UPDATED 2/23/2019 We all experience occasional bouts of complete overwhelm when everything we do or don’t do, causes us stress. Some degree of stress is normal, and can even be helpful at times. It’s burnout, though, once this feeling becomes all-consuming, and it exists more than just occasionally. When you feel this way, these steps can help you stay inspired!
Causes of burnout
Burnout can happen to anyone, from CEOs to those working in shifts on a production line. Healthcare workers, like physicians or caregivers, may be particularly susceptible.
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Often, it causes cognitive weariness caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
While a single task can cause stress, burnout represents the accumulation of stress over a longer period of time.
Stress may give you the feeling that “you just can’t take it anymore.”
On the other hand, burnout is a sense that your gas tank is empty and you simply have no more to give. In short, the flame that used to burn brightly in you is about to go out.
Physical symptoms of burnout
Burnout shares many of the signs associated with depression. You may feel:
- constantly tired, physically and emotionally, even after resting
- uninterested in or lack of enjoyment for what you do for work or pleasure
- sense of detachment and withdrawal
- loss of motivation
- helplessness or being trapped
- that caring is a waste of time or energy because it won’t be reciprocated
The physical toll of burnout may even manifest differently depending on your gender.
In addition, burnout includes the symptoms associated with stress. These include muscle aches, GI distress, problems sleeping, and a change in eating habits. There may also be an accompanying agitation, anger, and aggression directed at those you love (if you can even summon the energy it takes to become frustrated).
When you’re stressed over and over, your body works against you. Under normal circumstances, your body handles stress by releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. However, over time the release of cortisol becomes a problem.
In fact, a scientist at Rockefeller University in New York told CBS News that chronic stress actually causes neurons in the brain to shrink and change shape. In animals, this leads to memory loss, more anxiety, and aggressiveness.
Even worse, other research by psychologist Elissa Epel, shows the impact is faster aging and being more susceptible to disease.
How to deal with burnout
Ready to turn things around after reading those startling stats? The good news is that your brain can rebound. Those neurons can and will grow back to normal size.
So, where do you start when you’re ready to deal with burnout?
- Recognize that you need to manage your stress.
- Give yourself time to reverse the cause of burnout.
- Take care of your body and nurture your spirit.
Since burnout develops over a period of time, the first step is recognizing that your stress has reached levels that are no longer sustainable. Ask yourself if you think you’re burned out.
If you want a burnout assessment tool, try the Personal Well-Being Survey by the HeartMath Institute. It’s a free tool, although an email is required, that measures your stress management, adaptability, resilience, and emotional health. The survey then offers recommendations to improve your well-being, if needed.
If you’re a physician experiencing burnout or a caregiver, it’s hard to recognize you’re burnt out when you’re so focused on taking care of others. If you don’t stop and take care of yourself, how will you be able to take care of others effectively?
Next, it’s important to remember how long it took to reach this state. Lots of things contributed to this journey, so give yourself grace and recognize that it will take time to reverse the causes of burnout. You may need help along the way, including that of medical and other healthcare professionals.
Once you’ve faced these realities, take care of your body and nurture your spirit. Focus on the basics — eating well, getting enough sleep, and engaging in physical activity.
Then tell yourself that it’s ok to take a break to sit and do nothing. Just “be” (and actually do it). Balance that with time spent with friends and loved ones, and you’ll be on your way toward breaking the pattern of stress which landed you in this burnout “hole.”
Try relaxation techniques by engaging in mindfulness or chair yoga. In just 20 minutes, you can transform yourself. With both of these activities, you can perform them in the office or at home, when you notice your day is overwhelming.
You may even need a technology timeout.
Find ways to manage your stress. “Be Less Stressed” helps you deal with stress month by month, making it manageable so you can succeed!
Lastly, reflecting on your path to burnout is essential to avoiding a return visit to the behavioral responses to stress which led to your extreme suffering. You may learn you need to make drastic adjustments in your life – changing jobs, letting go of some of the many balls you were juggling, downsizing your lifestyle, making your well-being as high a priority as you make that of others, and literally transforming yourself.
For further reading, you can consider the following resources to reignite the flame:
- The 10 Things To Do When Your Life Falls Apart by Daphne Rose Kingma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9wzfK40RCo (watch this)
- When Things Falls Apart by Pema Chödrön
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn book
What strategies will you incorporate into your life to help you avoid burnout?
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)