How to recover from burnout

by | Blog

In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, burnout has become a term we are becoming more and more familiar with. The relentless pressure to perform, coupled with constant exposure to stressors, can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being. Recognising the signs of experiencing burnout and taking proactive steps to recover is crucial to regain balance and lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

In 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. Research suggests this is because the balance between work and home life since the pandemic has been tipped out of equilibrium. In a survey by Mental Health UK, 85% of UK adults correctly identified common symptoms of experiencing burnout, while 68% mistakenly identified symptoms of anxiety. To be able to prevent burnout, paying attention to the signs early and making the necessary lifestyle adjustments to realign with our values and reconnect our body and mind should make a big difference.

In this blog post, we will explore the definition of burnout and each stage, as well as talk about how to recover from burnout and burnout prevention.

What is burnout?

 

Burnout refers to a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to stressors, typically related to work or personal responsibilities. It is characterised by feelings of detachment, cynicism, depression, anxiety and a reduced sense of accomplishment. Burnout affects not only your professional life but also your relationships, personal growth and overall well-being.

 

It’s important to note that if you experience burnout, you are not a failure. Many people who are affected by burnout are incredibly intelligent, driven people who want to accomplish amazing things in life. Sometimes burnout comes from a level of disconnection and slow, insidious tiredness or a situation that’s been extremely hard to cope with for many months or even years which progressively leads to this state—it’s not because you’re weak.

 

Classic symptoms of burnout

Burnout can manifest in various ways and differ from person to person. Most of us have days where we feel hopeless, helpless, undervalued or feel overwhelmed, when the idea of getting out of bed seems impossible—however, if all of these feelings sound familiar, you may have experienced burnout. For most people, burnout doesn’t happen overnight but it can develop quickly over time if you don’t identify the signs quick enough.

Here are 10 common signs to look out for:

1. Exhaustion: Feeling tired, both physically and emotionally is a prominent sign of burnout. You may feel tired or drained most days, low in energy and lethargic even after getting sufficient rest and sleep. Despite increasing levels of exhaustion, it can become even more difficult staying asleep and can turn into insomnia. Those with severe burnout usually can’t get out of bed.

2. Lack of Motivation: A significant decrease in motivation and enthusiasm towards work or activities you once enjoyed is a common sign of burnout. Initially, you might experience a loss of focus or some forgetfulness and your work performance suffers. Later on, your day-to-day job demands may become unmanageable and everything begins to pile up and you begin to find it challenging to get started or complete tasks.

3. Increased Frustration and Irritability: Burnout can lead to a short fuse, resulting in increased frustration, irritability and later on, anger and resentment. You may find yourself becoming easily agitated or snapping at co-workers or family members, affecting your personal relationships.

4. Reduced Performance: Burnout can negatively impact your work performance, productivity and concentration. You may notice a decline in your ability to focus, make decisions or complete tasks efficiently, which can increase stress levels.

5. Emotional Exhaustion: Feeling emotionally drained and overwhelmed is a key aspect of burnout. You may experience a sense of detachment, apathy or a reduced ability to empathise and spend time with others. You feel too tired for any physical activity or exercise which can affect your mental health even further.

6. Physical Symptoms: We can identify burnout in many physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, stomach issues, frequent illnesses or changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Some people may feel heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches and stomach problems including diarrhoea.

7. Cognitive Difficulties: Burnout can impair cognitive functions, leading to memory problems, difficulty concentrating or a foggy mind. Take a read of our blog: ‘How does burnout affect the brain?’ for more information about what happens to the brain during this constant sympathetic state.

8. Increased Negativity and Cynicism: A cynical or negative outlook towards your job, life or people is a common sign of burnout. You may develop a pessimistic attitude or become overly critical, constantly consumed by negative feelings.

9. Withdrawal and Isolation: Burnout can lead to social withdrawal and a desire to distance yourself from coworkers or social interactions. You may feel the need for solitude and avoid activities you once enjoyed and you begin losing social skills and confidence.

10. Lack of Satisfaction and Accomplishment: Burnout can diminish your sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in your job or personal life. You may feel stuck in a rut and question the value or purpose of your efforts.

It’s important to note that experiencing a few of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you have experienced burnout. However, if these symptoms persist for enough time to affect your mental health and interfere with your daily functioning and overall well-being, it’s crucial to seek medical advice, support and take steps to address burnout effectively, such as stress management techniques and other coping strategies.

how to recover from burnout

 

What are the stages of burnout?

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight; it progresses gradually through distinct stages. By recognising these stages, you can intervene early and prevent burnout from escalating further. The common stages of burnout are:

The Honeymoon Phase: At the beginning, you may feel enthusiastic, motivated and driven to excel. You may even work longer hours, thinking you can handle it all. However, this initial burst of energy is unsustainable.

The Onset of Stress: As the workload and job demands increase, you may experience signs of stress such as irritability, fatigue and reduced productivity. You may still push through, believing it’s a temporary phase.

Chronic Stress: This stage is marked by persistent stress and feeling overwhelmed. Your physical and mental health begins to suffer, and you may notice changes like sleep disturbances, mood swings and decreased satisfaction in work and in life.

Burnout: In the final stage, burnout sets in, leading to exhaustion, depersonalisation and a feeling of being stuck in a rut. You may experience a lack of motivation, decreased performance and strained relationships. Usually, people cannot get out of bed and struggle to focus on anything as they go through this shocked state. Often people think “I’m just going to stop for three weeks and then I’ll feel better” but burnout can often take months, sometimes years to recover from.

