Burnout is one of those sneaky conditions that creeps up on people without them even realising it. Sometimes called overachiever’s syndrome, it often affects people who are ambitious, perfectionists, have high standards for themselves and perform at a high level in any or all areas of their life: work, family and society more generally.
I became personally interested in burnout after experiencing it myself, and while I’m mostly back to my old self now it’s only been through the healing process I actually identified that I was completely burned out. And now I’m seeing it everywhere – like attracts like perhaps?!
Those that have experienced complete burnout will tell you that it’s a very significant and serious health condition that renders you so exhausted you no longer have the energy to care about your own health, your loved ones or your work. But before people get there, there’s often plenty of signs. That’s what I’d like to share with you today in case you’re headed into the same place that I was – in the hope that it might provide you with some insight into what’s going on with you.
Too busy to heal
Interestingly, because people who are high achievers often commit to carrying on and working through any issues. Burnout symptoms can be placed to the side and ignored while carrying on stubbornly to meet internal and external demands on their time.
Ironically, burned out people often try and solve the way they are feeling through more work or more commitments. After all, if you just push on through aren’t you bound to come out the other side having achieved your goals – like you always have?
As Liz Frazer describes it in her Guardian article about burnout, it’s like putting more petrol on a fire and in the hope that the extra heat will burn the problem. Unfortunately, it often has the opposite and disastrous effect. Burnout can take years for some people to recover from, so it’s really worth identifying any of your own patterns that might be taking you in that direction before it turns into total burnout.
Signs and symptoms of burnout
Adam Dachis describes 16 signs and symptoms:
- Finding it hard to focus and concentrate
- Feeling apathy towards your work, chores and other tasks
- A sense of stagnation in life
- Doom and gloom – feeling negative and sceptical that anything is going to work out
- Becoming isolated – a lack of interest in social acitivities and being with others
- Finding it hard to keep up with healthy habits like good eating, nourishing sleep and exercise (not to mention sugar and salt cravings!)
- The sudden feeling that the things you used to feel passionate about, or your beliefs, are no longer important.
- Neglecting your own needs and putting everyone else first.
- Constant sense that you should be doing something, being productive, continuing on with that to do list – and that rest is a waste of your valuable time.
- Feeling irritable, grumpy and short tempered
- Exhaustion – both emotionally and physically. This may manifest as muscle and bone aches.
- Feeling of being ineffective.
- Isolation and detachment from the people and things you care about.
- Low immunity and physical symptoms like headaches, colds, flu, vomiting bugs.
- The denial that any of this is really happening and trying to soldier on through it.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “that’s not me, I’m not there yet”. That’s great! But could you be heading towards the end stages of burnout?
Signs you may be heading towards burnout
- Constant busy-ness
- Increasing cynicism and negativity towards people and things you used to love
- Having less energy to do things
- Finding yourself tired after exercise, instead of energised
- Realising it’s taking longer to recover from strenuous things: e.g. a hangover, a really stressful week or jet lag after a long-haul flight
- Cravings for salty and sugary foods
- Prioritising other people’s demands over and above your own – people pleasing
- Putting other people’s wellbeing over your own in an unhealthy way – eg your loved ones or your children
- Not making time for the rituals that you enjoy or keep you healthy – e.g. being at the gym, yoga or cooking healthy food for yourself
- Constantly thinking about to do list, your project(s) or your family – not being able to switch off
- Sleeping difficulties – ranging from being unable to get to sleep, to waking too early feeling wired and tired
- Having a sense that someone has ‘unplugged you’ – your energy feels so drained
According to Ruby Wax, the comedian and therapist, being super-busy
overloads us with stress and anxiety.
“Excessive ‘busy-ness’ is usually a sign that all is not well,” she says. “When I’m reaching burnout I start fixing too many dates and writing too many emails. I become so uber-busy that things don’t make sense anymore.”
So what do you do if you are feeling like you’re heading towards burnout?
What your body needs is rest, sleep and time to recharge its batteries. This might sound really simple but for high achievers, this can feel like a complete waste of
time, or a diversion from the important things you have to get done. You might have thoughts like ‘what about my business – how am I going to pay the mortgage if I work less?” or “how will my family cope if I do less?!”.
Cultivating the time to actually recover while feeling like you are still making progress often means changing many things in your life and there are some burnout tips that can make recovery easier. This is something I’m going to be writing more about in the future so if you’d like to learn more be sure to sign up for my newsletter.
What do you think?
Have you ever experienced burnout? Or are you in the midst of it now? I’d love to hear about your experience, and whether you identify with any of this. Post in the comments section below!