Overcoming stress and burnout

Overcoming stress and burnout

Increasingly lately I see clients presenting with symptoms of ‘burnout’. Burnout is “an experience of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, caused by long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding’’.

Burnout isn’t choosy about who it affects, it has been found to occur most amongst professional people in the caring professions of medicine, nursing, social work, counselling and teaching. Burnout can be associated with the prolonged and cumulative effects of emotional stress and pressure that arise from personal interaction with members of the public on a daily basis. It isn’t just the result of long working days.

So, how do you know you’re heading towards burnout. There are 3 major signs to watch out for:

Physical and emotional exhaustion
Are you struggling to interact with others and engage fully with many aspects of your job? Is your speech becoming flattened and facial and body gestures diminishing? Signs to look out for here include chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, gastrointestinal pain, increased illness, loss of appetite, anger, depression, anxiety.

Signs of Cynicism and Personal Detachment
Are you feeling disconnected from others? Almost like you are watching yourself perform at work through a lens? Within burnout there can be a tendency to depersonalise people you are forced to interact with such as work colleagues, employees or customers – and see them less as individuals and part of a routine. Signs to look out for here include a lack of enjoyment in things you used to enjoy, a reluctance to socialise and wanting to be left alone and isolated yourself.

Lack of personal accomplishment and signs of ineffectiveness
Here there is a whole sense of underperforming and lack of achievement in life, work and generally everything. Signs to watch out for here are feelings of hopelessness, apathy and poor performance at work due to the prolonged chronic stress that is being experienced.

But there is hope!

The clients I see in private practice are very able, professional entrepreneurial men and women who are ambitious and used to achieving personal goals. Undeniably there are several workplace stressors which can lead down the burnout path but for the majority of clients I see it is their high achieving internal drivers and ambitions (the pressure they put themselves under) coupled with societal and technological stressors that are major contributory factors.

  1. 1. Pause (see my previous blog) take stock and take responsibility. Allow yourself the emotional space to contemplate your life. Analyse what processes and decisions contributed to you burning out.

2. Live a life with meaning. Spend your work, social, home and personal life in line with your current beliefs and values (these may need assessing during the recovery process).

3. Be kind to yourself, see my previous blog on challenging your critical inner voice. Relax your body. Allow yourself and your body a break from the chronic bodily tension you are experiencing. Meditation is helpful here so too is exercise but take it slowly and don’t overdo the exercise when you are in the early stages of your recovery. Play.

4. Allow yourself time. Recovery from Burnout takes time, I often liken it to turning a huge ocean liner, slow and gradual. A mistake many clients make is as soon as they start to feel a little better, they feel they ‘should’ be getting back to everything they used to do, often this is premature, and they relapse.

Burnout is a malaise, it isn’t like the flu; it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life. And as hard as that may seem, it’s the smartest thing to do because making a few little changes now will keep you in the race with the energy to get you across the finish line.

Written for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Visit Mental Health Foundation for more information or to get involved.

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