Recognizing and Navigating Burnout

In today’s world, the term “burnout” has become all too familiar. Many of us have experienced it or know someone who has. Burnout is a pervasive, multi-faceted issue that affects people from all walks of life. Its impact on mental health cannot be minimized. As people take on multiple roles as caretakers, professionals, parents, volunteers etc., and expectations continuously mount, bodily systems that at first make us feel heroic begin to diminish. Let’s explore what burnout is, how it affects our mental health, and most importantly, what we can do to combat it with the help of therapy.

Burnout is more than just feeling tired or stressed; it’s a chronic state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of excessive stress or work demands. This can be compounded by the abandonment of practices and habits that provide self-care and replenishment as we become busier and overwhelmed. Burnout symptoms can manifest in various ways, but some common signs include:

1.     Chronic Fatigue: Feeling tired all the time, even after a full night’s sleep. For some this may cause a reliance on caffeinated beverages or sugar for energy.

2.     Cynicism and Detachment: Developing a negative outlook and detached attitude towards work or other responsibilities.

3.     Reduced Performance: A noticeable drop in productivity and effectiveness. One may ask “why am I so disinterested in my work or making plans”?

4.     Increased Irritability: Becoming more easily frustrated or angered as if your “fuse” is short.

5.     Physical Symptoms: Experiencing headaches, body aches, digestive issues, or other physical ailments due to stress.

As you can see the symptoms are diverse and for this reason, burnout takes a significant toll on mental health. The relentless stress and exhaustion can lead to a range of mental health issues, including:

1.     Anxiety: Constant worry and fear about meeting expectations or deadlines.

2.     Depressive Episodes: A pervasive sense of sadness and hopelessness.

3.     Difficulty Concentrating: Trouble focusing on tasks and making decisions.

4.     Impaired Memory: Forgetfulness and difficulty retaining information.

5.     Sleep Problems: Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns.

It’s important to note that when our bodies experience change in some way that causes distress, it’s advisable to consult a medical doctor to rule out medical issues as self-diagnosis is never encouraged. Having said that, being able to recognize the signs of burnout is crucial, but acting is even more important. One effective way to address burnout and its impact on mental health is by working with a therapist. Here are some ways therapy can help:

1.     Identifying the Root Causes: A therapist can help you explore the underlying causes of your burnout as it is often related to many factors that have been forces in life for extended periods of time. By understanding what’s driving your stress and exhaustion, you can develop strategies to address these issues.

2.     Learning Coping Strategies: Therapists can teach you coping strategies to manage stress and prevent burnout. These strategies may include relaxation techniques, time management skills, and setting healthy boundaries. Coping strategies while only a piece of the puzzle are important on the healing path.

3.     Providing Emotional Support: Therapy offers a nonjudgmental and confidential space to express your feelings and emotions so you can get closer to understanding your own needs. It allows you to vent, integrate your experiences, and gain perspective on your unique situation.

4.     Building Resilience: Through therapy, you can develop emotional resilience, and “glimmers of hope” which helps you bounce back from setbacks and cope with life’s challenges more effectively.

5.     Setting Realistic Goals: A therapist can assist you in setting realistic and achievable goals, helping you avoid overextending yourself and falling into past behaviors that may have contributed to burnout.

Stress is unavoidable and as people we are doing our best to strike a balance in life. Stress itself is not a bad word; in fact, we are often at our best when optimally stressed, which can make us feel accomplished and even proud. However, when our resources are consistently overrun by stress levels, we enter a chronic state of distress. This is why it’s essential to remain mindful of daily individual resources so we can take action to prevent and recover from burnout. It also helps to take account of our protective forces (friends, alone time, gym, etc.) that bring us back into our bodies and calm the nervous system. Seeking help from a therapist is a valuable step in this process, as it provides the guidance and support needed to regain a sense of control and mental well-being. Remember, you don’t have to face burnout alone – there is help available to guide you on the path to recovery and resilience.

Posted by Colette Lopane-Capella