Burnout is the state of mind that comes with long-term, unresolved stress that can negatively affect your work and your life. In an ideal world, nobody would experience burnout. However, it is becoming increasingly common with searches for ‘signs of burnout’ showing a 24% increase throughout 2020 compared to the previous year.
With this in mind, it’s important to understand the stages of burnout before you can work towards preventing it. In our guide, How to Deal with Stress at Work, we discussed how stress can be both a positive and negative state of mind. With burnout, it’s important to take regular steps to prevent it and we’ve highlighted five stages of burnout to help you understand how you can prevent it from disrupting your life.
The 5 stages of burnout
Our guide is inspired by Winona State University’s burnout study, as well as our own psychological research.
Burnout can affect anyone, at any time in their lives. However, a recent study has shown that the average professional experiences burnout by the age of 32. As with any illness, symptoms of burnout change from person to person, however we have identified that the following five stages are commonly observed:
1. Honeymoon Phase
When we undertake a new task, we often start by experiencing high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity. This is especially true of a new job role, or the beginnings of a business venture.
In this first phase of burnout, you may begin to experience predicted stresses of the initiative you’re undertaking, so it’s important to start implementing positive coping strategies, such as taking practical steps to support your wellbeing alongside your professional ventures.
The theory is that if we create good coping strategies at this stage, we can continue in the honeymoon phase indefinitely.
Common symptoms include:
Readily accepting responsibility
Sustained energy levels
Commitment to the job at hand
Compulsion to prove oneself
High productivity levels
2. Onset of Stress
The second stage of burnout begins with an awareness of some days being more difficult than others. You may find your optimism waning, as well as notice common stress symptoms affecting you physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Common symptoms include:
High blood pressure
Inability to focus
Lack of sleep or reduced sleep quality
Lack of social interaction
Unusual heart rhythms
Avoidance of decision making
Change in appetite or diet
General neglect of personal needs
Grinding your teeth at night
3. Chronic stress
The third stage of burnout is chronic stress. This is a marked change in your stress levels, going from motivation, to experiencing stress on an incredibly frequent basis. You may also experience more intense symptoms than those of stage two.
Common symptoms include:
Lack of hobbies
Missed work deadlines and/or targets
Persistent tiredness in the mornings
Procrastination at work and at home
Repeated lateness for work
Social withdrawal from friends and/or family
Uptake of escapist activities
Anger or aggressive behaviour
Decreased sexual desire
Denial of problems at work or at home
Feeling threatened or panicked
Feeling pressured or out of control
Increased alcohol/drug consumption
Increased caffeine consumption
Entering stage four is burnout itself, where symptoms become critical. Continuing as normal is often not possible in this state as it becomes increasingly difficult to cope. We all have our own unique limits of tolerance, and it’s key that you seek intervention at this stage (for clinical issues, please refer to our partner Thrive Your Life).
Common symptoms include:
Development of an escapist mentality
Feeling empty inside
Obsession over problems at work or in life
Pessimistic outlook on work and life
Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase
Chronic stomach or bowel problems
Complete neglect of personal needs
Continuation or increase in escapist activities
Desire to “drop out” of society
Desire to move away from work or friends/family
5. Habitual Burnout
The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. This means that the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are likely to experience a significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problem, as opposed to occasionally experiencing stress or burnout.
Common symptoms include:
Chronic mental fatigue
Chronic physical fatigue
How to prevent burnout from affecting you
While burnout can cause issues at work, at home, and life in general, it is always possible to take action and move towards Stage 1. Even if you are not experiencing stress or burnout now, we suggest the wisest course of action is to proactively take up self-care practices and build your mental resilience.
Here are a few steps you can take with Calmer.
1) Join The Reignite Project for free.
If you are interested in furthering your knowledge on how to prevent burnout from affecting you, we recommend joining The Reignite Project, our free online course that will enable you to identify and prevent burnout, as well as reignite your passion for work and life in general.
Our new, bespoke Mindfulness Ecourses are drawn from evidence-based research and aim to inspire good mental health in all aspects of your life. Discover a collection of audio meditations, breathwork and movement videos, book recommendations and more insights with our range of ecourses from sleep and stress relief to kindness and daily mindfulness.
Create an empowered workplace with your employees’ wellbeing at the heart of it, by investing in expert-led training and courses from Calmer. Our range of Mental Health and Wellbeing Training Courses have been designed to support businesses of all shapes and sizes, with our trainers having guided over 300 companies to build a mental health and wellbeing strategy.
