How to spot burnout: Prevention and self-care
Megha Kadam is a freelance content writer who loves reading and writing on mental health,...
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Asma is a psychotherapist, and Co-Founder at Reflective Conversations. She is also associated...
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“We work too long and too intensely. We feel a pressure from within to work and help and we feel a pressure from the outside to give”. These words are of Herbert Freudenberger, a psychologist in New York who suffered from a mental breakdown in the early 1970s. He came up with the word ‘burnout’ to show how high-level stress can affect doctors and nurses.
In 2019, as per Statista, about 80% of employees working in the hospitality industry worldwide stated that they felt overwhelmed by their workload. And 76% of healthcare employees reported burnout.
But nowadays, anyone can get affected by the breakdown. Work stress, conflicts with colleagues, extreme commitment, the pressures of caregiving, and lack of motivation can make one suffer from breakdown issues.
So what exactly is burnout, and can we prevent it? MyndStories talked to Disha Manchekar, a psychologist and trauma therapist, and the founder of Innate Mind, about some tips on managing and preventing burnout. But before we go on to that, let’s first understand what burnout is.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state where you feel emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted due to prolonged stress. You no longer feel like engaging in meaningful activities and feel hopeless most of the time. This is your body responding to stress and trying to seek attention to your body, mind, and soul.
Imagine a highly successful marketing employee losing interest in her job due to work pressure and other household responsibilities. She feels exhausted as her sleep routine gets disturbed, further depleting her motivation to work and stay productive. A feeling of emptiness from within makes her annoyed, upset, angry, and irritable. This is how 38% of employees in India frequently experienced burnout, according to a survey conducted in 2022.
When asked about burnout issues in India, Disha said, “Burnout is a very common issue in India. As a practicing Psychologist and Coach, I often work with clients who suffer from mental breakdowns. The problem has increased in the past few years as several Indians have experienced tremendous transitions in their work”. She further elaborates, “For instance, working from home is a boon for some people, while for others it is not. They work way past their work hours which impacts their personal lives and also increases their burnout levels”.
Serene Sarah George, a psychotherapist and co-founder at Reflective Conversations says, ” In our experience working with young adults in therapy and from my own lived experiences as a mental health “provider” who also runs a home, burnout as we call it, is often the most visible manifestation of something multi-layered. In a society where busyness is considered a badge of honor, not burning out can look like we are not working hard enough. I find it interesting that many times we use this term as if it’s something to be fixed and the responsibility lies on us alone, and in doing so we are ignoring workplace exploitation and glorifying hustle culture.”
Causes for burnout
Knowing the root cause of your burnout will help you overcome it and return to your normal routine. Below are the three types of causes that you need to recognize and work upon.
- Work-life imbalance
- Demanding work pressure
- Stressful work environment
- Lack of motivation, rewards, or recognition
Personality trait-related causes
- Perfectionism and high ambition
- Unable to achieve targets
- Trying to control people or life situations
- Unable to cope with ego issues, disappointments, and sorrows in life
- Pessimistic and fixed mindset issues
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of support from family members
- Too many responsibilities in life
- Lack of leisure time and social life
Signs of burnout
There are a variety of signs that indicate burnout. Here are a few.
- Feeling tired due to loss of energy
- Frequent illness
- Body aches and muscle pain
- Disturbed immunity and sleep cycle
- Feeling helpless and irritated most of the time
- The feeling of ‘not enough’ takes over the mind
- Loss of motivation and interest to do the routine work
- Detachment and feelings of isolation
- Sounding rude to others
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Addiction to alcohol and late-night eating
Difference between everyday stress and burnout
Both stress and burnout can make you feel exhausted. But there is a difference between the two.
With everyday stress:
- There is a loss of energy.
- You feel like enough is enough. You can’t handle it anymore.
- You tend to over-engage and overreact to the situations or people in your life.
- Your thoughts and actions are rushed, and they make you hyperactive and anxious.
- Just like a balloon that bursts when filled with excess air, a mind filled with extreme stress can tire you physically and mentally.
Whereas in burnout:
- You lose interest in routine life.
- Have no interest even in the things you love.
- A feeling of ‘not enough’ makes you detached from your surroundings and relationships.
- A lack of motivation and hope can make you feel helpless.
- After a certain point, depression creeps in, and you feel life is not worth living.
- You tend to isolate yourself from others.
The main difference between stress and burnout is that you are aware of the stress but fail to recognize the signs of breakdown until you are mentally exhausted.
Can you prevent burnout?
When asked about whether we can prevent burnout, Disha said, “Yes, we can. The best way to prevent burnout is to be aware of your triggers. They can be mental, emotional, physical, or behavioral triggers that tell you that you have reached a point of burnout.
For instance, someone may binge eat, have sleepless nights, think negatively, or feel too overwhelmed. Once you become aware of those triggers, engage in self-care activities to prevent breakdown issues.”
Below are some more points to prevent burnout:
- Get enough rest
- Step away from work even when you want to do more
- Do deep work for a set period of time
- Take regular short breaks
- Have realistic goals
- Avoid thinking about work during rest time
- Try to maintain a good work-life balance
- Meditate and allow your mind to recover from stress
Tips for self-care to prevent burnout
Being aware of the signs of burnout helps you manage it in time. According to Disha, burnout can be managed very much just like stress and anxiety by being mindful of your workloads and seeking help when needed.
She further suggests the 4 A’s of burnout management tips as given below.
- Avoid – Avoid your stressors until you feel better.
- Alter – Modifying and lightening your workload can bring some ease. Speak to your manager and explore the possibilities.
- Accept – Accept the situation and understand it better by talking it out to a supportive loved one or going to therapy.
- Adapt – Don’t aim for perfection. Instead, adapt to the demands of your situation and focus on the positives around you.
Disha further adds, “It is also crucial that you look after your sleeping and eating habits which can impact how you manage burnout. Have at least 7 hours of continuous sleep. Having a diet rich in vitamin C, complex carbohydrates, omega-3, magnesium, and proteins can reduce burnout to a great extent”.
Exercising regularly can help you boost your mood too. As per a 2019 study, yoga helps prevent stress and burnout and improves physical problems and sleep quality. If you are a yoga enthusiast, it’s time to grab your yoga mat and practice your favorite asanas.
When to seek professional help
Your burnout issues might be going out of hand if your symptoms persist even after you do engage in self-care. The underlying cause might be deeper, like anxiety or other mood disorders.
Therefore, seeking professional help before you hit burnout will be beneficial. Therapists will assist you with the best reflective exercises and coping mechanisms to combat your weariness. They will also help you get the required support to enable you to recognize the contributing factors of burnout.
Don’t wait till you break
Whether through self-help or therapy, caring for yourself is necessary. The best way to combat burnout is to prevent it. If your friend or a family member suffers from a mental breakdown, encourage them to seek help.
Spend time with them and engage in interesting activities. Living in the present and letting go of the things that can’t be controlled will help immensely.
You do not have to wait till you break. It’s always better to reach out for timely professional help.
Burnout Prevention. (n.d.). Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri. Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.mha-em.org/im-looking-for/mental-health-knowledge-base/wellness/30-burnout-prevention
Malesic, J. (2022, January 1). The history of burnout, from the 1970s to the Great Resignation. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/01/01/burnout-history-freudensberger-maslach/