Burnout is so common these days it’s reached buzzword status.
But that doesn’t make it any less real – or any less debilitating.
By the time you reach burnout, it’s often too late to claw your way back to good health with the usual self-care means of getting a decent night’s sleep and doing some breathing exercises.
Once you tip into that meltdown space, everything has to be dropped and your wellbeing must become your only priority.
It’s handy, then, to be able to spot the signs that you’re on a path to burnout early, and to learn how to correct your course.
So, what are some of the early red flags that if you carry on doing what you’re doing, you’re going to hit burnout?
Early warning signs you’re heading towards burnout
‘When you ignore your physical and emotional needs during a period of constant or severe stress, you are likely to get burned out – and the consequences can be detrimental to both our personal lives and careers,’ says work and wellbeing expert Paula Allen.
Some early warning signs you’re on a one-way track to burnout include:
- You constantly feel tired, no matter how much sleep you get
- You feel increasingly cynical – about your job, yourself, and the state of the world
- You’re impatient
- You have a negative attitude and perspective
- You have no enthusiasm or excitement for work
- You often forget things
- Your organisation has fallen off a cliff
- Even small decisions feel completely overwhelming and impossible to make
- You feel like you can’t properly relax, even at the weekend
- You’re starting to feel detached from your life and work
- The quality of your work has dropped
- You’re experiencing regular physical symptoms of stress, whether that’s headaches or a nausea
What to do if you notice early signs of burnout
Okay, so you’re ticking off a lot of the items on the above list. Now what?
Look a little deeper
Paula advises asking yourself some questions to get started on forming better boundaries: ‘When did you begin feeling this way (tired, unable to relax, etc.)?
‘Are you feeling a lot of pressure to succeed and relentless fear that you won’t?
‘Do you find yourself unable to relax? Do you find yourself resentful of your situation and those who have expectations of you?’
Take a deeper look at which parts of your life and work are causing you stress and overwhelm, and you can start to notice where you might need to set better boundaries.
Once you’ve analysed where you’re going wrong, it’s time to fence off work from rest.
For example, you might find that constantly checking your email outside of work hours is heightening your anxiety levels. Could you put yourself on an email ban when the day is done? What about setting up an email signature to clarify your working hours, so people won’t expect a reply post-6pm?
Or maybe you’re constantly staying late, day in, day out. Could you set yourself a target of leaving the office (or shutting your laptop) no later than 10 minutes each day?
Start saying no
Are you someone who always says yes, even when you’re already overworked and overwhelmed? That needs to change, sharpish.
‘Learn to say no when you are overwhelmed either by your circumstance,’ says Paula. ‘This could mean saying no to yourself if your situation is driven by your own expectations.
‘Recognise when you’re driving yourself too hard and depleting your inner resources. Learning to understand burnout can help you to avoid it.’
Challenge your thinking patterns
‘Another dimension includes taking a good look at how you respond to things,’ says Paula. ‘Do you see most things needing to be perfect or see them as a disaster? Do you automatically take responsibility or blame for everything?
‘Sometimes we learn have unhelpful responses without even realizing it.
‘Awareness of automatic responses can help us control them and be more realistic.
‘Focusing on what you are grateful for and showing gratitude to others has also been found to build the resilience.’
Look after yourself
Iit’s high time you prioritise self-care.
‘Some tactics you can use to help overcome burnout include setting aside time each day for recovery,’ says Paula. ‘Remember it is lack of recovery that is the root of burnout.
‘Recovery can come from many things – variety in your activity, open time where you can relax, supportive social contacts, physical movement, creative activity.
‘The most important thing is to understand that your mental and emotional health requires you to have different types of experiences and not solely work or caregiving.
‘Additionally, physical self-care is vital to both preventing and overcoming burnout. This includes eating nutritious, well-balanced meals and good quality sleep in addition to keeping active. Your mind and body are fully connected. Mental resilience requires physical self-care.’
Paula Allen is global leader in research and total wellbeing, and a senior vice-president at LifeWorks.
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