Social exhaustion can make you feel tired, dull, and irritated. Here’s how to manage and prevent it.
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Social interaction can fuel some people, especially extroverts. To introverts, the same level of social interaction can be draining instead.
While introverts can appreciate socializing, they invest a lot of energy trying to navigate socially demanding environments, leading to social exhaustion.
Social fatigue or social burnout happens when you’ve socialized to the point that you can’t do it anymore. Social exhaustion can also be called introvert burnout or introvert hangover. Although it’s not a medical diagnosis, it is a valid experience that introverts and extroverts can face.
It can be an emotional and physical response to social overstimulation that leaves you feeling drained and exhausted. You might feel physically tired, stressed, angry, or irritable. Social exhaustion can feel like hitting a wall.
You may feel as if you don’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone be in a room with other people. In some ways, it feels as if you’re running on an empty gas tank, and the nearest gas station is hundreds of miles away.
Getting to the end of social exhaustion can feel like you’re on the brink of a breakdown. Social fatigue can happen to anyone, extroverts and introverts alike. But since our society emphasizes social interaction and stimulation, you may not recognize the signs until you’re in the middle of burnout.
Here are some common signs of social exhaustion:
- detachment from other people
- inability to focus
- intense headaches or migraine attacks
- low energy or fatigue
- difficulty sleeping
- emotional meltdown
When introverts don’t get enough alone time, it’s easy for them to become overstimulated. Research estimates that social interactions extending over 3 hours can lead to post-socializing fatigue for some people.
Social exhaustion doesn’t happen overnight. Being mindful and in-tune with your mental health can help you recognize early signs and prevent burnout later.
Early signs of burnout include:
- being unable to sleep
- feeling mentally unwell
- feeling overly reactive
- having low energy
- not performing at your best
Signs of being burned out include:
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- losing motivation
- feeling detached
- feeling depressed
No matter your personal situation, there are some strategies that can help you avoid exhaustion. Keep in mind that these suggestions take time and practice. You need to pay close attention to how you tend to deal with overstimulation and feelings of burnout as you try different approaches.
Identify your main triggers
What triggers you might not trigger someone else. Take some time to identify situations and people that cause you to feel drained. Some common triggers for social exhaustion include:
- feeling obligated to speak to a lot of people
- attending family reunions and holiday parties
- needing to socialize for work
- attending large events
- participating in group projects for a long time
Learn how to set boundaries
Even extroverts can feel tired if they cram their schedule with back-to-back social events. Learn how to say “no” to events that you know will be emotionally draining and “yes” to social events that you’ll genuinely enjoy.
It can help to make a conscious effort to accept invitations to events that have the most value to you. You can also consider setting limits on the amount of time you spend at a social event.
Schedule alone time
Whether you need to do this at work, school, or at home, set aside at least 10 to 30 minutes a day that are entirely yours.
You can use this alone time each day to recharge and reconnect with yourself. Knowing that you have this time can help you make it through unmanageable moments throughout the day and give you something to look forward to if you feel overwhelmed.
Recovering from social exhaustion is possible. If you ever feel burned out, these activities can help you restore your energy levels so that you can recover:
Reach out to someone
It might seem counterintuitive to speak with people when socializing is what triggered the burnout. But opening up about social exhaustion to a partner, family, friend, or a therapist can be beneficial.
Find someone who’s a good listener, who will listen without becoming distracted or expressing judgment. It can be refreshing to spend time with loved ones in a positive and enjoyable environment.
Many studies indicate that practicing mindfulness can help with anxiety. There’s evidence that transcendental meditation may have beneficial effects on anxiety.
Listening to relaxing sounds, spending time in nature, or deep breathing can also help you unwind and release buildup tension.
Self-care can be different things for you. Listen to your body and do what feels best. Baking, cooking, listening to music, dancing, or exercising are all examples of self-care. Anything that can help soothe your fatigue and lower your stress levels could work.
Take time to reset
As much as in-person social engagements can be tiring, online socializing can be, too. We spend a lot of time on our phones.
Social media is overstimulating, and in one way or another, you’re still socializing with people. To recover from social burnout, consider taking a break from social media and spend some time with yourself.
During this recovery period, try writing out your emotions. One study found that one month of journaling can result in fewer depressive symptoms and anxiety. Writing down how you feel can be a helpful and effective way to process your exhaustion.
