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Beyond Fatigue: Recognising & Managing Burn Out
How to break free from the cycle of burnout and reclaim your energy.
Have you ever felt like you're running on empty like you just can't seem to fire on all cylinders, and you're having trouble focusing? You could be experiencing burnout. It's far more common than we think and can impact anyone. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that can have serious outcomes if you're not careful.
Over the last decade, I have experienced burnout three times, and each time was quite different and got progressively worse. These are the common symptoms that I too experienced during burnout.
Recognizing burnout involves paying attention to various signs and symptoms that manifest in different aspects of your life. One common indicator is exhaustion, a persistent feeling of being physically drained regardless of your efforts to recharge. It's as if no amount of rest or relaxation brings relief.
Another key sign is heightened emotions. You may find yourself more sensitive and reactive than usual, experiencing moments of tearfulness, anxiety, or increased irritability. Small stressors that wouldn't normally bother you now seem to have a stronger impact.
Lack of motivation is another indicator of burnout. You may struggle to find any enthusiasm or drive for your work, making it challenging to focus and be productive. Tasks that once interested you now feel like burdens. As burnout progresses, you may notice that your enthusiasm for activities and hobbies diminishes. Things you used to enjoy no longer bring you joy or satisfaction. It's as if the spark that once fueled your passions has been extinguished.
Cognitive difficulties can also arise from burnout. Concentration becomes a struggle, and you may find it harder to remember things or make decisions. Your mind feels foggy, and mental tasks that used to come naturally now require significant effort.
In addition to mental and emotional symptoms, burnout can also manifest physically. Headaches, gastrointestinal issues, muscle tension, changes in sleep patterns, and even recurring illnesses may become more prevalent. Your body reacts to chronic stress and exhaustion, resulting in a range of physical discomforts.
Recognizing these various signs of burnout is crucial for understanding and addressing the issue. By identifying and acknowledging the presence of burnout, you can begin taking steps towards healing and restoring balance in your life.
So, what causes burnout?
The causes are wide and varied and can be work-related stress, relationship issues, financial pressures, caring for a loved one who is unwell for an extended period of time, and many more. Everyone's situation is different and it could be that you've not connected the underlying issue with the way you're feeling. Burnout is usually due to chronic stress, rather than a singular event.
It's taken me a very long time to learn to curb burnout. Being someone who enjoys the challenge of the entrepreneurial journey, I like to work. But, I have had to find ways to switch off and take care of myself. It's been three and a half years now since I've been in burnout but I still have to watch myself to make sure I'm getting my rest and downtime.
Here's what I find works well for me now:
1. Daily meditation. This might sound like a difficult thing to include in your day, but it really isn't. In the past three months, I've started a new daily meditation practice that has been incredibly easy. Each night I fall asleep to one of The Mindful Movement meditations playing and it couldn't be easier.
2. Set boundaries. I've had to learn to say no and prioritise my me time. My work day starts around 6.30-7.00 am and I usually finish about 2.00-2.30 pm. Setting two alarms on my phone, one at 2.00 pm and one at 2.30 pm are my reminders that it's time to finish work. Following my work day with a rest time of an hour or two means I can recharge before getting into personal and household chores.
3. Listen to my body. Being mindful of how I'm feeling helps me recognise the signs that it's time to take a break. If I'm particularly tired one day, I might finish work even earlier, and if I'm feeling particularly tired after an extra-long day, I'll spontaneously take a day off. Getting the rest I need is at the top of my list these days. It has to be.
4. Prioritise sleep. Having spent the last ten years with sleep issues, I know how awful it can be to constantly feel exhausted. Thankfully with recent tapering off of menopausal symptoms, and acupuncture for my back, as well as general health, I'm sleeping much better. Napping throughout the day is something I don't hesitate to do if I need to.
5. Fuelling with food. In the last nine months we've changed to a vegan lifestyle, and although I'm not 100% (I'm about 80% I guess), I feel so much better. Eating a mostly plant-based diet has had a big impact on my energy levels and sense of well-being. Any which way, choosing a healthy diet that suits your body and lifestyle, will increase your energy exponentially.
Taking care of yourself is the number one way of avoiding burnout. If you do find yourself in burnout, know that getting well is a process that can take a considerable length of time. Be patient, get the help you need to evaluate where you're mind, body, and soul are at, before setting yourself onto a path of recovery. It will take a combined approach of different modalities to get you back to wellness.