When we hear burnout, we think of stress. This is and isn’t true. Burnout can follow a series of stresses over time, but it’s a phenomenon on its own. When we feel stress, we recognize it as pressure and strong emotions. Unlike stress, burnout takes away our emotions, we feel empty, exhausted all the time, we lack motivation for everything, we may feel alone. But we usually mistake burnout for something else and don’t recognize it until it’s too late.
We will guide you through a 3 step process of learning how to recognize and prevent burnout in time.
Should you do follow these steps?
At first sight, it seems that these steps are only for people who experience a lot of stress, anxiety and are buried in work. Burnout is a psychophysical breakdown that happens as a result of overbearing physical and emotional drive. This applies to all aspects of your life – personal, social, professional, etc. – so everyone can find these tips useful.
How does this 3 step process work?
First, you will learn how to recognize the signs and the symptoms of burnout. We will not only offer you the symptoms and solutions because you can learn about that anywhere. This process works because we will learn how to use that knowledge. For example, you know you have to get enough sleep, but if you can’t find a way to get enough sleep, this knowledge is worthless.
We will take a look at common symptoms of burnout and explain how you can practice self-care with the proper effect that will prevent burnout.
1. Prevent burnout by understanding risk factors
Common knowledge is that workaholics burnout, but that’s not the case at all since you can also burn out if you are unemployed. Burnout is a psychophysical breakdown, which means that any kind of long-lasting stress or burdens, at any aspect of our lives, can lead to burnout.
What does it mean that burnout is psychological?
Most experts explain a burnout process within a psychological discourse. Psychological factors usually go back to your early childhood. If you were never good enough, and feeling loved was conditioned by your success, you learned to push yourself endlessly to get approval every child needs. Unfortunately, this often leads to defense mechanisms in adulthood. We tend to look for admiration over love, and this leads to perfectionism, which leads to pushing yourself too far and burning out.
But it’s not all about childhood experiences, because every person has different strategies to deal with experiences through life. Also, we live in a world where success, perfection, and admiration are core values. This leads to overworking in all aspect of our lives: be the best at work, have the greatest body, be the best parent, buy a new car, have the most beautiful apartment, and get more likes on Instagram.
Is it your fault then?
Definitely not! Psychological theories say that psychological factors are the main reasons for burnout, and they put personal traits at the front as risk factors: high level of activity, high self-expectations, introversion, oversensitivity to loss and criticism, etc. As these are important factors for burning out, it’s even more important not to put blame yourself. These personality traits are always conditioned with your life experiences, with the society and culture we live in. You see, if it weren’t expected of you to always be the best and brilliant, which of course is impossible, you wouldn’t have felt over pressured to do something so far out of your comfort zone, just for the sake of avoiding abandonment, loss, or shame.
When risk factors become active
Risk factors are everywhere, and no one is immune to burnout – even if you had a perfect childhood, you have a job you enjoy or live in supporting social circles. There are new stressors, expectations, and pressures every day, and we are always changing psychologically and physically. That’s why it is important to recognize the signs early because it can start to show at any level.
The key is to recognize when these risk factors start to get to you. For example, if you’re an introvert and you feel exhausted or overwhelmed when interacting in social situations, that’s an expected reaction to some degree and you probably already know how to cope with that. But when you find yourself pushing through these intense experiences for reasons like to be more admired, appreciated, successful, etc., you should take caution of how your feelings and general well being is changing. Observe yourself; your body, your mind, and your actions will tell you when to slow down.
2. Recognize the signs!
Burnout is a process that develops over years and it manifests on all levels of your functioning: on physical, emotional, cognitive, behavior, social and mental level. Recognizing the signs can be tricky since they are not specific and we can explain most of the signs with something else.
Let’s first take a look at what are possible signs of burnout.
The most common are sleep disturbances, digestive problems, body pains, weight loss or gain, heart problems, psychosomatic pains, chronic headaches, anxiety, and chronic fatigue.
When we start having memory problems, difficulties in making decisions, making more mistakes, forgetting important things, this is an alarm sign! You feel mentally exhausted already in the morning, just thinking about all the things that have to be done. Same goes for the evenings when you almost don’t want to go to sleep as if you were trying to delay tomorrow to come.
Emotions and relationships
You feel apathy, melancholic, sad or even depressed for no apparent reason. You may start to react impulsively, aggressively and lose touch with your humor. These tensions affect your relationships. You may get into conflict with others, argue, and alienated from people.