Journaling is also another way to recognize situations and people that can trigger negative emotions. From time to time, go back through your journal and read through the pages to figure out those triggers and start planning strategies to prevent these from affecting you in the future.
Are you feeling a bit stretched thin? Perhaps you’re being pushed to the limits at work. Is your relationship stressing you out? Are there problems at home? Is it all of the above?
Maybe you feel like you want to scream at the top of your lungs, run away or just drop everything and curl up into a ball on the floor. If this is the case, you’re headed toward an emotional meltdown.В But, fear not. You can change all of this.
Emotional meltdowns don’t happen overnight. Most likely, there has been a buildup of overwhelming frustration.
Here are some warning signs you’re headed toward anВ emotional meltdown:
1. You’re not your usual self.
You may be more easily irritated and snap at others over minor things throughout the day. Sometimes, you may just withdraw altogether and harbor an attitude of вЂњI can’t be bothered.вЂќ
2. Your appearance is lackluster.
A few months ago, you used to take pride in your appearance. But nowadays, you simply don’t care about your appearance like you used to.
3. Day-to-day life seems like a burden.
Daily routines, tasks and obligations all seem like burdens. The point is, everything is a burden.
4. You spend more time engaging in destructive habits.
You may have noticed you’re spending more time out with friends, but you’re only drinking and partying. On the flip side, you have shut everyone out, and you would rather be home alone or sleeping.
5. Your immune system is compromised.
You can’t shake the common cold, or you’re more prone to getting sick frequently.
If you’ve noticed these signs, don’t worry. You’re in good hands. You can get your life back on track.
Right now, think of it like this:В You’re heading into a construction zone in thick traffic. What a nightmare, right? Exactly. But, you can always correct your course and find the side roads that will get you back to home base.
Here are five things that can help you avoid an emotional breakdown:
1. Take a time-out.
Time-outs aren’t just for children. Sometimes, adults need them, too.В In this case, you probably need one right now. Go for a walk, get some fresh air or even meditate.В Do something that requires physical or mental activity, and avoid plopping down in front of the television.
Exercising is a quick way to elevate your mood, boost your confidence and gain self-worth. Aim to get your heart rate up once a day.
3. Hang out with your friends.
Enlist your friends’ help. Let them be there for you during this difficult time.В See if your friends can offer a fresh perspective.
Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. But, there’s a reason for this: It works.
Journaling gives you the opportunity to let out your frustrations without the fear of anyone judging you. You’re free to write whatever you want, whenever you want. You can always burn what you write afterward.
5. Get to the root of your problems.
Take some time to really figure out what’s overwhelming and frustrating you so much that you’re at the cusp of a potential emotional meltdown. Dig deep and analyze what’s really going on with you.
Ask yourself questions such as, “What is really bothering me?” and “Why is this bothering me?”В Be unapologetically you, and answer these questions truthfully. Say what you want to say.
Emotional meltdowns can happen to anyone at any time. You can prepare yourself by recognizing the symptoms and, in turn, proactively changing your circumstances.
Journey down the path less traveled. Slow down, and take a time-out if you feel like you’re headed down the meltdown lane.
Follow these tips to help your teams thrive as they continue to work from home.
Today’s post is by Lonnie Mayne, author of Red Shoes Living (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
During the past year, many changes have been made in the workplace. Since most companies are now working from home with new schedules and meeting formats, employees have been through a lot. With stress at an all-time high, companies are seeing drastic amounts of work-from-home burnout. So, how should companies deal with employees running on fumes? It all starts with the team leaders.
Team leaders becoming aware of burnout is one of the most critical components. Whether it’s holding weekly meetings to check in with your team or simply noticing shortfalls in work, it’s important for team leaders to become aware of burnout when it’s happening. Sweeping it under the rug will not only make it worse for the company, but also may cause issues for employees on a more personal level. Take the time to ask yourself if you’ve noticed any changes and how those changes can be handled.
It’s also important to be present and engaging when talking to teammates about any struggles they are facing. By taking the time to patiently listen and understand their personal struggles and stories, it will leave them feeling heard and appreciated, and in turn, this will help motivate them and help them understand they are supported, so burnout is minimized.
