannot say NO to unrealistic deadlines, requirements and expectations from work or life.

Wrap up

By no means does this article exhaust everything there is to know about burnout, but it can provide a starting point for a conversation with yourself on how you can identify the signs and take better care of yourself. Burnout is real and its effects, if not managed, are devastating. Seek help in time. Take that leave, for Pete's sake, you deserve it! Talk to someone. There is no shame in seeking professional help. We are no good to anyone when burned out, even less to ourselves. Take care and stay positive.