At this time of year, it is not surprising to come across colleagues, friends and family that are exhibiting the signs of burnout – it may even be something we can see in ourselves. But burnout is something that is more than just being tired and needing a break. It is now a recognised condition by the World Health Organisation (WHO), who define burnout as:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
No two people experience stress and pressure the same, so understanding your own limits is vital. More importantly, understanding what we need to build into our day-to-day lives to sustain our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, is key to be able to maintain positive mental wellbeing.
Burnout results from the experience of being a boiling frog. You were focused on your work, and being productive, and didn’t notice when the pressure or pace picked up a little. Maybe stress became normalised around you, due to the shared pressure from a change in the organisation or industry. Or more simply, before you knew it, you’d forgotten to take a holiday this year as life’s juggle just rolled on from week to week, and month to month.
With Christmas only weeks away, the thought comes, just get me to the end of the year!!
Signs of burnout generally occur slowly over a sustained period of time. In the early stages we can mask or focus our efforts to push through but, overtime, we experience symptoms that can no longer be ignored.
Even though, what we individually need to sustain us is unique, the physiological changes and signs are common. The earlier you can recognise them, the easier it is to remedy the situation, and a shorter period is needed to recover.
Early warning signs
We all need and experience some periods of stress where adrenalin peaks to support us through the stress and then dissipates allowing our bodies and brain to recover. If, however the stressful period continues for an extended period, stress then becomes negative with your body operating on cortisol and adrenalin.
Signs that you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle, work practices:
- headaches and niggling colds that you can’t shake off
- looking for extra caffeine or sugar to boost your energy
- increased negative internal chatter either aimed at yourself or others
- general mood flatter than usual
- becoming less patient
Signs that you need to take decisive action to support your health and wellbeing:
- Difficulty understanding new complex information
- Difficulty focusing and easily losing concentration
- Broken sleep and wake up worrying
- Feel jittery or sense your feet aren’t firmly on the ground
- Catastrophise or worry about small things
- Feel nauseous
- Become overly emotional without it connecting to a particular event
- Start to avoid social situations and turn down invitations
If you feel some of these symptoms may relate to you, then it maybe time to do a review of how your supporting your mental health and avoiding the risk of burnout.
Time to consider
- Do I get adequate rest and sleep
- Do I have adequate mental breaks from my work after each day
- Do I make time for things that are important to me outside work
- Do I do adequate exercise
- Do I have a healthy diet
- Am I drinking too much
- Does my work or culture of organisation suit my personality
- Have I had a holiday recently
- Can I talk to someone about how I’m feeling
Supporting our mental and physical wellbeing has to be engrained into our day to day lifestyle to support a long and productive life. It is very easy to get caught up in the endless task list and before we know it, we’re experiencing some or all of the symptoms of burnout.
If you haven’t done it lately, stop and do a review of your typical week. Is there time allocated for planning and eating well, physical activity, connecting with people you care about and rest?