Showing gratitude and working to understand your team members’ stories can go a long way to prevent burnout. Catch the beginning of burnout before it spirals out of control. Some teammates may be facing burnout because their work and contributions do not seem significant, so showing them gratitude for their efforts can help pull them out of this rut. This can help them to adjust their outlook and to help them realize what they are doing makes a significant difference, which ultimately leads to more confidence and job satisfaction.
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s story changes every day. Taking time on a regular basis to connect on a personal level will also continue to build their confidence. It’s one thing to listen to someone’s struggles, but it means more when you ask for updates and offer assistance. Most of the time, employees may not feel comfortable reaching out to share these types of updates, so starting the conversation will make the leader more approachable.
Different ways to offer help during this time may include flexibility in the daily work schedule. Letting team members know it’s okay to leave their desk for a bit — whether it be taking the dog on a walk or a quick run to the grocery store — is okay. As long as these trips don’t become long treks, completing these types of everyday tasks allow for employees to take a step away from their work to reset. Showing this gratitude and understanding will help relieve some of the stress of the work-from-home lifestyle.
While working to build constructive motivation, it’s important for team leaders to continue to show respect for their teammates and go the extra mile for them. Showing respect and praising even the smallest improvements will continue to help motivate the team. Don’t be afraid to voice confidence in teammate potential and help them see it, too. Reassuring teammates that they are the right member for the job, in addition to vocalizing employee potential, will motivate the member to meet your expectations. As employees start to realize their potential, be sure to advocate for them within the organization. Reach out to their clients or higher-ups to recognize their job well done.
As a team leader, it is your responsibility to motivate and meet the needs of the team. Motivating a team member when experiencing burnout doesn’t have to be a complicated task. Remaining approachable and flexible to help members get back on track is critical during this time.
Lonnie Mayne is the author of the acclaimed book, Red Shoes Living – Stand Out for the Positive in How You Work and How You Live. Mayne is an internationally recognized leadership authority and award-winning keynote speaker, as well as an executive coach, author, and podcast host. As a former technology and turnaround executive, he has spent 30 years working with leading brands across 25 industries.
Mayne has presented at the Palace of Westminster and works with Olympians, professional athletes, politicians, business executives, military leaders, tech leaders, leadership influencers, Fortune 100 executives, top-level CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders of some of the most progressive companies of our time. A few of Mayne’s clients include Microsoft, McDonald’s, Nike, Bose, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Spartan, Los Angeles Chargers, Transamerica, Saks Fifth Avenue, and many more. For more information about Lonnie Mayne and his Red Shoes Living philosophy, feel free to visit the website.
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‘Burnout’ is the term used to describe a feeling of being unable to cope because of pressure of work.
Burnout is generally a state of long-term exhaustion and lack of interest in work, and tends to result from over-work over a long period of time, or from consistent and excessive stress.
Although burnout was originally thought to result directly from excess work and stress, doctors now think that there is much more likely to be an element of disposition involved.
In other words, some people are very unlikely to ever suffer from burnout, however much pressure they are placed under, while others may suffer from it without being placed under what most people would consider excess pressure.
What is Burnout?
There is no precise definition of вЂburnoutвЂ™.
Even doctors do not have a precise clinical coding for burnout because its symptoms are often very like those of depression or other mental illnesses.
People considering themselves to be suffering from burnout tend to be very, very tired, and often find it difficult to make decisions.
They can struggle to find energy for anything. They may also suffer from other mental health problems such as depression but, even if they don’t reach a state of clinical mental illness, they may suffer from doubts about their ability or effectiveness, or low self-esteem.
Burnout and Stress
There is growing evidence that some level of stress is productive, and even necessary to many people to provide motivation. But excessive stress, especially over a prolonged period of time, is generally agreed to be bad for you.
There are physiological reasons for that. When you are under stress, your body produces stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, the ‘fight, fright or flight’ hormone. These hormones prepare your body for swift and immediate action, whether that is to run away or to fight something.
These hormones evolved, over millions of years, to cause a reaction. They lead to genuine physiological changes: increased heart rate, movement of blood to crucial parts of your body, loss of appetite. Having them constantly present in your bloodstream is therefore going to have some pretty ‘interesting’ effects on your long-term well-being.
You are going to be jumpy, nervous, and often over-emotional, and it’s very wearing on your body.
No wonder people suffering from long-term stress are tired and can become unwell.
Burnout left unattended can lead to ME/CFS which can become a lifelong neurological condition.
ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) and CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) are names for a debilitating illness that affects millions of people worldwide.