Differentiate symptoms of burnout from anything else
When our bodies or minds start to work differently, it’s always a good idea to pay attention. If these changes or symptoms don’t go away, or obvious remedies don’t seem to work, you should visit a doctor. If they don’t find anything physically wrong with you, then you’re probably on your way to burnout. But even if they do find anything, it could be a symptom of long term stress which will lead you to burn out if you don’t stop.
These two indicators can help you with recognizing the symptoms of burnout.
You are carrying your work home
When you come home after a long day working, you continue to work at home or think about everything that happened and everything you still have to do. You can’t seem to stop thinking about work and it affects your social life, your sleeping patterns or even your health. Surprisingly, new technology creates an illusion of simplicity but erases boundaries between personal and professional/work in reality.
Your ambitions and motivation are based on your fear
Healthy motivation is driven by curiosity, self-expression, ambitions for self-growth and achieving personal challenges and goals. When we are burnout or on a way there, our only goal is to get work done. You have less and less interest in anything and everything you use to enjoy or found meaning it becomes a burden. You keep doing everything because of the fear of losing your job, your value, admiration, and respect from others.
3. Understanding the prevention of a burnout
Burnout is practically a modern disease; therefore there are a million articles and self-help guidelines out there. But what is wrong with them? They are over generalized. Let’s take a look at how self-care works.
We all know what self-care is, but do we really?
If you eat healthy, exercise, meditate and get enough sleep, your body will be stronger and will fight against stress more efficiently. Now let’s remember what we talked about so far. If you are driven by your fear, the need of being admired, or the pressure of being perfect, no amount of sleep, nutrition, and exercise will prevent burnout. This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of yourself with these actions; in fact, this is a necessary component of preventing burnout. But there’s another missing piece that everyone seems to forget about it: your needs.
What do you need?
Different types of work and activities, including self-care activities, have a significant meaning to humans. Through work, we achieve self-actualization, (self) respect and social welfare.
So, we all need to work, to meet our human needs. But, which tasks, hobbies, and types of work fulfill you and which exhaust you? Let’s take a look at some examples.
Exercise promotes health and relaxation, but what kind of exercise does that for you? Nowadays it’s popular to run or go to fitness and even social media puts pressure on us to take selfies of our sports routines and body transformations. But, does this do anything do for you personally? Do you feel good after running or does it stress you? Some people benefit from fitness; others will risk their health and wellbeing by stressing their bodies so much.
Healthy eating habits
What about a healthy diet? It is definitely important to get proper nutrition. But what does this means for you specifically? If following popular vegan or keto diets leave you with allergic reactions, indigestion or low energy, this isn’t a healthy diet for you. And if you’re (not) hungry, don’t stick to those 3-5 meals per day, but eat when you’re hungry.
And there’s another big one: sleep!
You should go to bed by ten, and sleep for 8 hours, right? Getting enough sleep is extremely important, but again, how much sleep in enough for you? If you feel rested after 6 hours of sleep, don’t force yourself turning in bed and end up groggy and exhausted. This also applies to your sleeping patterns. If you’re a morning person, go to sleep earlier to get the hours you need to sleep. If not, there is no point going to bed early, if you can’t fall asleep for hours or waking up early and suffer through those early hours. Luckily, we’re all about sleep here, so check out more tips here and here!
These rules apply to every aspect of your life. Remember, listen to your body and adjust your needs to your schedules and vice versa, whenever you can.
Recognizing the symptoms of burnout and responding to them properly is the key. When you recognize the symptoms or just trying to prevent them, experiment with different types of self-care routines. When you find the ones that feel good stick to them. Listen to what your body is telling you via the headaches, anger bursts and sleepless nights, and respond: stop, take a step back, recharge, relax, etc. This will keep your body and mind in balance and will protect you from burnout.
Burnout is prevented by self-care designed by you.
As there is a lot of pressure on what you should do, be, and look like, this is exactly where it all goes wrong, when hobbies and self-care become risks of burnout. Self-care isn’t supposed to be about competition, consumerism, and approval on social media. Self-care is about listening and answering to yourself, to your needs. What feels good, is good – for you. And that is the key to preventing burnout. Eat that favorite piece of food, that makes your body feel good! And when you feel exhausted and need a quiet, cozy afternoon, forget about the fitness and watch your favorite tv show, and go for a walk later instead.
If your symptoms of burnout are too complicated or nothing seems to work to prevent burnout, we advise you to see a doctor or a therapist as soon as you can.