Push pause: the effects of burnout and how to manage it

2022 is hurtling by and life is coming at you from all sides. It’s totally normal that you’re exhausted, inexplicably irritable and constantly battling the flu, right? Wrong: you may actually be suffering from burnout.

Unfortunately, this condition won’t go away on its own and, if left untreated, burnout can lead to a number of serious mental and physical illnesses including depression and heart disease. Press pause on the chaos and dive into the details of this all-too-common issue. Discover how to identify the signs of burnout, and learn tips and tricks to prevent and manage it.

What causes burnout?

Stress is a part of life. In fact, our bodies are designed to handle it in short bursts – provided they’re followed by periods of relative calm.

However, being continuously exposed to stressful situations without any reprieve over a long period of time (hello, 2022) can eventually lead to burnout – a state of mental and physical exhaustion that saps the joy out of life and can affect not only your career but your personal relationships, too.

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build up and typically follows a pattern:

  1. You experience excessive drive, particularly when starting a new position or task.
  2. You push yourself to work harder to unsustainable levels.
  3. You neglect your own needs and sacrifice self-care (including sleep, exercise and eating well).
  4. You play the blame game. Instead of acknowledging that you’re pushing yourself too hard, you blame others – your boss, your colleagues, your job.
  5. You have zero time for personal needs and withdraw from socialising with friends and family. These occasions now feel stressful rather than enjoyable.
  6. Behavioural changes begin, for example increased irritability and aggression. You may find yourself snapping easily at loved ones.
  7. You have a sense of depersonalisation; of feeling detached from your life.
  8. Inner emptiness and/or anxiety creep(s) in. You may turn to thrill-seeking behaviours like overeating or substance abuse to ‘escape’ these feelings.
  9. Depression and a general sense of hopelessness set in. Life loses its meaning.
  10. You experience mental and/or physical collapse. Medical attention may be necessary.

How to identify the signs of burnout

Keep an eye out for the following signs of burnout so that you can make changes and seek help in good time:

  • Constantly feeling physically and mentally exhausted
  • Notable changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Avoiding social settings and feeling overwhelmed at the thought of seeing people
  • Fantasising about escaping (this can range from going on a solo vacation to turning to drugs, alcohol or food as a way to numb your emotions)
  • Irritability with colleagues, friends and family
  • Being easily pushed over the edge by ‘normal’ stressors like household chores or prepping for a meeting
  • Frequent illness including colds, flu and insomnia
  • Low energy and little interest in work
  • Dreading starting the work day

How to prevent burnout

Stress is unavoidable. However, by implementing and sticking to a few simple habits, you’ll have the mental capacity and coping skills to manage stress more effectively and avoid burnout:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. A diet high in processed food can contribute to feeling anxious. On the other hand, a healthy, balanced diet packed with unrefined food can act as a natural antidepressant. Incorporate fish, leafy green vegetables, olive oil and nuts into your meals regularly. Avoid excess sugar and processed fatty foods, and limit your intake of stimulants such as caffeine and energy drinks.
  • Exercise regularly. The endorphin release triggered by exercise is good for your mental health. And ‘exercise’ doesn’t have to mean stressing yourself out even more by spending hours at the gym or attempting a marathon. Regular mini workouts and short walks are enough to reap the rewards.
  • Get enough sleep. It’s quite simple: when you sleep, your body and mind reset. To get a good night’s sleep, avoid caffeine and screen time for at least an hour before bed.
  • Draw boundaries. Put down the phone. Switch off your computer. Practise saying ‘no’. Dedicate time to yourself. It’s essential for your mental health!
  • Ask for help. You’re not alone. There are professionals available to help you cope with your life stressors.
  • Look after your staff. As experts in health risk management, Life Health Solutions offers integrated health and wellness programmes that make workplaces healthier for employees’ physical and mental well-being, helping them to avoid burnout.
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