MS/CFS sufferers can experience the feelings of burnout over prolonged periods of time. Symptoms include reduced concentration and poor memory, as well as physical effects such as aching muscles and severe headaches.
If you think that you, or someone you know, may have ME or CFS then it’s important to seek medical help and be properly diagnosed. Although there is no cure, there are treatments that may help.
For more information see:
The first thing to remember is that once you are suffering from burnout, the nature of the condition means that it is very hard to do anything about it.
Part of the problem is that you are too tired to care about anything.
You are therefore really going to struggle to make the necessary changes to improve your life.
And while there is no doubt that there are individuals who are much more prone to burnout than others, even the most capable will eventually begin to struggle.
Lesson #1 Prevention is better than cure
Learn to recognise early on when you’re suffering from stress, and when that stress is starting to get a bit too much for you, and get yourself out of the situation.
Ask trusted friends and colleagues to help you to identify your ‘tells’, the ways that you can tell that you’re stressed. Some people snap and get irritable; others go quiet. Work out your tendency, make sure that you notice when it happens, and then do something about it.
Lesson #2 It’s up to you
Evidence suggests that the most stressful situations are those in which you feel that you are not in control. The answer to that is to try to take control of your own life, at least in small ways.
For example, try to work out what situations make you stressed and avoid them. You probably should not try to avoid them altogether, because a little stress, and being out of your ‘comfort zone’, is good for you. But it might be best not to take a job where those situations will make up the bulk of your working day. If you do end up in a job like that, and you start to find it very stressful, see if you can negotiate your way to an alternative.
If you can’t, you may need to look for another job.
Nobody else is going to do this for you because nobody else knows what it is that is making you stressed.
Lesson #3 Try to develop a good work-life balance
One very good way to avoid stress is to have a good work-life balance (and see our page on Work-Life Balance for more on this). If you take positive steps to spend less time at work, and more time with your family, or on personal interests, you will almost by definition become less stressed.
Work expands to fit the time.
Reduce the time, and you may well find that you still get the work done.
Case study: Going canoeing
Julie was the team leader of a very busy team in a government department. They had a lot of urgent work, often coming in late in the afternoon, and long-hours working was quite normal. The whole team, however, agreed that it was not a good thing to do, and all wanted to reduce the hours that they worked in line with departmental policy.
Julie was trying to leave at 5pm two days each week to go canoeing. She was struggling to do that, and usually only managed one.
After a chat with her manager, she decided to increase the number of days she was trying to leave early to three, instead of two. Although she and her manager agreed that this was counterintuitive, in fact, it had a very positive result.
She started leaving at 5pm at least twice a week. Her work did not suffer, and she was better able to cope with the pressure because she was both physically fitter and calmer.
Lesson #4 Do something active
Taking exercise is a very good way to reduce the risk of burnout. First, those who are physically fit are better able to cope with job demands anyway and, secondly, exercise releases endorphins, which help us to feel good. It is important however not to launch straight into a vigorous exercise routine – build up slowly and listen to your body.
Finally, if you do think that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from burnout, it’s important to reach out to others and seek help.
It may feel like nothing is ever going to improve, but asking for help is the first step to getting it. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk to your doctor and/or manager about how you feel.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and even if you aren’t coping with a diagnosed mental illness, it’s time to take stock of your emotional health. Almost half of Americans report that stress has negatively impacted their personal and professionals lives, according to the American Psychological Association.
We know the toll stress can take on our emotional and physical well-being, relationships, and professional life. Knowing your own personal stress breaking point and how to snap out of it is an important part of a preventive approach to managing stress.
Keep an eye out for these four signs that you might be headed toward your breaking point.
01. You have trouble sleeping.
If you normally sleep like a rock and suddenly find yourself tossing and turning at night, you may be stressed. When you are worried, you may feel restless and fidgety, making it hard to fall into a truly deep sleep. Having anxiety dreams is also a sign that you are stressed. You might dream that you are late for a meeting while being woefully unprepared for it, that you are back in high school and it’s the first day of school and you don’t remember your schedule, or that someone is chasing you. Some people even dream that their teeth are falling out (really!). If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, the stress in your life is likely contributing to it.
