How to recognise burnout and what to do about it
Are you coping ok with Covid19 and feeling tired or close to burnout? Is the new lockdown pushing you closer to that burnout point?
As the clocks go back and the nights close in, being able to generate energy becomes a key skill for the winter under normal circumstances. If you add the new lockdown due to the global pandemic on top, you have a recipe for burnout.
How do you keep your flame burning bright and prevent running out of fuel or hitting the wall in these circumstances?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion, whether emotional, mental or physical, brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Work is often a key contributor, but it includes parenting, caretaking and personal relationships too. It’s an overwhelming feeling of relentless, grinding stress and Covid 19 doesn’t help because it adds a layer of risk and uncertainty.
It’s not simply about working long hours or juggling multiple tasks; equally problematical are working towards a goal that doesn’t resonate, whether you’re in control of how the work is carried out, or if the tasks conflict with your own sense of identity.
Even if your work is your true calling, if you don’t manage your energy and take a break once in a while, you can face burnout and the many mental and physical health problems that characterise it. These include physical exhaustion, headaches, heartburn, gastrointestinal disease and a risk of increasingly turning to food, alcohol or drug misuse.
Waking up exhausted, crying or dreading the idea of work and not being able to face going to work are warning signs of burnout. Feelings of cynicism, anger or irritability are also common signs and those in caring professions like vets, doctors and nurses may notice dwindling compassion towards those in their care. It may feel like you’re becoming numb or having nothing more to give.
It can sometimes be hard to acknowledge these signs are creeping up on you or feel that you’re ‘not coping’. The temptation is to keep ploughing on, thinking that you can ‘get on top of it’. Studies of human performance are unequivocal; once you’re over the peak of performance, without some respite, rest and recovery, burnout and pathology will follow.
Chronic arousal or stress dulls your response to your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It negatively affects the hormones serotonin and oxytocin that are highly important in mood, feelings of pride, loyalty and love. You may start to feel isolated or disconnected from your loved ones.
You can help friends and colleagues if you’re worried about them becoming burned out by asking a simple question, “You don’t seem quite yourself at the moment, how can I help?”. That simple external observation might make a big difference.
How do you counter burnout and generate energy?
Some work environments are hard work or chronically stressful in their own right and a sense of purpose, making a contribution to others or feeling like you’re making a difference can help counter this. Clarity around purpose really helps prevent burnout.
A high degree of autonomy over how the work is delivered or being able to control your working environment and hours is important too. During Covid, many things have seemed outside of our control, so think about how you can create control over parts of your life and learn to accept those areas which are outside of your control. Mastering a new skill or challenge also contributes to burnout prevention.
One key element of burnout is chronic stress. This has been a common feeling during the global pandemic and with no end in sight, many people are feeling out of control. New normals are becoming long term realities, yet the adaptations haven’t been embedded as new habits yet, leading to uncertainty.
Most people have more or less coped with Covid and now we must mitigate the chronic stress of repeated change to prevent burnout. Establishing a way of living that accommodates the virus long term is the task we must master.
Countering burnout has several components. Quitting your job might seem sensible and it will remove one set of stress but it’s not the only option. Speaking up about your concerns and working with your employer or colleagues to change the working pattern or environment may be less risky and equally effective.
Drawing better work boundaries, scheduling breaks and respecting working hours will also help mitigate burnout by increasing autonomy and control. It doesn’t just fall to the employer to do this; we all share accountability for saying ‘no’ and managing ourselves. You never know, speaking up for yourself might also support someone who is suffering in silence.
Working from home has blurred the work-life boundary and whilst commuting hours are reduced and flexible working means some offices may never again be physical places, we’ve also discovered Zoom fatigue and the insidious creep of work tasks into our homelife. It takes self-discipline to ignore work emails outside of classic office hours. Think carefully about how you make this work and create clear boundaries between work and homelife.
Self care & looking ahead
Self-care is an effective weapon in the fight against burnout. Research is clear; nurturing relationships, rest, sleep, exercise and nutrition are all superpowers in this battle. Self-care looks different for everyone and you’ll find your own formula, but here’s a core concept – Generate Energy.
In part two of this blog, we’ll look at three things you can do to help generate energy and combat burnout.
- Change focus between tasks with intention
- Bring the joy
- Optimise your health
What to do next?
If you’re struggling right now, please make sure you get some support. Your GP or Doctor is a place to start if you are burned out now but if you need immediate support use NHS 111 or dial 999.
For veterinary professionals, Vetlife is a great place to start, for signposting and support 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.
If you don’t work in the veterinary profession, then the Samaritans will help support you, no matter you’re going through, again 24hrs a day, every day. They’re here to listen.
If I can help as a coach, then reach out for a free, no obligation 30-minute coaching exploration call or get in touch by email. Help creating better boundaries, managing time and creating clarity around focus are key ways a coach can help – read more here about what I do.