Its Burnout Season

Can you believe December is around the corner? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, season’s greetings decorations are up and we have started attending year end functions. Although this is traditionally meant to be a happy season, this is not true for a large number of people. It is the end of a long working year.  Some only have that two weeks leave end of December. A lot of people are tired than they care to admit. They are Burnt Out!

BURNOUT defined and the impact it can have on your body?

To put it simply, a person is said to have BURNOUT when they are emotionally, mentally and physical exhausted. They feel they can no longer cope with their day to day life and are often overwhelmed by the never ending demands of life, especially work, but may concurrently / eventually find no joy from things which they normally enjoy in their home and social life as well.

BURNOUT is caused by excessive and/ or on-going stress. If not dealt with, the stress will lead to various chemicals being released and interacting with one another in the body. These enzymes and hormones often lead to impairment in the functioning of the immune system, rendering it weak and thus leading to recurrent or persistent illnesses and infections which the body would normally take care of relatively quickly.

Stress is necessary during certain circumstances in life. A stress response is usually there to “remove one from harm” and “prevent further injury”. But in today’s times, emotional and mental stress seems to be a normal part of life, and has become acceptable. However, exposing the brain and other vital organs in the body to persistently high levels of stress hormones is detrimental and therefore should be avoided.

Symptoms of BURNOUT

Psychological Symptoms include:

  • Feeling excessively tired (fatigue / lack of energy)
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless and resentful
  • Lack of sleep (insomnia) due to over thinking about problems all the time
  • Lack of sleep leads to more fatigue & no desire to get up and get things done (vicious cycle)
  • Anxiety about being helpless and being unable to change the situation
  • Eventually depression will set in, with or without psychosis (commonly known as nervous breakdown); with or without suicidal ideation / attempts / success.

Physical symptoms commonly include:

  • Non-specific body pains (especially neck and upper back muscles) and headaches.
  • There may also be gastric ulcer or gastric reflux symptoms (abdominal pains and cramps with or without diarrhoea) due to excessive stomach acid production in response to stress.
  • Transient Ischaemic attacks (what people call “mild strokes”) or even more severe Cerebral-Vascular incidents (Strokes) and Cardio-Vascular incidents (heart attacks or other chest pains).
  • Excessive weight loss or weight gain (due to lack or increase of appetite and unhealthy eating habits.

(The list of symptoms is not exhaustive; I have just listed the common ones).

How to manage BURNOUT

Firstly, know and listen to yourself. When your brain and body are telling you that something is not quite right, take notice. It is easier to prevent BURNOUT from happening than to try and recover from it.

  • Stop having unnecessarily long to do lists. And if unavoidable, stop feeling excessive guilt if tasks are not completed. It is unnecessary and may lead to feelings of resenting yourself.
  • If you know yourself to have a “Type-A” personality, where everything must be done by you and must be perfect, learn to delegate.
  • Don’t feel embarrassed to accept help. If your spouse, friend or family member offers to help with hectic home and social life schedules, don’t pretend you have it covered. Similarly at work, don’t accept extra work if someone else can do it.
  • SLEEP! Spending the night worrying about yesterday and tomorrow is self defeating. It doesn’t miraculously complete yesterday’s uncompleted tasks, nor does it give you a head start on the next day’s tasks. The only thing it does is make you wake up tired and anxious. Seek help if you’ve tried relaxation techniques and shutting out from your thoughts and still can’t sleep.
  • All work and no rest is not good. So, take breaks during the day and definitely on your non-business days. Work emails don’t have to be replied at odd hours of the night, especially on weekends / off days.
  • Start the day relaxed and not rushed. Take a moment to meditate / reflect or do something that inspires you.
  • Plan ahead. If you have kids, prepare for the next day the night before to avoid rushing. If you have a big presentation, don’t leave things to the last minute.
  • Set boundaries for employers, colleagues and learn to say NO! It is always the “nice person” who always “says yes to helping out” who inevitably gets abused. Same applies to home and social life. Your spouse and kids (if any) need to know that you are one person. Be there for friends and family but don’t carry the world’s problems or want to save everyone all at the same time. Help where you can, refer for further help elsewhere where you are unable to. This won’t make you a bad person; it just means you are human.
  • Eat healthily and exercise. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you will have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands most of the time.
  • Disconnect from technology. Your brain needs the rest from constantly being bombarded with social media, emails etc.
  • Have coping mechanisms / skills in place for times when you feel more stressed than usual. Know who you can turn to if overwhelmed. Go for regular debriefing (short/ few psychotherapy sessions) to get things off your chest if you’re generally stressed or have high pressures and expectations from work and home. Don’t leave it till late.

If you think you have BURNOUT:

If it is too late for you to prevent going from just “dealing with day to day stress” to being “burnt-out”, then you need to implement a recovery strategy.

  • First recognize that there is a problem.
  • Accept what has been lost (usually loss of self esteem due to perceived or actual failure)
  • “S” is for Slow down, not Superman / woman. Stop doing more than you are capable of. Women are especially guilty of this. I call it the “Super Woman Syndrome”, where women often feel pressure (from no one but themselves) to be the perfect “everything” – mom, spouse, friend, employee etc. Stop, Rest, And Heal.
  • Check your attitude. You can’t get well if you still doing the same things that led you to having BURNOUT in the first place.
  • Sharing is Caring. Accept that you are not alone. Be grateful if you have support and most importantly, use that support.
  • If your problem is work related, you might want to clarify your job description instead of doing more than you are meant to. You will be surprised at how understanding some employers are. But if you keep accepting extra work or hectic deadlines, you only have yourself to blame. Take your leave (instead of opting to get paid out for it). If you are fortunate enough to have employee wellness programmes at your work place, use them. Counselling is often done by independent psychologists and should be confidential.
  • Reset your goals and responsibilities where possible. Cut out unnecessary things on your to do list, let things that can wait, wait. Be realistic.
  • Remember to put your emotional and physical wellbeing first so that you are able to be the best you can be.

Admitting there is a problem and that you need help sooner rather than later might save you hospital breakdown for what is commonly known as a nervous breakdown. If in doubt, see your doctor. You may need psychotherapy to equip you with coping mechanisms and maybe even medication to help balance the brain chemicals again.

Remember that you cannot be the best you at home or work if you have lost yourself to home, work and other life pressures… Take Care!!



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