02. You can’t seem to concentrate as well as you’re used to.
Often when we’re under stress, we are juggling many different responsibilities and worrying about all of them. I described this experience to my patients as being on a hamster wheel of worry that goes around and around and around. When half of your brain is occupied by this hamster wheel, it’s hard to focus and pay attention to what’s happening right in front of you. So if you find yourself frequently saying, “Sorry, what? I zoned out there for a second,” stress might be affecting your ability to concentrate.
03. You feel ‘on edge.’
When we’re stressed we tend to be more irritable or “on edge.” For example, you might normally be able to graciously handle your coworker’s constant requests for clarification or your child’s demands for your attention. But, when under stress, you might snap more easily at your coworker or grow frustrated when you hear your child start to wail. Or maybe you’ve recently developed an extreme case of road rage. While there are many reasons why someone might feel more emotional (hello, PMS), ongoing stress can definitely contribute.
04. You’ve been less social and prefer to be alone more often.
When under stress, many people are tempted to isolate themselves from family, friends, and other sources of support. Interacting with others can seem overwhelming or impossible when you are juggling too much. If you’re shrinking away from friends or family (when normally you’d be excited to see them) or canceling, it may be your natural reaction to the stress you are experiencing.
Once you’ve reached your stress breaking point, there’s no easy way to snap out of it. Prevention is key.
The best thing you can do for yourself to prevent and manage the effects of stress is to watch for these signs that you are headed towards burnout. To ward off reaching your breaking point, be on the lookout for your own personal signs that you are affected by stress and be extra mindful about engaging in stress-reducing practices like getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, and staying connected to friends.
While it’s not possible to completely eliminate sources of stress from your life, you can protect yourself from its harmful effects. All it takes is self-reflection and a stress-reducing action plan. Yes, it takes time, but this breaking point is one you don’t want to cross.
One day you’re crushing it. Delivering projects, sharing big ideas in meetings, making things happen.
Next thing you know, you’re crushed. You feel lost, confused, and unable to find your way out. You’ve completely lost your focus, and you’re just so exhausted.
Burnout generally happens after a prolonged spell of working as hard as you possibly can—either without being invested or engaged in the work (i.e., you’re just calling it in) or because you intend to deliver above and beyond expectations. Both of these situations are problematic.
Feeling like you’re personally contributing, connecting with others, leveraging your creativity—or whatever your role means to you—is an anchor for the work you do. It’s why you do what you do. Without personal meaning, you’ll start to wear down from relentlessly throwing yourself into the churn and pulse of things. You can’t sustain this kind of disconnected, meaningless work for very long.
If you’ve made it your mission to work as hard as you can to exceed the expectations of your role and your organization, you’re bound to fall into the habit of doing your work to please everyone around you and tick off all of their boxes. Always focusing on proving yourself and delivering in line with expectations will leave you struggling to keep up. It’s exhausting.
There are different strategies to deal with and move through burnout, but the healing process (because this does require healing) often starts with one thing—telling your boss. Yes, I know that’s a scary prospect, but here are some ways to get yourself ready for the conversation and prepare you to take positive steps forward to get past this tumultuous time.
1. Find a Confidante
Before talking with your boss, a great first step is to confide in a friend or speak with your partner or a family member about where you are and what you’re feeling. The act of verbalizing what’s happening, while difficult, is essential in starting to get the support you need.
Without the care of people close to you, you’ll feel alone or anxious about dealing with it on your own. Just as I’m sure you’d want to help a friend or loved one, know that they want to be there for you too. Be brave, swallow any pride that’s holding you back, and open up about your breakdown.
2. Expect Discomfort
Going into the meeting with your manager expecting it to be comfortable is unrealistic. You’re in an unfamiliar, unwanted place, but rather than taking your discomfort and using it as a reason not to discuss your struggles, you should look at it as the exact reason why you do have to discuss it.
You can set things up by framing it as a necessary conversation—”I hope you know I wouldn’t be bringing this to your attention unless it was necessary.” Moreover, mentioning how hard the conversation is can be a useful way to call out the elephant in the room—”This is really hard for me, but. ” or “It feels really hard to even bring this up, but. ”.
3. Don’t Problem Solve
You may be used to going to your boss with updates that prove your problem-solving skills, but this isn’t that kind of issue. You don’t have to have the fix. You don’t have to find a way to cover your workload if you’re going to be out of the office, and you don’t even need to try and explain how you got to this point.
Resist the temptation to offer a solution because you think it’ll make you look good to your manager. The only important thing right now is that you start the healing process. That begins when you allow yourself to be vulnerable when you approach your boss without all the answers.
