What is Burnout?

In simple terms, burnout is a state of long-term stress that ultimately leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Writer and recovering burnout sufferer, Kieran Tie, offers the following description:

‘The best definition of burnout I’ve come across is ‘a chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life’. Think of it like riding a bicycle. When everything’s running smoothly, your work, life, and enthusiasm all balance, and you feel valued and fully engaged in your work. But when these aspects get out of sync for too long, you lose your balance and fall down. Unlike riding a bike, though, with burnout, once you’re down, it can be a real challenge to get back up.’ – Recovering from Burnout

People tend to think of burnout as something that stems from your job. In reality, anyone who feels overworked and underappreciated is at risk of burning out. Lifestyle and certain personality traits can also make you more susceptible.

For example, working too much without enough downtime for socialising or relaxing, not getting enough sleep, or taking on too many responsibilities can all contribute to feelings of stress. Perfectionist tendencies, a pessimistic view of yourself and the world, or a reluctance to delegate to others will have a similar effect.

When it comes to burnout, prevention is always better than cure.

What Are the Signs of Burnout?

The difference between stress and full-blown burnout is a matter of degree. The earlier you recognise and address the warning signs, the greater your chances of avoiding burnout. Some symptoms may be easy to identify, but others might require more time and deeper introspection.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Chronic Fatigue – In the early stages, this can be as simple as a lack of energy and feelings of tiredness. Later, you may feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained and depleted.
  • Insomnia – Difficulty drifting off and staying asleep a few times a week can soon become a persistent, nightly ordeal if left unchecked.
  • Poor Memory, Concentration and Attention – Inability to focus and forgetfulness are early signs. Later, you may find yourself unable to get anything done. Work and other responsibilities may begin to pile up.
  • Increased Illness – Because you’re so physically depleted, your immune system is weakened, making you more vulnerable to colds and other viruses and infections.
  • Loss of Appetite – Initially, you might skip the odd meal due to lack of hunger, but eventually a complete absence of appetite can cause you to lose a significant amount of weight.
  • Anxiety, Depression and Anger – As you move closer to burnout, feelings of tension, worry and despair may become more pronounced and difficult to control, impacting your ability to function, both professionally and personally.

Chronic stress can also cause physical symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting and headaches. These should always be medically assessed.

As well as physical and mental exhaustion, burnout is often characterised by a sense of cynicism and detachment. This can manifest as a loss of enjoyment, pessimism, apathy, a desire for isolation, and/or poor productivity and performance.

Self-Care and Preventing Burnout

To protect ourselves from burning out, we need to recognise and address symptoms of stress before they take hold. At State of Liberty, we believe simple, sustainable self-care is an essential tool in preventing burnout. As we’ve said previously, it’s ‘the key that unlocks the door to our resilience’.

As well as online retreats, we’ve produced a wealth of free content that focuses on making small changes every day and forming healthy habits that will last. From our Weekly Wellbeing Toolkit to the numerous inspirational posts on this blog, you’ll find everything you need to help you incorporate micro-doses of self-care into your daily life.

Have you experienced burnout? What advice would you give to others?

Love Lizzie and the SOL team x

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