Let’s talk about burnout

Do you often feel fatigued, exhausted, depressed, anxious, forgetful or hopeless? Are you working hard yet and accomplishing things yet still feeling drained or inadequate? Do you often feel irritable with your coworkers, friends, and family? Have you experienced a sudden lack of interest in the things you love or often have feelings of apathy? If so, you may be one of the many humans on this earth that are experiencing a form of burnout. As you can guess by the many symptoms, burnout weaves its way into our lives in many shapes and forms and completely takes over, making everyday tasks feel like massive challenges. So, what exactly is burnout –  Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. Occupational Stress is the root cause of burnout and it affects our personal lives and relationships. 

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. “ (11th revision International Classification of Diseases ICD -11)

Let’s go deeper

At its core, burnout can be characterized by three dimensions that reduce our physical, mental, and professional energies:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (no physical energy)
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job. (mental – you feel detached)
  3. A reduced professional efficacy (you’re not as performing as well as you used to – procrastination, you don’t care anymore, you don’t feel appreciated)

“Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be apple to describe experiences in other areas of life”  Simply put – Burnout is linked to work! 

In some industries, wearing exhaustion used to be a badge of honour. 

In a world where we are taught to constantly hustle to push ourselves past our limits, reach our goals and get shit done all the while ignoring our body: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

We continue to push, ignoring all the subtle signs our bodies and brain are giving us to slow down. We work to the point where we’ve started to base our self-worth on how productive we were through the day, only to feel guilt and shame when we take a moment to listen to ourselves and rest when needed. On top of this, we are also experiencing overt and hidden stressors in many areas of our lives. 

Sometimes, the expectations we set for ourselves are beyond our human capability.

We live off endless lists and goals, only to keep adding to this never-ending to-do list. We accomplish one task and keep going, keep doing, keep being, all the while we keep ignoring the signs of burnout.

We never feel like we’re doing enough. We are constantly adding dirt and stones to a never-ending mountain. A mountain we all continuously climb while being completely exhausted carrying a heavy mental load – more money, get that promotion, read more, travel more, do more. We often can get caught in a cycle of fear of missing out. 

Burnout is not normal and constant exhaustion should not be a status symbol.

Furthermore, we can break burnout into three main types: Frenetic Burnout, Underchalleneged Burnout, Worn-Out Burnout.

Frenetic Burnout 

  • Frantically working despite feeling overwhelmed
  • Overlooking your own needs in order to meet work demands
  • Lack of personal boundaries.

Underchallneged Worker

  • Bored Out – the opposite of frenetic (many elementary and high school students can relate to this type of burnout)
  • Feeling like your work is monotonous
  • Lack of opportunities to grow and develop within the system/company

Worn-Out Worker

  • Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.
  • Feeling passive and unmotivated.
  • Giving up on a project when something doesn’t go as planned and you just quit – too many cognitive stressors – your energy is depleted. 

What can we do about it? 

We live in a society that encourages emotional numbness so we can keep up with the machine pace of life. And so, instead of feeling our feelings, we ignore them. We suppress them. We try to make them go away with food or work or alcohol or Netflix or spending endless hours scrolling through social media. These numbing techniques eventually become maladaptive coping strategies, which just contribute to the cycle of stress and burnout. 

Maladaptive coping strategies are essentially survival strategies and can be exhausting to keep up. They keep our nervous system stuck in a state of defence and keep us from being disconnected from the feelings that essentially rob us of our ‘aliveness’.

For years, I turned to work and constantly keep myself busy to stop myself from feeling my pain, shame and rage. It’s scary to feel our feelings. But when I took a moment to breathe, to get on my Yoga mat with softness and non-judgement, I started to learn to pay attention to what my body was feeling and what it needed to ease tension and raise my energy. 

We have to rewire our brains to slow down and stop the rush. We have to pause and check-in with our breath, with our body and listen.  We have to be courageous to feel our feelings instead of pretending we don’t have any. Especially if those feelings are heavy and painful and grief-filled. 

My strategy to cope with burnout can often be boiled down into two methods

Lean in and feel

Learning to feel our feelings needs to be a mindful and slow process. A softening, a melting, a gentle thawing of heavy and cold ice buildup. It’s a process of being gentle with ourselves and those around us and cultivating a space of compassion without judgement. 

Healing from burnout takes more than a few days of rest. Waiting until the weekend to rest isn’t sustainable either. But, we can take tiny steps every day that will help shift our energy. These small steps will help you develop self-awareness, and eventually, you will begin to cultivate your resilience tool bucket of rituals, routines and activities that become adaptive coping strategies, and ultimately help you get back up when you get back down. 

I highly recommend checking out this incredible Burnout Unlock The Stress Cycle“>book. These women dive deep into the science of burnout and provide stellar science-based strategies to minimize stress and manage emotions.

Practice Self-Awareness

Practicing self-awareness is the process of truly understanding ourselves and proactively and consistently checking in with ourselves. I often take moments throughout my day to stop and ask myself questions such as:

  • What does your body need at this moment?
  • Do you need to up-regulate or down-regulate?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What calms you down?
  • What gives you energy? What drains your energy?

Remember that whatever energy you are feeling needs to move. And how we regulate where this energy moves throughout us are key to overcoming burnout.

Some of the things that help me stay regulated are stillness, movement, and journaling. 

Stillness looks like savouring my morning cup of coffee or tea, early in the morning before anyone else is awake. This space gives me a quiet time for meditation and a chance to just be before the busyness of the day consumes me. 

Movement looks like 3 Sun Salutations before my family wakes up, it helps me shift my energy and check in with my body to find out what it needs for the day. Movement looks like a walk in our woods to say good morning to my favourite tree. 

Journaling looks like organizing my thoughts and planning my day. I set my to-do list and write in my gratitude journal. It’s a time for me to reflect and stay organized. 

And, we don’t need to be alone to do most of these things. Include your students, your family and friends, think of this as collaborative care. Remember, when we can put on our oxygen tank first, we become better co-regulators for those in our lives. 

We heal through establishing adaptive coping strategies that we know help us feel good. 

And in the end…

So in the end, know you aren’t alone as you move into your battle against burnout. Millions of people experience burnout every day, some more so than others. Practice self-awareness, allow yourself to feel and name those feelings you feel. Little by little you will begin to recognize your true self.

Need help in getting started? Book a 1-1 Mindful Self-Reg Session with me. 

Questions for reflection:

  • What does your body need at this moment?
  • Do you need to up-regulate or down-regulate?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What calms you down?
  • What gives you energy? What drains your energy?
  • Are there certain parts of your day that drive you crazy? Why? How can you reduce this stress?
  • What small habits can you incorporate into your day that will balance your internal ecosystem?
  • What small habits do you want to do more of, that you know will make you feel good? How can you build these activities/rituals into your routine?
  • Do you do anything today that perhaps you should be doing less of? Are there healthier alternatives? 
  • How is excess stress, or burnout showing up in your life? What are signs that are telling you that you are under stress? Are you on the brink of burnout, or are you burnt out? 
  • Once you realize you are over-stressed, or potentially on the bring of burnout, how might you communicate this to others and/or ask for what you need from those in your circles of support?

Are you feeling burned out? Let me know in the comments how you are finding time for restoration!