4. Put Yourself First
If you’re a high-achiever with inflexible personal standards, it’ll be hard for you to put your work responsibilities to one side and prioritize your mental health and well-being. But that’s what you need to do to start moving through this.
Go into the conversation knowing that, while your team will want to do what they can to support you, your boss will likely need to prioritize the work to keep everything moving along. That means you can expect some difficult conversations where you’re pulled between doing the right thing for you and the right thing for the work. So let me be clear once again—your primary responsibility is to know what you need to start healing, then make the decision to follow through.
Listening to your body and hearing that voice inside that knows what you need means not sticking to your regular working hours out of a sense of duty if your boss seems reluctant to let you take a break from all work to recover. If time off isn’t offered, be direct and ask for what you need—a regular work-from-home-day, two days off, maybe even an entire week out of the office. It may be tempting to offer up compromises until you’re ready to be back in the office full swing, but that’s only putting yourself at risk and delaying the healing. So if you truly need a full two days off with no email—make sure you’re making that clear.
In other words, trust yourself to make decisions that serve you well. And know this: If you’ve been a hard worker and a diligent, productive employee and your company cares about your growth and success, it will find a way to understand—no matter how busy things are.
Burnout can create a bubbling stew of emotion—feelings of not being good enough, like you should have been able to avoid it happening, that you’ll lose all the hard work you’ve put in or that people will judge you—and it’s sometimes hard to know which way is up. Your emotions can become unpredictable or erupt suddenly, especially when you start talking about where you are.
But these emotions are a real part of what you’re going through; they aren’t your enemy. You might find tears welling up or your breath sticking in your chest as you try to find the right words. That’s OK. Emotion might not be a “normal” part of the workplace, but in this case, it’s to be expected. You don’t need to stifle them or push them away in the interests of “being professional”.
So take all the time that you need to breathe and steady yourself. If it helps to diffuse the drama, even call it out by saying “This is an emotional thing for me” or “The emotion catches up with me sometimes.”
It’s not your fault this happened and it can be a great learning experience, (believe me, I know), but you won’t learn any lessons overnight. For now, all you have to do is take the best care of yourself that you can, and trust that this isn’t how it’s going to be forever.
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
- What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
- What Causes Caregiver Burnout?
- How Can I Prevent Caregiver Burnout?
- Where Can I Turn for Help With Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It may go along with a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can happen when you don’t get the help you need, or if you try to do more than you’re able — either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may have fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are much like the symptoms of stress and depression. They may include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling blue, cranky, hopeless, and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Using alcohol and/or sleep medications too much
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 if you think you might hurt yourself or anyone else.
What Causes Caregiver Burnout?
Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect themselves. Other things that can lead to caregiver burnout include:
- Role confusion — You may feel confused to be a caregiver. It can be hard to separate this role from the one of spouse, child, or friend.
- Unrealistic expectations — You may expect your care to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person you care for. This may be unrealistic for patients who have a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Lack of control — It can be frustrating to deal with lacking the money, resources, and skills to manage your loved one’s care well.
- Unreasonable demands — You may take on too much, partly because you see providing care as your job alone.
- Other factors — You may not recognize when you’re burned out and get to the point where you can’t function well. You may even get sick yourself.
How Can I Prevent Caregiver Burnout?
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout:
- Know your limits, and do a reality check of your personal situation. Recognize and accept your potential for caregiver burnout.
- Find someone you trust — such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor — to talk to about how you feel.
- Set realistic goals. Accept that you may need help, and turn to others to handle some tasks.
- Be realistic about the disease your loved one has, especially if it’s a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour or two. Taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity if you’re going to be an effective caregiver.
- Talk to a professional, such as a therapist, social worker, or clergy member.
- Find caregiver support groups or workshops that can help you find ways to manage stress.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the illness, the more effective you’ll be as a caregiver.
- Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
Where Can I Turn for Help With Caregiver Burnout?
If you are already experiencing stress and depression, get medical attention. Stress and depression are treatable disorders.
If you want to help prevent burnout, consider turning to the following resources:
- Home health services — These agencies provide home health aides and nurses for short-term care if your loved one is acutely ill. Some agencies provide short-term respite care.
- Adult day care — These programs offer a place for seniors to socialize, take part in activities, and get needed medical care and other services.
- Nursing homes or assisted living facilities — These institutions sometimes offer short-term respite stays to provide caregivers a break.
