Burnout can impact any of us at any time. It’s equal opportunity. Whilst we may associate burnout with long hours in the workplace and unmanageable workloads. It’s all that and more. In recent years we’ve begun talking about two types of burnout. The first, as expected, linked to the workplace. But the second, and often less recognised, to how we look after others. Namely, carer’s burnout. The impact of burnout, as the name suggests, defines the moment when we have no more energy to expend. We will all experience it differently, that moment when we realise. And the symptoms which accompany it. So, how can we safeguard our mental health and ensure we don’t reach burnout point!
Burnout: The Facts
Burnout was first recognised by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. He defined it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results”. We can think about burnout as both mental and physical exhaustion. Whilst burnout is commonly associated with long-term or severe workplace stress. In recent years, we have also recognised carer’s burnout. When the impact of caring for others long term can similarly lead to exhaustion. And, as with workplace burnout, we are unable to give the work or the person the same level of attention or care.
Burnout can be particularly hard to manage when there appears or feels like there will be no change. Whether there is no recourse to action within their job. Or the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. Similarly, when the one we care for is ill long-term without signs of improvement. And there are few, or no, people who can provide additional support. Likewise, workplace and carers’ stress is usually one of many stressors that people juggle. When other stressors are also magnified. Burnout can become more likely.
For How to Advocate for Your Mental Health at Work read here.
When we feel well or are in a mentally or emotionally robust state. We can manage the curveballs that life throws at us. This is part of our resilience. We may feel like that we have a purpose in life, have hope for the future and have a level of self-confidence or self-believe. Our energy and motivation levels are likely to be higher. And we will experience higher levels of productivity. Additionally, our physical health is likely to be better and our sleep patterns and quality more consistent.
In comparison, burnout leaves us feeling depleted and exhausted. We may experience physical aches and pains, digestive distress, headaches or migraines and a general lower immune response. Emotionally we may experience intense emotions including (but not limited to) sadness, guilt, frustration, anger, shame, worthlessness or failure. Concentration and motivation may be hard to maintain and productivity will be low. Negative thoughts or overthinking may occur including suicidal ideation – thoughts of suicide. Our appetite may be suppressed, or we may overeat. And sleep patterns may be disrupted. Symptoms of burnout can have a significant impact on one’s life and ability to function.
Finding or Accessing Support
As burnout is linked to chronic stress, we can consider stress management strategies to help us cope. In addition to reaching out for further support to someone we trust or a healthcare professional.
If our burnout relates to our workplace, consider who we can speak to internally; our manager or HR. Perhaps we need further support on a project to offset some stress. We may need short or long term time away from work. Is there anything specific in your job which is exacerbating your burnout? Consider what practical changes an employer could make to support you. Remember, it is a legal requirement for employers to support you if your mental health is impacted. In the UK, those with a mental illness are protected under the Equality Act (2010)
For Carers’ burnout think about your own needs. You deserve as much support and care as you demonstrate to others. Accept that you may need this. Sometimes we give support; sometimes we get it. Ask yourself who do you have in your support network to reach out to? And, if you need to take a step back for a while, who can step up. If we are burnt out, we must be our own priority. Recharging our own batteries allows us to give 100% to those around us.
Advocate & Boundaries
Whilst taking a step back in either our personal or professional lives may not feel comfortable or possible. Try considering what may feel a reasonable request of those around you. We may be surprised by what others are willing to accept. We can use ‘I statements’ to share how we are feeling and the kind of support we think will help us. Likewise, boundaries are important here. What feels too far for us currently? Our boundaries may become more rigid when we are burned out. We may not be able to maintain the same amount of ‘give’ either to work or others. As we know, motivation, energy and productivity can be low at these times.
For The 9 Tips You Need to Hold Boundaries read here.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
Challenging any negative thinking can be helpful. Some of us may experiences thoughts about a particular image that we have to maintain. Whether the highly successful or high achieving professional, the empathetic and giving carer, the busy and organized human. Ask ourselves who defines this image. Do we wish to maintain it? If not, we have the right to step back. Looking after ourselves, even if it means helping others less in the short term, is not selfish or irresponsible. Remember, negative thoughts are opinion; not fact. No matter what they try and convince you.
For How to Successfully Challenge Negative Thoughts read here.
Lastly, and as always, self-care is vital here. Taking a step back may give us time to rebuild those all important reserves. But self-care will help us on this journey. If we don’t already have an embedded self-care routine, and as we know this may wane when times are hard. By creating or reclaiming our self-care can instil good habits longer time. Of course, the most important form of self-care is talking to those we trust. These may be colleagues, friends or family who make up our personal support network. But remember, checking in with your GP or a healthcare professional may be a good idea. They can offer a level of support some of us may need and we are unable to access elsewhere. We know that burnout can look a lot like depression too; so always worth checking in.
What are your experiences of burnout? Have you come across the two types? What works for you to get support?