Find yourself flying off the handle for little reason? Tearing a strip off colleagues / surbodinates for the most minor thing? Or finding it impossible to concentrate at work? Can never seem to finish your work? It is getting harder and harder to drag yourself out of bed in the mornings?You catch every flu going?
If you are nodding your way through the questions you might be heading for burn-out.
What is burn-out?
Motivation disappeared? Creativity on leave? Temper getting shorter and shorter? Brain-fog? Exhaustion? All signs of “burn-out”
Burn-out is a physical and mental state of exhaustion that can impact your performance at work and also your relationships with loved ones, friends, colleagues and family.
Far reaching impact
Consequences of burnout can be quite severe and can have significant impact across many aspects of one’s life and livelihood. Some of these include:
Sadness / depression
Irritability / anger
High Blood Pressure
Type 2 diabetes
Low immunity (calling in sick a lot)
Alcohol / substance / food abuse
Inability to progress career-wise
Risk of termination/redundancy
Breakdown of relationships with loved-ones and colleagues
What leads to burn-out?
Typically burn-out occurs in a situation where chronic stress is present.
We all face stress in many parts of our lives, and we are designed to deal with stress – however we are designed to deal with stress in short bursts – things are tough, and then they get better.
The problem of burnout develops in the face of stressful situations that do not get better – i.e. chronic stress situations. Such situations might develop as a result of: less than positive working conditions, difficult relationships, or overwhelming commitments. Basically, the brain cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel and physical / emotional / mental symptoms begin to emerge.
Symptoms to look out for include:
Exhaustion – you feel tired all the time. Waking up is difficult, staying awake during meetings almost impossible, even fun stuff starts to sound like too much effort.
Inability to concentrate – productivity drops, work takes longer, you would rather eat, drink or sleep than concentrate for any amount of time
Guilt – you feel bad all the time about unfulfilled commitments or unfinished work
Mood swings – you find yourself irritable, prone to losing your temper or just detached from the people around you
Isolation – feelings of guilt or overwhelm can lead to avoiding others. However, this can exacerbate feelings of depression leading to even more isolation
Increased drinking / overeating – overindulging in food or alcohol is a common coping mechanism to try and avoid feelings
Low immunity – you catch every bug going and it seems to take forever to recover
In extreme situations, burn-out can be a precursor for suicidal thoughts – it is important to take action sooner rather than later if you feel you may be heading towards burn-out.
Address and recover
Burn-out is very hard to deal with on your own – by definition you will be lacking motivation and energy so it will be extremely hard to take steps to recover without enlisting assistance from others.
Some of the steps towards recovery include:
Time with loved ones – it might seem much too much effort to go to that get together; or visit your brother/sister; or attend that show; however once there, you are likely to find you feel so much better during and afterwards. This is because the endorphins released when we are in the company of people who make us laugh or feel happy, are a great anti-dote to stress hormones.
Exercise – this does not need to be a 5k run (unless that is what you enjoy). It just needs to be something that gets your heart rate up and you can enjoy for around 30min or so. Again, the endorphins released when you exercise will work against the cortisol (stress hormone) in your body and help towards the journey back. The trick is to just do what you enjoy so you can keep doing it
Sleep – good sleep boosts your immunity and also combats stress hormones. Some of the obstacles to getting good sleep include: Caffeine – did you know caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours – so can take up to 10 hours to eliminate completely from your body; Alcohol – alcohol affects REM sleep so although you might fall asleep after that drink, you do not necessarily get restorative sleep. In addition you might find yourself waking up before you are fully rested. It goes without saying that noise and light can also impact on your ability to get good sleep.
Stress busting food – Eating the right foods can also combat stress hormones. See my previous blog “Eating for Sanity” which lists lots of the foods that can help deal with brain-fog, stress and depression. Getting the right nutrients will help you start to create periods when you can focus. Some strategies that will help you eat right even while you are overwhelmed include:
Meal plans – preparing a plan for the foods you are going to eat and ensuring you have the ingredients to hand can take a lot of stress out of deciding what to eat and also reduces the temptation to grab a greasy takeaway. Help with meal planning can be found here.
Think Rainbow – if you just focus on eating as many colorful wholefoods as you can lay your hands on, you are highly likely to be getting the nutrients and fibre you need to combat stress and build up your immunity. See some sample recipes here. Also, have a look at British Heart Foundation website for more examples.
Omega 3 – This healthy fat is fundamental for mood health (also great for helping absorb other vitamins) – aim to include nuts / seeds / oily fish in your diet. See my recent blog “Eat more of this FAT” for more information about the benefits. If you would like to track whether or not you are getting the right nutrients find out more about our app that will help you stay on top of your intake
Talk therapy – Good food, sleep and exercise alone is unlikely to deal with the underlying causes of chronic stress. It is important that you explore what the ongoing source of stress is and begin to investigate how to address the situation, so the stress is eliminated or significantly reduced. Sometimes just talking to a loved one can help you see the options that are available to you. In other cases, it might be helpful to work with a coach or therapist. Using the additional food / exercise / good company steps above should give you the mental and physical resource to take onboard input from talking therapies and the fortitude to implement any practical steps needed to deal with circumstances that are causing so much stress in your life.