- Private care aides — These professionals can help figure out your needs and coordinate care and services.
- Caregiver support services — These include support groups and other programs that can help caregivers recharge their batteries. You can also meet others with similar issues, get information, and find more resources.
- Area agency or commission on aging — Contact your local organization or your local chapter of the AARP for services available in your area.
- National organizations — Search online for local chapters of national organizations (such as Family Caregiver Alliance) that help people with illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke. These groups can provide resources and information.
I recently checked in with a few colleagues to ask, “How are you doing… really?” While I had hoped they’d found a new, better groove amidst pandemic living, I was surprised by how many were either exactly where they were a year ago, mentally and emotionally speaking, and some even worse.
One accentuated this latter point by sharing: “I’m still exhausted. It’s going on 14 months. I’m worried about… everything. And I still don’t feel secure with my job.”
My friend is a high-performing leader who’s survived multiple rounds of layoffs in the oil and gas industry. Her husband was laid off at the beginning of the crisis; her kids have suffered from lack of connection in their virtual learning environment. Her story, sadly, isn’t unique in this COVID world. Neither is the cumulative stress she’s acquired throughout this process.
Allostatic overload is the term being used to describe our pandemic existence. In short, it’s the price our body pays for existing in high-stress environments for extended periods. Our stress, too, can be exacerbated by consistent negative feelings and thoughts about unsuccessful outcomes. The impact can feel like burnout and can have long-term implications on our overall health.
Signs of burnout can include forgetfulness, feeling unmotivated, difficulty with focusing, feeling dispassionate about things you used to care about. And, like my colleague, complete exhaustion. We don’t have to succumb to this level of burnout, though. There are still actions we can take to lead ourselves to a better place so our day-to-day existence can be enhanced, and we can be more present in our own lives, as well as the lives of others. How are you doing… really?
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed.” – Sam Keen
Here are five strategies you can deploy to help manage any level of burnout you might be experiencing:
- Stop kidding yourself. Many of us have a hard time admitting when things aren’t exactly okay. High performers, especially, tend to see hard work as the best cure to see themselves through a rough patch. This just isn’t the case. If you’re feeling any signs of burnout, get real with yourself: confront it. Be okay with not being okay.
- Get comfortable with No… fast. When we’re feeling burnout, we need time. The only way to reclaim it is to start saying “no” and finding the space you need to get back to center. To help you, start by getting clear on your priorities and activities that must get done. Anything else, start saying “no.” No doesn’t mean never; it often means just not right now. Use your “no” to control the volume of opportunities and requests that come your way so you can find the time you need to recover.
- Disconnect digitally. We’ve all heard about the dreaded blue screen and its impact on our sleep quality, let alone quality of time we try to invest with others. Technology can be a great administrative tool; too much, though, and it can be an additional source of stress as it reminds us far too often of what’s not getting done. When we disconnect from technology, we reconnect with ourselves. Right now is a perfect time to re-establish a healthy relationship with technology and create boundaries with it. We’ll all want this during our post-pandemic lives, so putting some disciplines in place today can also help create a better tomorrow.
- Schedule your walks. We would never blow off an important appointment with a colleague; when something is on our calendar, we honor it with our best effort. Take this spirit and apply it to yourself. Schedule several walks during your work week on your calendar and don’t reschedule. Treat yourself as a high-priority item. Walking has profound benefits on our mental health; its meditative-like qualities can calm our minds and help create a much-needed perspective that reminds us of what’s most important right now in our lives.
- Get it write. Start and end your day by journaling. When you wake up, before you do anything, write down your intentions for the day. This way, you’re setting your agenda – not email, not social media . You’ll always have others either telling you or recommending to you what’s important; by leading your life intentionally, you’re reminding yourself what you deem as valuable to you. Then, at the end of the day, reflect on your gratitude by identifying three things you’re most appreciative for during your day. These simple practices allow you to reflect on the good and refocus on the opportunities to help you get to a place where you’re feeling rested and recharged.
There is no real, quick fix to the burnout we feel. And while these five strategies can set you on the right course, there’s also the opportunity for you to connect with your employer to renegotiate your schedule and/or talk to a mental health provider to get additional support for what you’re experiencing.
We can’t control the world around us. We can always, though, control our response to the world. When you focus on what you can control, you’ll find yourself in a better place of leading yourself, your team, and your family to a better future.