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18 February 2021

What is burnout and how can you avoid it?

We live in a world where we’re always ‘on’. From reaching for our phones first thing in the morning, to scrolling through social media feeds when we’re back in bed at night, we are fully connected. Many of us are now finding ourselves working from home since the pandemic. As a result the lines have become even more blurred, we're increasingly switched on and the balance we had once before has disappeared.

For many, burnout is something that can be brought on by a number of chronic stressors over time, which eventually leave you with a lack of motivation and interest in very much, particularly work.

Many of us are juggling a number of demands right now; from work, to finding a job, to caring for someone else, to being a homemaker, to trying to keep up a social life.

Burnout can affect anyone at any time, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained, it can become harder and harder to meet constant demands in your life.

Left to its own devices, burnout can creep into your life and wear you down. It’s a problem, because when allowed to build up over time, stress can take a long time to recover from. But what is it and how do you know when you should do something about it?

According to the World Health Organisation, burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and has three components; feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance or feelings of negativity towards your job, and poorer performance at work.

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Symptoms of burnout

The feelings and physical symptoms associated with burnout can be noted as the following:

Extreme tiredness or exhaustion

If you find yourself completely running on empty, and your exhaustion is emotional or physical, then that sense of not having any energy is something to address.

Feeling frustrated or negative

The things that once made you happy about your work are suddenly making you feel disillusioned or even irritated. While we all feel frustrated from time to time, if you’re feeling like nothing matters anymore, it’s important to understand when these feelings are becoming more frequent for you.

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Brain fog

Burnout and stress can impact your brain’s ability to concentrate and stay focused. It’s what some people refer to as ‘brain fog’ where you can’t quite bring your thoughts to the surface and make sense of them.

Physical symptoms

Long-term stress can lead to other factors that can impact your physical health such as headaches, stomach problems and digestive issues.

If you’re reading this and identify with the points above, it may be a sign of other issues such as depression, but if you’re feeling this specifically around work, you may be wondering what you can do to stop the burnout creep, particularly when so many things feel out of our control at the moment.

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Tips to help avoid burnout

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Bring awareness to your stress levels. Try to understand what factors are making you feel stressed, this will help you to be aware that you’re feeling stressed but can also help you identify what areas of your life you need to focus on changing for the better.
  2. Take regular breaks. The ping of an instant message, an email that’s just appeared, the dishes that seem to be piling up in the sink (anyone else wonder how they own so many cups?), the back to back video calls. There is ALWAYS something else to do, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it there and then. Take time to carve regular breaks into your day, you could even add them to your calendar so that other people can see you are unavailable.
  3. Take some holiday. While we’re on the subject of taking regular breaks, when was the last time you took some time off work too? Money is tight for many of us at the moment and travelling might not be affordable, but even just pottering around at home and focusing on things that relax you can help to recharge your batteries.
  4. Start and finish work on time. When you're working from home, it can be all too tempting to work around the clock when there’s no scheduled train to catch or rush hour to beat. But it’s important to switch off from work and set boundaries to stop it encroaching on your evenings too.
  5. Nourish your body (and mind). You might have a favourite food that brings you comfort, and foods such as fruit and vegetables with their variety of flavours and colours as well as dark chocolate can actually boost serotonin levels (a happiness chemical in your body). Food and beverages containing caffeine and alcohol can have the opposite effect, so while you might find yourself reaching for wine in the evening and coffee in the morning, be mindful of the impact these can have on your mood.
  6. Make time for the things (and people) you love. When we’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, the first things that can go out the window are somewhat surprisingly the things that bring us joy and time for ourselves. Put on your favourite song, have a dance around the kitchen, get your sketchbook or favourite novel out, call a friend or family member, whatever makes you feel good, do it and remember how it makes you feel.
  7. Establish a good sleep routine. Make sure you’re getting the rest you need and deserve and try to go to bed at the same time every night to establish a routine your body is used to. From taking a warm bath, to not looking at screens before bed, we have some more tips on getting a good night’s sleep for you here.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to face what you’re going through alone. Whether it’s talking to your manager, a supportive friend or family member, or texting us at Shout 85258 to talk to one of our volunteers about how you feel, taking the time to open up is an important step to getting the support you deserve.

Text us now