We all have bad days when we don’t want to get out of bed and dread going to work. But if every day is a bad day and you feel exhausted all the time, it’s possible you might have burnout.
With the fast pace and pressures of modern life, burnout is now common. The World Health Organization estimates 1 in 4 adults will be affected by the condition at some point.
If you’re concerned you or someone you know may have burnout, the good news is you can recover. In this article I’ll explain what the causes and signs of burnout are, and I’ll also suggest some steps you can take to feel like yourself again.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It’s often triggered by problems at work, such as high workload, lack of control, a bad working environment or a work/life imbalance.
You can be at risk of burnout if you feel unable to meet the demands placed on you, or if the goal of your work conflicts with your personal values.
Burnout is often associated with work, but other areas of your life can cause burnout too. Being a parent or carer can cause burnout, as can being in a relationship. And because there’s often a stigma attached to feeling overwhelmed by ‘caring’ responsibilities, people with non-work burnout will often hide their struggles rather than get the help they deserve.
Signs of burnout
Burnout can be difficult to recognise because it doesn’t happen overnight; the symptoms can creep up on you gradually. Here are some of the signs to look out for:
Being physically or mentally exhausted
Intense fatigue is a common sign of burnout. You might feel too tired to concentrate or perform effectively. You might also struggle to get out of bed in the morning, or take longer to get things done.
Loss of motivation
Burnout may leave you feeling empty and cynical. If you’re in a caring role you might find you’re less compassionate towards those you care for. You might find yourself starting work late and leaving early, procrastinating, or feeling trapped by your responsibilities.
If you’re burnt out you might feel you’re failing in some way, or that you can no longer perform effectively. As a result, you might also feel isolated from others.
Feeling physically ill
Burnout can impact physical health, too. You might get headaches and digestion problems, succumb to illnesses more often or have changes to sleep or appetite. You might find yourself turning to unhealthy habits such as drinking too much alcohol as a way to cope.
What’s the difference between stress and burnout?
While burnout is a result of chronic stress, it’s not the same as being stressed out.
When you’re stressed, too many pressures send you into overdrive and you put all your energy into overcoming them.
But when you’re burnt out, you’ve lost hope of overcoming the pressures. Your energy has gone, and instead you feel drained and numb.
How to recover from burnout
If you suspect you do have burnout, I want you to know there are ways you can recover. Although burnout can leave you feeling like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, with time and self care you can feel healthy again. Here are some steps you might find helpful:
Change your role
If your burnout is work-related, it might be a good idea to seek a different job, either by transferring to another role within your organisation, or by finding a new job somewhere else.
Alternatively, you might want to change your work environment by discussing your issues with a supervisor, and asking to be given some different responsibilities.
Do you take on too many responsibilities? It can be a good idea to consider setting limits on how much you help out other people.
Saying ‘no’ to requests for your time doesn’t make you selfish or lazy – it’s important for maintaining your mental health. And if you’re selective about which tasks you agree to, this also means you can fully commit to those tasks.
Make self-care a priority
If you’re at the point of burnout, it’s likely your self-esteem has taken a big hit. You might feel like a failure, or that you’re in some way to blame for the situation. But this isn’t the case; you’ve simply pushed yourself too hard for too long. It’s ok to need a break.
Make a note of what makes you feel rested and give yourself space in your daily schedule to ensure your needs are met. You might want to try yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. It can be a good idea to make other lifestyle changes too, such as making sure you’re eating well and getting enough sleep.
Take some leave
Stepping away from your responsibilities to recharge is vital for helping you recover. Aim to take plenty of time off if you can, ideally at least a week. If you don’t have annual leave left, you might want to speak to your manager about taking sick leave or a leave-of-absence.
Carers and parents need a break too – reach out to friends, family or organisations who can look after dependants for you while you’re away. Keep in mind this is necessary for your mental health, and it will help those you care for in the long run.
Restore the balance
Burnout is a signal there’s some aspect of your life that isn’t working. It can be helpful to stop and reflect on your values, goals and dreams.
Perhaps one of these has fallen by the wayside? As you let yourself rest and recover, take this opportunity to remember what really matters to you, and what makes you happy. You might want to make a list of these things, and consider ways to introduce them back into your life.
Maybe you’ve been too tired to spend time with friends, or on a hobby you love? Do you have career plans you could act on? Making time for things that are meaningful to you means you don’t have to focus solely on those things that have worn you down.
Open up to someone you trust
Burnout can leave you feeling very alone. To remedy this, it can be helpful to involve someone you trust like a relative or close friend.
Opening up to people might feel daunting, but it will make your recovery easier. Even if this person hasn’t experienced something similar, they can help you brainstorm practical solutions to help you get back on track.
If you’d prefer to talk to a stranger, you might want to speak to a trained counsellor instead. A counsellor can offer you a confidential space to talk freely. During counselling you can explore potential coping strategies, and navigate other factors that might be contributing to your burnout.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful, and if you are struggling at the moment I wish you all the best for your recovery.
Burnout can cause depression. If you’re feeling hopeless, feeling low all the time or having thoughts about harming yourself, please do speak to a mental health professional such as a counsellor or your GP. You can also call one of the helplines listed below.
Do you need someone to talk to?
If you would like to talk to a trained therapist about burnout or something else, you’re very welcome to get in touch with me. I’m a registered person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist. I provide both telephone counselling and online counselling via Skype to people across the UK.
Useful links and helplines
The Samaritans – 116 123 is a free helpline offering support to anyone in distress. It’s run by trained volunteers and it’s open 24/7.
The National Counselling Society (NCS) – the professional association for counsellors website has a national directory of qualified therapists, searchable by area.
The Carer’s Trust is a national charity that supports carers. It offers information and advice for carers on issues such as financial help, respite care (taking a break from caring) and options for taking a holiday with or without the person you care for.
Carers UK is a charity that offers help and advice to unpaid carers. It has a helpline: 0808 808 7777 open Monday to Friday, 9am – 6pm. There’s also advice via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The charity has a forum and information about how to take a break.
Every Mind Matters is an NHS website to support good mental health. It has a helpful page on stress and burnout, including tips on how to recover, and links for places you can get support.