Coping with Burnout
The other night I couldn’t sleep. I had irrational worries about things I thought I should have completed the day before at work. I laid there thinking about this and other things swarmed in alongside it. I remembered I had forgotten to put my dustbin out for collection the next morning. It took a good hour before I fell back to sleep. I woke up tired before the day started.
Many times, I walked into a room and forgot why I had gone in there in the first place. I snapped at my family for no real reason other than I felt interrupted when I already had a million things I was managing in my head and couldn’t cope with another one. Some days it was a real challenge just getting out of bed, and once I did, I kept putting off opening up my laptop until my first meeting required me to. I wondered, what on earth was wrong with me, and then it hit me – I’m burned out!
Everything I was experiencing were signals that it was time to take a break. Feeling anxious, irritable, isolated and exhausted, but unable to sleep. Being forgetful or cynical on a regular basis. Procrastinating more than normal, not wanting to get out of bed, and health issues.
Excessive prolonged stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained, like you are unable to give any more of yourself. With COVID-19, political drama, back-to-school, holiday limitations, work stress – things start to pile up. Burnout can lead to a lack of motivation and a withdrawal from the world. It’s important to sort out where that is rooted. Knowing where in your life you’re feeling burned out will help you figure out why you’re feeling the way you are.
So, what causes burnout? It could be:
Lack of control: Feeling like you have no control over your future or the position you are currently in.
Difficult environment: Being in a physical workspace, home, or relationship that is negative or chaotic.
Lack of balance: Too much work, not enough play; too much parenting, not enough solo time; and giving too much in a relationship and feeling that it is not reciprocated.
If you can recognize the signs, you have a chance to control your path and reverse direction before you hit burnout, hopefully avoiding it altogether. During and since lockdown, I have experienced several symptoms of burnout and found some successful ways to address and combat the feelings to get back on track to being myself.
Things that I found useful include:
A change in routine: Introducing new things to your routine can be daunting and overwhelming, especially when you’re already in a space of exhaustion. Don’t implement everything all at once – you’ll be more likely to quit all of them. Introduce one at a time and once your body and mind realize how good you’re starting to feel, introducing another task will seem more doable.
Diet and supplements: When you’re burnt out, one of the first things to suffer is your immune system. I was diagnosed with shingles within a month of lockdown, triggered by stress and low immunity. You’re not eating properly, you’re not sleeping properly, you’re exhausted and just not taking care of yourself. It’s hard to make yourself a priority. I found I had zero iron, vitamin B12, folate or vitamin D based on my blood test results, therefore supplements were essential for feeling myself again. Watching my diet to get these things naturally was important. If you’re feeling tired, low, etc., consider asking your doctor to check your levels.
Exercise: I got a dog so that I have to leave the house and walk every day. You don’t have to get a dog but scheduling a daily walk helps you get fresh air and clarity of thought away from work. This can be much needed when working from home. I also started to work out with my friend via Zoom. When it was in my diary and I knew someone was relying on me to show up and I was more motivated to exercise. In turn, exercise helped me sleep better, feel better, lose weight and clear my mind. I encourage you to pick an exercise you like so that it is enjoyable.
Sleep: I didn’t proactively do much to improve my sleep directly. It came naturally after eating better and exercising more. However, I did consciously try to ensure I was asleep before 11 p.m. if I was working late, doing jobs around the house or even watching Netflix. It wasn’t too difficult to stick to while working from home during lockdown, so this is probably one to be more proactive on as lockdown lifts.
Social, emotional and self-care: Close connections are important to your well-being. Lockdown made many of us aware of this. Since lockdown has been lifting, getting enough face-to-face time with friends and family has really helped. Also, being able to engage in activities such as sports again brings back a level of mental stimulation that might have been missing during lockdown. It’s important to have healthy coping skills to deal with uncomfortable emotions like anger, anxiety and sadness. Emotional self-care may include finding the time to journal your feelings or talk to others, which help you acknowledge and express your feelings on a regular basis. I didn’t realize I was failing to address my feelings until I wrote them down one day and felt lighter as a result.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help: I encourage you to make an ongoing list of things that you need or want to get done and identify any that can be done by others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I asked for help with household tasks, which were difficult to manage around work, and immediately felt less stressed. Release control, tuck your pride away and ask a friend, partner, colleague, even a therapist. Have someone that you’re comfortable checking in with and make sure it’s someone who helps you feel good.
Finally, remember burnout is real. If you’re one of the thousands of people who are feeling the strain of burnout, you’re not alone. Here are a few of the best quotes from people who know what burnout feels like and how they deal with it.
“Tough times never last. Tough people do.” —Robert Schuller
“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” —Banksy
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” —Bob Marley
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” —Finding Nemo