Burnout can feel similar to depression, and even though their coping strategies are alike, they are different. Burnout has been widely associated with your professional life, and it is now being discovered that it is prevalent during the pandemic too. There are several signs that show up when burnout is on its way, according to Veerle Brenninkmeyer, a scholar in Social and Organizational Psychology. Because there is a distinction between burnout and depression, look for these characteristics when it comes to identifying burnout for you:
- Mental and emotional exhaustion. This is often described as a feeling of emptiness or being worn out. It is a nagging feeling that goes beyond being tired. You are always sleepy, and sleeping doesn’t seem to help.
- Detachment from responsibilities. The trait often shows up as not wanting to take care of yourself or your work because it seems too hard. It’s a negative feeling that makes you sink deeper.
- Reduced personal accomplishment. This characteristic comes up as futility. It is the suspicion that nothing you ever do will make a difference.
- Physical exhaustion or unwell. When we don’t take care of our mental and emotional needs, our body responds with headaches, stomachaches, physical exhaustion (mentioned above), shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, clenched jaw, and other physical sensations.
Once you recognize burnout, you can help yourself through it. Ramping up coping strategies when stressors are occurring helps you move through the stress cycle. There are many stressful factors you cannot control, but you can control how you respond to them. Tiny changes lead to huge results when it comes to burnout. There is hope, and it comes when you help yourself no matter where you are in the process. The goal is not to eliminate stress from your life altogether, which is unrealistic, but rather to fluidly move from stressful situations to internal peace instead of getting stuck in the stress.
Emily and Amelia Nagoski chat about burnout in their new book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, which is referenced on the Brene Brown podcast, Unlocking Us. Together, we can unstick ourselves from stress and move through our emotions to complete the stress cycle. Your body needs to realize that it is safe so that it can get relief from its parasympathetic system of flight, fight, or freeze which is what occurs during burnout. Here are a few tips to help you alleviate burnout and prevent it altogether.
A way to help your body recognize it’s safe is to allow it to go into flight. Flight is an option when you are in survival mode. Let your body do what it needs to calm down but in a healthy way. Rather than fleeing from the scene, you can use exercise as a coping technique. This can be anything from dancing in your living room to taking a walk with a friend, going for a run, doing 10 pushups, running in place, interval training, pilates; whatever you enjoy most or is most accessible to you. Exercise releases stress that builds up in your body and has an even more positive impact when done outside. If you can find even 5 minutes a day to move, this can help significantly.
The quickest way to get yourself back into your body is through breath. Our spiritual, physical, and mental parts are interconnected. Breath is the fastest way to make sure needs are being communicated throughout your body. That way, you can get yourself through the flight, fight, and freeze reaction to a healthy response that can be used whenever stress occurs. A box breath is a simple breath to do and gives enough time to slow down without being in a hurry.
To do so, breathe in for 4 through your nose, hold for 4, and breathe out for 4 through your mouth. Repeat the breath as many times as you need. Breathing out lowers the heart rate so if you’re up to it, you can try breathing in for 4 and out for 6. Do what’s most comfortable for you. The important piece is slowing down and moving oxygen through your body; slowing your heart rate and regulating your body.
This is the type of laughter that gets you right in the gut. It’s the kind that makes you have to think to breathe again because the event is so funny. It can come from any source you please and can be as simple as watching a hilarious show or talking to someone you love about a memory that brought you to tears the first time around. If you’re having trouble accessing funny memories or humor inducing activities, check out Laughter Yoga. There are several videos on YouTube that lead you in laughter exercises that will increase your endorphins and feel-good emotions. Yoga Journal offers more information on Laughter Yoga and specific laughter exercises you can try today.
The exchange of warmth between two humans can’t be replaced. The care that is involved in hugging can change a moment or even a day, depending on how much you needed the hug. Hugging has come to a halt in a lot of ways during the pandemic, but solo hugs are available too. If you live alone or don’t have access to safe hugs, you can simply place a hand over your heart and breathe deeply for several seconds. If you’d like to feel more secure in your body, you can cross your other arm over the hand on your heart and give yourself a small squeeze. Hugs allow your body to know it’s safe, which is the most important factor in preventing burnout.
The release of tears help to quell depression and anxiety. If you have found yourself frozen with coping strategies, tears help you to release your pent-up frustration, anger, or sadness. It allows your body to know that it is safe and can come back to itself when you express emotion rather than bottling it up. Suppressing tears will make you feel worse and think negatively about yourself. Let go and lean into what you are feeling. If you are having trouble accessing tears you feel are bubbling up, try watching a sad movie or television show to trigger some release.
It doesn’t matter how you want to be creative as long as you give yourself permission to do it. It can be as simple as taking pictures on a hike and editing them to create a photographic memory. Perhaps you love to put together outfits each morning. Even if you are staying home, you can still style what you will wear for the day with care and attention. You can purchase a paint-by-number kit or adult (or child) coloring book and color. This is about you. To help others, it is important to help yourself. You don’t have to give more of yourself to prevent burnout but understanding and validating things you enjoy help you to move back to internal peace.
Burnout is preventable when your coping strategies help you to balance stress in your life. You will not be able to control every stressor that comes up. There are many things that are unexpected. A little stress is needed in your life to help you to grow and learn, but when coping strategies aren’t in flux with stress, there can be an imbalance. Enduring emotions rather than feeling them can lead to burnout and allowing yourself to feel can keep you moving forward. There is no right or wrong, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Learning what works for you now, will help you in the future.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We help people help people identify what is leading to stress and how to build resilience to prevent or lessen the effects of burnout in the future.
Click on the links below for more information:
Young Adult Counseling
Support for Therapists
Help For Depression
Substance Use and Recovery Support
Trauma Therapy and EMDR