Burnout refers to a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. When you begin to feel like you are burning out, everything in your life is affected – your career, social life, family and relationships as well as the image you have of yourself. You may feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the demands of life. Our ‘always on’ modern-day culture coupled with the daily stresses of life and the high expectations we place upon ourselves create a clear recipe for burnout.
Stress and burnout are closely related. The stress could be a result of anything, including trauma (for example retrenchment, divorce, bereavement, accident, and injury, etc.), financial issues, work pressures, an abusive relationship or illness. When we perceive ourselves to be under threat physically or psychologically, the adrenal glands activate the sympathetic nervous system and release a flood of hormones including adrenalin and cortisol. This instinctual acute stress response is sometimes called ‘fight, flight or freeze’. The primitive response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger as it did for our ancestors, and it may become a default pattern.
Under extreme or prolonged stress, this cascade of hormones floods the body constantly and overloads the adrenals. This eventually results in a depletion leading to adrenal burnout or chronic fatigue. It can also lead to systemic inflammation, making you susceptible to illness and chronic health conditions.
Burnout is not plain exhaustion or job dissatisfaction. The truth is that you may not even realise that you are suffering from burnout until you are presented with a health crisis or a mental or physical breakdown.
Signs and symptoms
- Feeling irritated and argumentative, or losing your temper often
- Reacting irrationally or disproportionately
- Strain in personal or professional relationships
- Chronic fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy and feeling ‘flat’
- Depression, decreased motivation and discouragement
- A weak immune system or constant illness
- Feeling tearful, overwhelmed and anxious, or suffering panic attacks
- Feeling numb or empty
- An inability to focus or concentrate, poor memory or foggy thinking
- Poor decision-making or unhealthy choices
- Weight gain or loss, or an increase or decrease in appetite
- Increasing or new medical conditions
- Digestive issues
- Despair, loss of hope or faith, cynicism or negativity, and self-doubt
Recovering from a burnout
First, acknowledge that you are burnt out! Pushing through will not fix the problem. Working on discovering the root cause of your burnout rather than just treating the symptoms is known as the functional approach. A functional wellness coach will nurture, guide and motivate you to explore and recover from burnout and offer nutritional, supplementation and movement suggestions as well as mindfulness tools and strategies for lasting transformation. You may see both a coach and a therapist as a compatible dual treatment for burnout.
Get some sleep
Are you getting between seven and nine hours of quality sleep per night? Poor sleep has dire consequences for your body and mind, including a weakened immune system and poor cognition. If your sleep is compromised by insomnia, intermittent waking or sleep apnoea, this can exacerbate or even lead to burnout. Practise good sleep hygiene by avoiding screens one hour before bedtime, keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom, having a light early dinner, practising relaxation exercises, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol at night.
Being able to process emotions constructively is crucial. Breathing techniques, meditation, visualisation and other stress management tools can help. Becoming aware of what is happening in your body and mind under stress and training them to respond differently can calm the sympathetic nervous system and reduce anxiety.
Poor nutrition (processed and junk foods, sugar, hydrogenated fats and chemicals, etc.) leads to a greater chance of burnout. Your diet impacts everything, including your emotions. During burnout, you might not have the motivation to make healthy eating choices. But your body needs the right amount of crucial nutrients as fuel to function optimally.
Movement or exercise increases feel-good hormones like endorphins, induces relaxation, and promotes energy and mental clarity. Make time for movement in your life even if you do not feel like it and time is tight. Find the right movement for you, whether it is yoga, pilates or trail running and cycling. Just remember that exercising when ill or fatigued may increase the stress response. Exercise gently when you feel you can. Only you can be the judge of what’s right for you.
Get rid of everything which is toxic
Get rid of toxic relationships or situations in life and seek those that uplift you. This includes the people with whom you choose to interact, as well as environmental toxins. Become conscious of chemicals (including parabens, pesticides, plastic, synthetic chemicals and pollution in air, food and water, etc.) and avoid them as much as possible by making better choices.
Adjust the way you react to situations
Obstacles in life are unavoidable. We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we respond to them. Take control with a more problem-solving, optimistic attitude. Setting and achieving goals is a great motivator. Make necessary small changes. Having a purpose that is fulfilling and makes you feel valued for your unique gifts is an antidote to burnout. If you are willing to work at it, lasting change is possible.