Mental Health Awareness Month Week 3: Are You Stressed or Burned Out?
Do you feel helpless, completely exhausted or disillusioned most of the time? You may be on the path to burnout. When you are burned out your problems will seem impossible and the smallest item may tip you into feeling overwhelmed. Everything looks miserable and you can’t get enough energy to care about anything or be able to even help yourself. This feeling of detachment and sadness can jeopardize your health, job and even your relationships. The good news is if you recognize the warning signs, you can prevent burnout by doing some pretty simple things. If you are past that point, there are still plenty of things you can do to shift your balance and start to feel positive again.
The definition of burnout is the state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. When you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and are not able to keep up with constant demands, you will become overly stressed and you begin to lose the motivation and interest in anything in your life. Burnout will drain your creativity, productivity as well as your energy and motivation. You may feel helpless, hopeless, resentful and cynical for everything that comes into your life.
Burnout will have negative effects on your life in all areas including your home (repairs, cleanliness), work (low productivity, missed meetings) and social life (not answering calls or meeting with friends). This can cause long-term changes to your body as well and can set you up for low immunity levels making it easier to catch a cold or the flu. Other illnesses and diseases are also linked to prolonged stress and burnout as well as some cancers.
How do you know if you are on the path to burnout?
Do you feel like every day is a bad day? Caring about your work or home life is a complete waste of energy? You’re exhausted all the time. Your day is filled with mind-numbing tasks or those that are overwhelming. You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated so why bother.
I think it is fair to say, most of us have had these types of days. The difference is that if you feel like this most of the time, you may have burnout. Burnout is a gradual process and the signs are subtle at first, but then they become worse as time goes on. Look for red flags and realize that something isn’t normal in your happiness and content with your life. When you can pay attention and act to reduce your stress you can prevent a major breakdown.
Here are the physical signs of burnout:
Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
Lowered immunity, getting sick a lot.
Frequent headaches or muscle pain.
Change in appetite or sleep habits.
Here are the emotional signs of burnout:
Sense of failure and self-doubt.
Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
Loss of motivation.
Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
Here are the behavioral signs of burnout:
Withdrawing from responsibilities.
Isolating yourself from others.
Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
Taking out your frustrations on others.
Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.
One great way to deal with burnout is to turn to other people. Social contact is nature’s remedy to stress. I know it may seem “safe” and “comfy/cozy” to stay wrapped in a blanket on your couch watching movies or binge watching shows, but if you truly want to get out of your “funk” the best way is to reach out to your friends. Think about who would be the best listener in your group of friends and reach out to them to meet for coffee, lunch or a walk in the park. Talking face to face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and kick stress to the curb. This person doesn’t need to “fix” or come up with a solution for you, they are just there to listen attentively without judging you. Who is that in your group of friends?
Invest in your relationships. Make time to spend with your partner, children and closest friends on a weekly basis. Make this time positive, fun and filled with love and gratitude. Be more social with your co-workers. Take time to meet someone new in the office every week. Developing friendships at work is a great way to help buffer burnout. On your breaks, make it a point to strike up a conversation with someone instead of burying your face in your smartphone. Take that leap and schedule an after hours social event for some of your co-workers.
Another great tip is to limit your contact with negative people. You know the ones who always have something wrong happening in their life or they are complaining about something new every day. If you have a negative co-worker in your department, try to limit the amount of time you need to spend with that person working on projects or answering questions.
Another great way to combat burnout is to connect with a community group, cause or non-profit that is meaningful to you. Joining a group of like-minded people will spark your interests and your energy and this is a great way to deal with daily stress. Making new friends is very powerful for your mind, body and soul. The power of giving and being helpful to others is a great boost of serotonin into your system and that will calm your nerves. It doesn’t need to be a lot of work either. Helping a neighbor once a month or volunteering at an animal shelter a few hours a week may be all you need to do.
Burnout can be the result of persistent stress but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress involves too many needs or demands too much of you physically and psychologically. People who are overly stressed can still imagine how they would feel better when everything was more under control.
Burnout is about feeling empty, devoid of motivation and even beyond caring. Those who experience burnout can’t see any hope of positive change in their life, even if their stress becomes more controllable. If excessive stress is compared to drowning in responsibilities, burnout is compared to being all dried up and withered away.
Stress is characterized by over engagement; over-reactive emotions; sense of urgency and hyperactivity; loss of energy; leads to anxiety.
Burnout is characterized by disengagement; emotions are dampened; feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; loss of motivation and hope; leads to detachment and depression.
Burnout can be caused from your job. Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at high risk for burnout. Lifestyle and personality traits can be a factor in burnout as well. When you don’t allow yourself to have fun on your downtime or if you are more pessimistic about the world and not optimistic, you will run into burnout a lot easier.
