I’ve thought for a long time about writing this article. Every time I would sit down and begin to type out what I wanted to say, I’d think “well, who am I to talk about burnout?” I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, and I was worried that what I had to say wasn’t valid.
However, I realized that it’s not about being right or wrong, but rather about our personal experiences with burnout. I’ve seen the mental strain it can put on people through my friends and colleagues experiences with burnout. So I decided that even though I can’t provide any medical advice, I wanted to write this article in hope that my experience might help others going through the same.
In today’s article, I’m going to discuss what exactly burnout is, tips to help those who might be experiencing burnout, and how to be kind to yourself during difficult times.
What is exactly burnout?
While writing this article, I found a number of different definitions of burnout. But the definition that really stood out to me was from the World Health Organization.
In May 2019, for the 11th time, the World Health Organization revised its definition of what is classified as ‘burnout’. Previously described as a “state of vital exhaustion,” they characterize burnout through three main symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
What to do if you suffer from burnout
Listen to your inner voice and body signals.
Alice Domar, Ph.D., founder of the Domar Center for Mind & Body Health, states that victims of burnout often don’t see it coming, even though their bodies have been sending them signals. “Our bodies try to tell us to slow down, and we just don’t listen,” and “if you ignore the distress signals for too long, they can turn into health problems”
It’s easy to downplay the physical signals our body is sending us. “My sleeping pattern will get better during the holidays”, or even blame ourselves for feeling this way, “Why am I so tired? Everyone works just as hard as me and they’re not tired. I need to do better.”
I believe ignoring signals from our body is a kind of denial. We put the blinders on because we want to please those around us, making sure we complete every task we’re given so we don’t look uncapable. I think the thought of disappointing people can be daunting, so we try to ignore the reality of what’s happening to us.
Therefore listen to your heart, your inner voice, and your body. Don’t wait for yourself to reach a breaking point, make sure you have moments of downtime where you can fully switch off. Make this time guilt-free, understand that switching off from work every once in a while doesn’t mean you’re not dedicated to your job and doesn’t mean you’re not supporting your family.
Often we push our bodies to the limit to prove to ourselves and others that we are hardworking, competent and strong. However, I believe real strength is knowing when to say “stop”.
Your wellbeing is more important than your image.
Often we care more about our image than our own wellbeing. Our desire to look good to those around us can drive our decisions. I believe this stems not only from humans’ need for validation but also the growing pressure of social media and our society as a whole.
We worry that admitting we’re struggling is a sign of weakness, a sign that we’re not capable of handling our lives. But, we are allowed to say we’re not okay. That we’re exhausted. That we can’t do this right now. This doesn’t make you weak, it shows that you understand your own limits and how to take care of yourself.
I speak from experience when I advise you to put your wellbeing first. Once at work I had taken so much on that I had a panic attack. After one afternoon off, I came back into the office. I was adamant that I was okay, I wanted to prove that I was strong and capable of handling a big workload. However, my colleagues insisted that I go home and rest, and I realized they were right. I had given everything I could to my work and now I was empty.
I was willing to sacrifice my own wellbeing to uphold the image of “I’m able to deal with the situation and come back into work.” I didn’t want to be known as the girl who had a panic attack, but in turn was jeopardizing my health, which I now know is much more important.
If you ever get to the stage where you’re putting your image before your own wellbeing, ask yourself why you are doing this? Who are you doing this performance for? Because most times, those around you would prefer you to take a break and admit that you’re struggling, rather than watching you work yourself into the ground.
So always be true to yourself and accept that your feelings are important.
From all the testimonies I read about burnout, I kept finding a common factor. A lack of self-love.
Many of us don’t allow time for ourselves. We’re determined to be at the top, to keep going until we reach a place where we’re happy. By thinking you’ll be happy when you reach a certain point can be particularly harmful, as there is no limit for how far you will go. Once you get the promotion you’re working towards, you’re likely to discover you still feel just as unhappy, and will think that happiness will come with the next promotion, pay rise, or job. Many of us don’t understand that happiness and self-love don’t come from achievements, but rather from inside ourselves.
The first step to self-love is understanding where the lack of it stems from. Self-love is a journey, one I am still learning myself, but being aware of its root is already one step closer to helping your wellbeing.
Make sure you wake up every morning and feel proud of who you are. You’re still standing despite the hardships. Allow yourself happiness by being attentive to yourself and your needs.
“Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It’s sanity.” – Andre Gide
Guilt has no place
An area that is particularly difficult when suffering from burnout is that even though we’ve all heard of burnout and understand what it is, actually experiencing it remains a rather taboo subject. The shame of not being able to cope with tasks goes hand in hand with the guilt of not being able to pick ourselves up straight away.
Guilt can then begin to impact our mental health, this being especially damaging as guilt can manifest itself in many forms.
First is usually personal guilt: We blame ourselves for feeling overwhelmed. We feel guilty about our state of mind, criticizing ourselves. “Why am I not strong enough to handle the workload?”, it’s easy to sink even deeper into this feeling of guilt, rather than being understanding and patient with our own mind.
Personal guilt is then followed by external guilt: This guilt is linked to our environment and the pressures of society. Even though many of us have heard of burnout, it still remains a grey area for those who haven’t experienced it. This can mean that people who don’t understand the condition may not always empathize with what you’re going through.
Many don’t realize the gravity and distress burnout can cause. People might just think you’re having a bad day and you’ll get over it. But don’t let others’ lack of understanding on the topic take away from what you’re experiencing. It’s important to take all the time you need and not let guilt get in the way of your healing process.
Guilt has no place in your mind during burnout. Focus your energy on building yourself up rather than tearing yourself down.
Talk about it
Whether it’s to a professional, someone close to you, or even just in your diary, it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling.
A problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in negative thought patterns that just by telling someone else how we feel, it can help us see what we’re experiencing from a different perspective.
Many of us can shy away from talking about how we’re truly feeling, as we’ve mentioned numerous times in this article, we don’t want others to think we’re not capable. However, vulnerability is courage. By keeping our feelings to ourselves from fear of being perceived as weak, it can create more internal problems and strain than showing our vulnerability in the first place would.
So talk about it with someone you trust, you’re not in this alone.
Perhaps you are suffering from burnout because you’ve outgrown your job. At this point, it might be worth asking yourself what is best for you. Take time out to really delve deep and remind yourself what motivates you, makes you feel good and makes you want to get out of bed every day in the morning.
Sometimes remembering things you enjoyed as a child can be a good place to start. When we are young, we are completely immersed in the present moment, rather than worrying about what others may think of us or if we’re doing the right thing.
Another great way to help rediscover your enthusiasm and understand what drives you is a personality test. This can help you discover what you want, rather than what you think you should want.
For many victims of burnout, the passion of doing what you enjoy has disappeared. You have lost that inner voice telling you what you truly care about. Rediscovering yourself is an invaluable tool for recovery when experiencing burnout.
If you are reading this article, it might be because you are suffering from burnout currently. If this is the case, understand that you are not alone and you have infinite resources that can help. You might doubt it right now, but experiencing burnout will help you gain a new perspective on how you live your life, helping you focus on the things that really matter.
Allowing yourself the time and rest you need to pick yourself back up from burnout is invaluable. Once you give yourself the permission to not be okay, you’ll raise your head higher than ever, trust me.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius.