Picture this: you’ve just woken up and the first thing you feel is dread, or stress as the weight of what you’ve got to do immediately hits you. You’re not feeling like you’re really getting good quality sleep, you’re feeling unmotivated… waiting for the day to be over.

You could be feeling burned out. It’s Stress Awareness Month and we’re going to be looking at what burnout is, what the consequences are and what you can do about it. So let’s go…

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

Exhaustion on its own can be overcome with rest, but burnout comes from something deeper, often disillusionment and a sense of hopelessness.

Here are some signs you might be heading towards burnoutburnout

  • Feeling more negative and critical than usual, as well as being more irritable
  • Dreading going into work / other activities
  • Having low energy or interest in things that you enjoyed before
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling empty disconnected and isolating yourself
  • Physical issues like headaches, neck pain and backache

Stress VS Burnout

So what’s the difference between stress and burnout?

Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling burnt out or under pressure. Everyone feels stress at some point in their life, it is very common and low-level stress can help motivate us and achieve goals. However, too much stress can lead to feelings of physical mental and emotional exhaustion. Stress stimulates the release of the hormone cortisol which can be beneficial under pressure, but too much stress can cause production of cortisol by the adrenal glands to diminish and that leads quickly to depression, fatigue, and mood swings,” says Terence Watts, psychotherapist, author and founder of The BWRT Institute.

Stress is usually short term. Once the cause for the stress is removed (for example, a project) the stress lessens or even disappears entirely. Stress often causes you to feel more alert, on edge.

Burnout goes across a longer period of time, draining you of your energy and motivation. You feel more than exhausted, it’s like you’ve got nothing left to give.

So what are some of the causes of burnout…

  • Having unclear goals or expectations, leaving you feeling aimless or out of control
  • Working in a dysfunctional environment
  • Experiencing an excessive, overwhelming workload
  • Having little or no support from work or others around you, also lacking recognition for your work
  • Monotonous or low-stimulation work

The internal psychological factors can be early childhood trauma, attachment issues or lack of unconditional love which may lead to the beliefs that you are not important, loved  and worthy. Imagine every cell in your body listening to these negative messages and anxiety creeping in and building up over the years disrupting the natural balance of growth by the build up of negative emotions such as hurt, sadness, anger or guilt. To this, add the physical things you put in your body such as junk food laden with sugar and chemicals, plastic through food packaging, smoking, alcohol, or drugs. Then there are the external factors. Relationships, school, work, traffic, pollution and climate change.

Remember, every cell in your body is responding and being corroded by all this toxic matter,” says wellbeing consultant and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Hansa Pankhania.

What are the consequences?

The consequences of burnout can be severe. Your productivity can drop, your creativity will be affected and you’ll feel less likely to go for opportunities to improve your life.

It also negatively affects your personal life, relations and your overall wellbeing. It can lead you feeling exhausted, unmotivated and detached too.

How can you avoid burnout?

When burnout starts to occur, people often focus on short term solutions like a holiday, but these only provide temporary relief from burnout. You need to look for long term strategies that create longer lasting change to see a real difference.

Here are some ways…

Work with a purpose

One of the main things you experience when burnt out is the feeling of not being motivated, so looking for ways to rediscover your purpose is key to pulling yourself out of burnout.

What can you do to give meaning to your life every day? How can you make life better for the people around you? Spend some time thinking about what can bring you happiness and meaning, this could be anything from changing jobs to making small, everyday changes.

Get moving

Exercise can help to alleviate stress and improve your wellbeing natural. Look for an exercise that you enjoy, that feels good. Even something as simple as a short walk at lunch can make all the difference in your mental health and your energy levels too.

Take a 15 minute break, step away from the screens and take part in some physical activity.

Seek out connection

Relationships with others are one of the key aspects of our emotional happiness. The closer you are, the more supported you feel.

Connect with those who are already in your life – but also make an effort to meet new people.

There is limited research on the topic of loneliness, but we do know that it can have severe impacts on our physical health; Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).

Reach out to friends and family, you’ll feel more supported and valued when you’re connecting to others which will raise you up. Build positive relationships with people who are positive and who appreciate you. Helping others too can also help to reenergise you and help you find meaning.

Learn about stress management

Stress is one of the main contributing factors to burnout, so you need to work out how to manage your stress effectively in your every day life.

The first thing to recognise that not all stress is bad. Stress gets a pretty bad name for itself and is used in many situations, usually with negative connotations. However, there is a flip side to stress, and one which we can use to our advantage. If we anticipate that we’re not handling a situation well, or the pressure is too great, we can experience the ‘threat’ side of stress, we assume and feel the worst is going to happen. However, if you change that perspective, in your own mind, and know that you can handle everything, you then rise to the occasion and draw on your inner resources, you’re in your ‘A’ game, you enter the ‘challenge’ response instead.

You can retrain your own appraisal to potentially stressful situations and operate from the challenge response, as opposed to threat. This also, in a positive way, has a completely different effect on your physiology too. Instead of anticipating failure, anticipate success, and know that you’re able to cope. The good news is, we get to choose how we respond to events. By choosing to take control, in a positive, ‘I can handle this’ sort of way, you are choosing the challenge response route to approach this season. Also, it’s always worth the reminder that nothing is as good or as bad as it is first purported to be,” says Terence Watts, psychotherapist, author and founder of The BWRT Institute.

Get some help

It’s not a weakness to ask for help when you need it. Reaching out to a professional to talk through your feelings can make a world of difference.

Therapy can be invaluable in supporting you on this journey. The feeling of being listened to with the attitude of care will help you out of the stuck state that burnout may get you into. The therapy can provide you with a safe non-judgmental space to explore your difficulties and release feelings that may be bottled up inside you,” says wellbeing consultant and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Hansa Pankhania https://hansapankhania.com/.

Prioritise self-care

You need to work on replenishing your physical and emotional energy. This is done by prioritising good sleep habits, your nutrition, exercise, social connection and more.

The process of burnout had crept in over a period so do not expect for it to be resolved overnight. Approach it as a step-by-step journey of recovery. Making changes takes time and effort at a time when you are feeling apathetic and low in energy. Essentially to begin your wellbeing journey, take a habit you already do every day, and pair it with a simple new one you want to change to,” says wellbeing consultant and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Hansa Pankhania.

Burnout can feel overwhelming. But it’s not something you have to struggle with forever. By understanding why you’re experiencing this, and putting in effective strategies, you can recover and build up your resilience for the future.