Do you feel like you have little or no control over your work/job duties? Do you feel a lack of reward for your hard work and dedication? Are you unclear of your job expectations? Are you challenged by your work or do you work in a chaotic environment? If you answered yes to any of these your burnout is caused by work related issues.
Do you feel like you are working too much not allowing enough time to socialize or relax? Do you feel a lack of relationships? Do you take on too many responsibilities without any help from others? Are you not getting enough quality sleep? If you answered yes to any of these your burnout is caused by your lifestyle traits.
Are you a perfectionist where nothing is ever good enough? Do you have a pessimistic view of yourself/career/the world at large? Do you feel the need to be in control and cannot delegate to others? Are you a Type A personality and are high achieving? If you answered yes to any of these your burnout is caused by your personality traits.
Now that you have learned the warning signs it is time to change direction and learn how to help overcome burnout so you can feel healthy, happy, productive and positive again. Even if you feel that you have passed that breaking point, there are still some ways you can change to stop from pushing through exhaustion and stop any further emotional and physical damage to your mind, body and soul.
Changing jobs or careers can be very scary, but if you are truly not happy in what you are doing and the job does not align with your values, it may be the smartest thing you could do for your mental and physical health. If you cannot change jobs right now, make it a point to write down what the perfect job would look like to you and then look once a week for that position. Prepare your resume ahead of time and know that the time will come when you can make that change and finally be happy in how you contribute to your company and family.
If you cannot change jobs right now, make it a point to write down the value in what you are currently doing. Even the most mundane jobs have value to you, the company and society. Take some time to focus on how you contribute to others in some way. Finding that one little piece, may be all that is needed to regain your sense of purpose.
If you really do not like your job, but cannot change it right now, find meaning and satisfaction in other things you do in your life. Volunteer in your community, help your friends, get a hobby or focus on the parts of your life that bring you happiness and joy.
Make sure you connect with your colleagues at work. Find some strong friendships in the workplace to help break-up the monotony of day to day duties. Create a game table in the break room, start a potluck luncheon once a month or start a joke a day calendar and share it.
Take your breaks, lunch breaks and vacation days. Walk away from your desk and leave your cell phone behind when you take your breaks. Connect with people by smiling, chatting or discussing a fun topic. Book one trip per year to discover a new location. You could stay close to home or travel abroad. Use your sick days and mental health days. Remove yourself from your mundane situation and recharge your mind, body and soul.
When burnout occurs it usually means that something important in your life is not working. This is the best time to take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities. Look at your values, hopes, dreams, goals and where you may have neglected them. This is a great way to rediscover some key things that make you, you. Slow down and take time to relax, reflect and heal those areas that you have not honored in awhile.
Don’t forget to set boundaries so you don’t overextend and overwhelm yourself. Learn to say “no” and not beat yourself up for doing so. Every day take time to disconnect from technology for at least two hours. Walk away from the computer, phone, tablet or I-pad and have conversations with your family, friends or pets.
Cultivate your creative side again. Take up a new class, art project, craft project, knit or crochet, paint or take a painting class with a friend. Grab a stress management coloring book and color for 10 minutes a day.
Every day take time to sit back and relax. This could be as easy has grabbing a cup of tea or coffee and day dream while looking out the window, to doing a few yoga moves, taking five minutes to do a guided meditation or take a 10 minute power nap.
Make sure you are getting good, quality sleep every night. When you are too tired, burnout can become intensified and you will not be able to think rationally or keep your cool in stressful situations.
Make exercise a priority in your life. Doing just 30 minutes of brisk walking every day will boost your happy hormones and help shift burnout. Not only will it boost your mood, but it will help with weight management too. You can break this up into 10 minute intervals if you need to. Opt for exercise where you move both your arms and legs. It will increase your energy, sharpen your focus and relax your mind and body. Try a variety of exercises from walking, running, swimming, biking, weight lifting, dancing or even martial arts. When you focus on your body instead of your thoughts, you will see huge stress relief.
Eat a nutrient dense diet filled with fruits, veggies, lean protein and limit your sugars, refined carbs, alcohol and caffeine. Foods with a lot of preservatives are also dangerous to your mind and hormones. Instead, choose foods with high Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, herring, sardines, flaxseed and walnuts. Avoid nicotine as it is a powerful stimulant and will increase anxiety instead of lowering it. Pump up the green leafy vegetables as well as lentils, quinoa and blueberries all have a positive affect on your happy hormones.
Remember to reach out to a friend or family member for help when you feel over stressed or if you know you are in burnout. Try the above suggestions and always know you can ask for professional help from a therapist. This doesn’t make you a lesser person, it will give you the guidance and help you need to move you into a more positive place in your life.