Signs of Burnout and How to Recover
Burnout – There are plenty of us who have had moments where life has become more overwhelming than usual. You might be overwhelmed by the demands of work, your kids are needing more and more of your attention, and the dishes in the sink keep piling up.
But what happens when you’ve become so overwhelmed with the demands of your everyday life that it feels like you’re just running on fumes? This can look like being emotionally checked out, physically spent, or feeling like your mental health is in the gutter.
If you’ve ever felt this way, you may be experiencing symptoms of burnout. If left unacknowledged or unattended, it can significantly affect the way you function in your day-to-day life.
What is Burnout?
In the 1970s, psychologist Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term to describe the mental and physical fatigue of those in helping professions such as doctors or therapists.
Today, we know it can happen to anybody, regardless of their profession.
In 2019, the World Health Organization provided a modernized definition of burnout, describing it as “a work-related phenomenon caused by chronic stress that has not been properly managed.”
Burnout typically happens to those who experience significant levels of stress for prolonged periods and is most frequently observed in working professionals, stay-at-home- parents, and students.
Burnout isn’t an illness, but rather a symptom of a stressful situation that hasn’t been handled efficiently.
Stages of Burnout
Burnout happens in stages as one’s workload increases and can be difficult to cope with once the stress becomes more and more apparent.
Eager to Please
At the beginning of a job or an important task, we might feel more excited, satisfied, and eager to prove our worth. When this eagerness to prove oneself becomes something of an obsession, that’s when stress management may begin to fall out of line.
This stage of burnout begins when you realize that the days are becoming more difficult to manage. You may begin neglecting your needs for the sake of getting your tasks done, or the optimism that you felt at the beginning of the task has begun to wane. You may experience mild symptoms of stress such as headaches or fatigue.
At this point, stress has become frequent and harder to ignore. You may begin to experience more intense symptoms of stress such as stomach pains, headaches, or a change of appetite. Your overall mood may have changed as well, finding yourself becoming more cynical and resentful of your workload.
Active burnout is now taking place at this stage. Functioning normally feels like it’s almost impossible to do, and you might have begun to develop unhealthy ways of coping with the stress such as abusing substances. You might begin withdrawing from your social circles, and you can’t remember the last time you took care of your own personal needs. Intervention may be necessary in order to get a better grasp of your situation to steer you back to a healthy, less stressful lifestyle.
Habitual burnout occurs when the stress you’ve been experiencing has become so embedded into your lifestyle, that you begin to experience chronic mental, physical and emotional problems.
Symptoms of Burnout
Symptoms of burnout can manifest in emotional, physical, and behavioral distress. Recognizing if you exhibit any of these symptoms listed can help you get one step closer to acknowledging burnout, and effectively getting on the road to recovery
Physical Symptoms of Burnout
Poor Immune Health
High Blood Pressure
Behavioral Symptoms of Burnout
Significant Drop in Quality of Work
Increased use of Drugs, Food, or Alcohol to Cope
Evading your responsibilities entirely
Emotional Symptoms of Burnout
Increasingly Cynical or Negative outlook on life
Loss of Motivation
An overwhelming feeling of Helplessness
Feeling like a Failure
Depression vs. Burnout
Burnout and depression may have some overlap, but there are a few key differences in distinguishing if you’re experiencing burnout or dealing with depression.
Unlike burnout, depression doesn’t always have a cause. According to the World Health Organization’s definition, burnout is almost exclusively linked to work-related stress. If you can remove what is causing you to suffer, you are likely experiencing burnout and not depression.
Although they are not the same, burnout can actually lead to depression. Depression stemming from burnout would fall into the habitual burnout phase, where we begin to experience chronic mental or emotional problems. Depression can occur when the stress has been removed from your life, but it has left a lasting impression on you long thereafter.
This burnout-induced depression has also been considered a form of PTSD, where the events causing you to stress are gone, but the fallout from the stress has left a lasting impression.
How to Recover from Burnout
The good news is that burnout is completely reversible and preventable.
If you find yourself burnt out, or feeling an onset of stress that feels heavier than usual, there are things you can do to manage your situation.
Make an Intention to get Better
It all starts with you. Becoming aware that your situation has become overwhelming is the first step to burnout recovery. From that point of awareness, you have the choice to go on as you are, or make the decision and the commitment to yourself to get better. Set an intention to get better by writing them down in a journal, or hanging up sticky notes around your space to remind you to make time to decompress.
Take Stock of your Situation
What is the thing that is bringing you the most stress in your life? Is it a toxic work environment? A heavy workload? Compassion fatigue? Whatever the source of stress is in your life, assess if you can remove yourself from that situation. Or, if your paycheck depends on it, see if you can take some time off from the stressful situation to recalibrate.
Tidy up your Space
If you’ve become extremely stressed out to the point of burnout, chances are you’ve neglected your needs, your body, and your space. Find the strength or the time to declutter spaces you occupy frequently like your office, your home, or your car. A clean space can do wonders for settling the mind, and can really feel like a fresh start.
Look to your Support System
This is a great time to assess how strong your support system is. Maybe you can look to your coworkers for support, or to a family member, or better yet even to a therapist. There are also plenty of resources online that can lead you to the right place if you find yourself lacking an ideal support system.
Rest, Rest, Rest!
After suffering from the effects of burnout, you’ve earned yourself an Olympic level of rest. Do whatever it is you need to do to catch up on sleep, do an activity you enjoy, or just make time to sit around and do absolutely nothing.
If you still have certain responsibilities such as taking care of a family, try to block out time for yourself when you absolutely must rest. If the kids are away at school, take this time to rest and take care of yourself.
Do Things that Bring You Joy
When you’re burnt out, you may find yourself doing less of the things that once brought you joy. In the process of recovering from burnout, try to rediscover the things that once brought you joy. It’ll help you relax, and come back to who you were before stress engulfed your life.
Exercise is one of nature’s best forms of medication. Getting your blood pumping is going to help recalibrate your nervous system after a major shock such as experiencing burnout. Make time to go for a run, swim, or do yoga in order to help reregulate your body back to a state of equilibrium.
More about Dr. Basheerah Ahmad, PhD
Holistic Health Expert + Mr. Harvey’s Nutritionist
With a passion for helping others achieve their goals and be their best selves, Dr. Basheerah Ahmad (Dr. B) is a sought-after International Health & Wellness Expert and is apart of Mr. Harvey’s personal wellness team. She holds a Doctorate in Natural Medicine and a MS in Exercise Science. She is also the creator of exercise and nutrition programs such as The Fit Mogul, 360 Transformation (360T) and the 4321 Nutrition Plan.