The Causes of Burnout and How To Look After Our Wellness
by Kim Rutherford, psychotherapist and author of ‘8 Wise Ways: To A Healthy and Happier Mind
As our lives have started to change again, from being locked down and in, to even returning to the office or being round people again, it is important to be mindful of how that can and will affect us. Burnout is a something that some of us are experiencing after a particularly stressful year. I want to share a little insight in to what Burnout is and how we can take practical steps to help you feel less crispy.
What is burnout?
Burnout is ultimately caused by experiencing constant and excessive stress. We are all able to manage a certain amount of stress. But as soon as that stress level becomes unmanageable for us or overwhelming to us, it puts our mind and body into constant exhaustion from trying to handle the stress. That constant exhaustion then leads to burnout. It is literally as it sounds: it is feeling exhausted, helpless, disillusioned with life constantly because of all of the different things that start going wrong. It’s a feeling of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion due to continuous and excessive stress.
If you have experienced burnout, you’re probably going to start feeling disinterested and unmotivated about an awful lot of areas in your life.
How is your environment contributing to burnout?
On one side, being at home felt like freedom to start with, we haven’t had to commute or sit in traffic or rush about. You could get up a little bit later if you have the luxury of not having children. But then the other element of that is if you are stuck in the house where all of your other responsibilities are, this means there has been no escape from work, as well as no escape from the daily life responsibilities either. You could be sat there trying to do a busy workday as well as getting your washing, ironing, or house-cleaning done and looking after the children.
Once upon a time, being able to go to these two different environments probably provided some form of relief, and certainly some form of release from stressors in the other environment. But when the environment you’re in is everything, there is no escape, which means that it’s difficult to get a good work-life balance and have the discipline to switch off from work when the working day ends.
Then that whole work-life balance is completely out of balance because you’re spending all of your time then thinking about work and having access to work. There is no off switch.
Working remotely may have been a huge contributor to burnout for some because it has increased the stress levels higher than, what you can normally physically, psychologically, or emotionally cope with.
How do you know if you are burnt out?
There is a long list of indicators to help you understand, if you are or someone you know is experiencing burnout…
- Fatigue and a weakened immune system: Someone who’s always tired or losing energy, is constantly coming down with a cold or having to take a day off or getting constant headaches and muscle aches because their body is so exhausted, it can’t actually produce the energy that’s needed to build the immune system up.
- Change in appetite: Overeating, or not eating at all.
- Change in sleep habits: Somebody with extreme burnout might not be able to sleep, which is quite strange because obviously they’re exhausted. But while they might be tired, their brain is overworking, overworking, overworking — it can’t switch off.
- Feelings of depression: They might feel as though they have failed and have constant self-doubt, feeling helpless, feeling isolated, a complete and utter lack of motivation, negative and cynical thoughts, feeling unsatisfied with absolutely everything, feeling very negative about everything.
- Withdrawal from usual responsibilities: This is when you start to see people not doing what they’ve always done before. Sometimes it can start with hygiene, and their hygiene levels start to go downhill a lot. It could just be simple things like people not turning up to work on time or coming back later than they used to, or just looking like they’ve become a little bit lazier.
- Procrastination: This is a massive part of burnout. And that’s simply because the brain is so exhausted that when it comes to having to do certain projects, especially those types of projects that require a little bit more thought process, the brain just can’t function, and so, people put it off.
- Substance abuse: This usually starts with drinking and smoking and then can lead to other things.
- Confrontation: Tempers are higher, and there is a lot less tolerance when you are emotionally exhausted. And so, you might find there are a lot more arguments happening, or people might be a little snappy, lashing out at others in the workplace.
- Performance: A big issue is missing work or arriving late and leaving early, and when they are present, they are not functioning effectively: they are there in body but not in mind.
It is important to say that burnout itself typically begins with a high level of stress in one particular area of your life. It could be work, for example, and it will affect every other area of your life.
Traditionally, burnout would be associated with work, however just because somebody is experiencing burnout, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve experienced it because of work; they could have experienced it with something that’s going on at home.
Being aware of what the signs and symptoms are, can help somebody to decrease their stress levels as quickly as they can.
Taking mindful action, such as getting more sleep, spending time in nature, and setting boundaries around working hours are all simple steps we can take to better regulate our nervious system.
As we return to some form of normal social functioning, the situation is that we have naturally slowed down to a new pace of life.
This means that for many people, some levels of stress they used to have every single day decreased a little bit. They might not even be aware of it at the moment. But it’s just the basics of not having to sit in traffic every morning while they commute, or not having to play pleasantries with people they don’t really like in the office. Sometimes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in a workspace means that they are ignored a little bit longer when they work remotely, and that can give them more time to do things. When they’re in a busy office, and they’re in the eyeline of somebody all the time, they can constantly be getting distracted, and the pace of life is going to speed up as well.
I say this all the time: humans aren’t great for change. We’ve adapted to the slower pace, but it took us some time. And so, it’s going to take us some time to readapt to what will be the new pace. There’s going to be a lot of stress around this for some people, and some could be at burnout already. Parents, for example, have had to homeschool children at points through out the year.
To this I would highly recommend easing in gently. By this I mean organising a few gatherings in places that feel good, to limit the feelings of uncomfortableness. Understanding when friends no longer want to drink or indulge in old behaviours, or are finding it difficult to integrate. And to those who are feeling the aniexty creeping in around social gatherings, remember you do not have to go to everything, take it slow and give yourself permission to do what feels best to you in the moment.
If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing burnout, then it is likely that something is out of balance in their life. I believe that wellness is a combination of eight core dimensions, which I cover in my latest book — some of which I have referenced in the article above — these include emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, social, intellectual, occupational and financial; and by achieving balance across those dimensions anyone can start to see a marked improvement on their quality of life.
You can find out more about Kim and the 8Wise Method at https://daltonwise.co.uk