 

How to Recover from Burnout 

The first step to take is to make an appointment with your doctor. The earlier you can get diagnosed and seek medical help the quicker the recovery. If you haven’t got the energy for it, talk to a friend or family member so they can make the booking and accompany you. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, it might be necessary to take temporary medication to stabilise your state for example.

Burnout recovery is a journey that requires medical advice, self-reflection, self-care and making intentional changes to restore balance in both your body and mind once you feel stabilised and have a bit more energy. Here are some effective coping strategies to help you recover from burnout:

Awareness and Acceptance: Becoming aware that you may be burned out and taking your first step towards recovery can be difficult. It takes courage and self-acceptance. Think about the courageous and recent stepping down of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, saying that she ”‘no longer has enough in the tank. Her honesty and brave move were applauded by many as more people than we think suffer from burnout.  Acknowledging what you feel without no judgement can help you to accept the situation you are in and that you are experiencing burnout.

Prioritise Self-care: Make self-care and your personal health a top priority. When you burn out, your adrenal hormones are completely depleted and your nervous system has been pushed beyond its limit as it’s been in sympathetic mode for so long. It’s important to reconnect your body and mind through gentle self-care exercises, like relaxation and breathing techniques. Try lying down and practising these types of calming exercises. If you feel like moving, go for it. Just remember that a short walk or some stretches might be enough to start with as a more strenuous form of exercise might deplete you further, especially in the initial stages of burnout. When you feel ready, regular exercise and focusing on a nutritious and healthy diet will help you in your recovery.

Seek Support: Consider talking to a doctor as you may be prescribed medication to help you recover from burnout. If you feel comfortable, try reaching out to friends and family members who can provide emotional support which can help you feel less alone. Talking to a professional, such as therapy, may give you valuable insights and coping mechanisms.

Reevaluate Your Goals: When you are feeling better, the next step is to envision your future. Look at your plans and how you want your life to look, ensuring it’s aligned with your values and goals—even if that means reevaluating them. Many people who experience burnout reconsider a lot of things in their life and identify and acknowledge any necessary changes. Reconnect with your values so you can begin to make healthier choices and set boundaries to prevent exuberating burnout. Don’t forget to celebrate small victories along the way! 

In our free ‘Reach Your Goals’ online course, learn the super tools that can be applied to every situation in your daily life such as when you feel stressed and anxious, lacking in confidence or when you want to feel more empowered. These short, effective Sophrology exercises are perfect to practice on the go, anywhere and anytime you need them most and will help guide you to reach your full potential.

Create Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to help manage stress and pressures. If possible, discuss your situation with your boss at work when you return. Explore potential adjustments to your workload, schedule or responsibilities that can help alleviate job burnout. Set specific working hours and dedicate time to activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Learn to detach from work-related stress during your downtime by limiting screen time and avoiding checking emails or the news. Adding this to your evening routine has an array of mental benefits.

Practice Sophrology: Once you feel ready, it may be time to begin your self-development journey to avoid future burnout. Try introducing mindfulness practices, such as Sophrology or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine. These stress management techniques can help burnout recovery by reducing stress, increasing self-awareness and promoting overall well-being. Sophrology equips you with the tools to change certain limiting beliefs about yourself that get in the way of leading a balanced life and encourage more positive emotions.

Body awareness: Through short, gentle Sophrology practices, you become more body aware, helping you to feel more centred and regain your confidence. Body awareness encourages you to be more in the present moment, feel grounded and let negative and stressful thoughts of the past or future fade away. Use your body awareness to slow your mind down because the mind would like things to go much faster, but your body is completely deprived of energy and can’t keep up with the mind anymore. It’s about calming the mind and allowing yourself to accept that for now, you need to rest for as long as it takes to recover.

Focus on your Sleep: Many people who are burned out are also sleep deprived, and reinstating a healthy sleep routine is a turning point in many people’s lives. Sophrology can help instil confidence in you to believe that you can sleep again and that restorative sleep is possible. Learn to calm the mind and empty your thoughts through meditative exercises to drift off to sleep easier.

 

Effective Ways to Prevent Burnout

While burnout recovery is essential, it’s equally important to prevent it from happening in the first place because of its many damaging consequences.

Here are a few ways to help prevent burnout:

Maintain Work-Life Balance: Strive for a healthy balance between work and personal life. Schedule regular breaks, holidays and activities that rejuvenate you.

Relaxation Techniques: Sophrology can help you to reduce stress, increase self-awareness and regulate your nervous system. When we are burned out, our nervous system is in constant sympathetic mode (fight or flight) and is pushed beyond its limits. To prevent burnout, it’s so important to nurture our nervous system and take the time to calm our body and mind through relaxation techniques to enter a parasympathetic mode (rest and digest).

Delegate and Collaborate: Try to avoid tasks and responsibilities from building up and learn to delegate tasks and seek support from co-workers when needed. Foster a culture of teamwork and collaboration to distribute the workload effectively.

Establish Realistic Expectations and Boundaries: Set realistic expectations for yourself and others. Recognise your limitations and avoid taking on more than you can handle.

Nurture Relationships: Cultivate strong connections with colleagues, friends and family. Socialising and being surrounded by loved ones act as a buffer against stress and promote well-being and improved health.

 

Final thoughts

The burnout recovery process requires a proactive approach and a commitment to self-care and your health. By recognising the signs, understanding the stages of burnout, and implementing effective and preventative strategies, you can start to regain balance and lead a more fulfilling life. Remember, recovery is a gradual process, so be patient and kind to yourself. Prioritise your well-being and take small steps towards reclaiming your vitality and enthusiasm. You deserve it!

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