Burnout was everywhere during the pandemic. Overburdened healthcare professionals, emergency personnel, and frontline employees; overwrought parents, attempting to home-school, whilst working from the kitchen table. Almost everyone, binging on the doom of the 24-hour news cycles, which spoke of a world brought to its knees, shutdown, yet in complete chaos. Things were supposed to improve as we returned to normality, but whether it is the long-term effects of such a global disaster, or something else, burnout isn’t receding. In fact, it seems to be becoming more widespread than ever.
Last month Jacinda Ahern stepped down as Prime Minister of New Zealand. As one of the youngest world leaders to ever hold public office; she also became one of the very few to do so pregnant, and to give birth whilst in the role. She stated in her resignation speech, that she ‘no longer had enough in the tank’ to do the job. Her two terms in office saw some of the country’s worst disasters. The Christchurch Mosque shootings, a volcanic eruption, and a global pandemic that closed borders for many months. It is not hard to see why she concluded, she was tired, and had had enough.
Other celebrities; including actors Sandra Bullock and Andrew Garfield, the Body Coach Joe Wicks, singers Queen Latifa, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce, and Prince Harry; have all spoken out about how they experienced burnout. There does seem to be a consistent theme amongst all of them, constant overwork, not being able to say no, outside pressures, and in some cases, a specific emotional event that added to their stress. Which saw them all reach a point where they had to take a step back, and have a break from their careers, for the sake of their mental health and wellbeing.
Most of us have days when we don’t want to go to work, when we are exhausted, feel completely drained, have no energy, and feel like it is all pointless. But generally, a few good nights of sleep, a bit of self-care, and an evening out with friends, makes everything bearable again. However, if you feel like this most of the time, and some self-love isn’t fixing the problem, then you could be heading towards burnout.
Burnout is a condition that leaves sufferers feeling bodily and emotionally exhausted. It is usually caused by long periods of intense pressure, vast responsibility, or excessive stress. Any of which can leave individuals depleted and overwhelmed physically and mentally.
In many instances, the condition is related to one’s job, and is sometimes referred to as executive or occupational burnout, as it is the result of chronic work-related stress. However, it can happen to anyone, in any position, or in any situation when they feel they are being drained by constant or incessant demands on their time or energy.
The stress and exhaustion lead to feelings of helplessness, cynicism, disillusionment, and resentfulness. It can also manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems and an increased vulnerability to cold and flu like viruses. The individual will feel like running away, unable to face situations, and day to day issues can feel overwhelming.
Burnout was once deemed to be the misfortune of stressed-out corporate executives and aging worn-out celebrities. However, in more recent times, with the progressively blurring boundaries between work and personal time, catastrophic events occurring in the world daily, and the universal struggle to juggle a myriad of responsibilities, burnout is becoming an increasingly more widespread condition.
Is every day a bad day for you? Are you constantly exhausted? Do you seem like you are all over the place, forgetting things, easily confused? Do you feel that everything you do is either, a) a struggle, it feels completely overwhelming, or b) it is monotonous and boring? And that caring about anything seems like a total waste of energy, as nothing is appreciated, and it never seems to make a difference?
If the above describes how you feel on a regular basis; then you could be on the road to burnout. Here are some common signs to look out for if you think you, or someone you love, may be struggling.
• Crushing physical or emotional exhaustion.
• A change in appetite. Eating too much or too little, poor food choices.
• Disruption in sleep. Insomnia, or difficulty in sleeping, despite feelings of extreme tiredness and fatigue.
• Frequently wanting to stay in bed all day or crashing out on the sofa.
• An increase in anxiety or depression.
• Physical symptoms including unexplained head or stomach aches.
• An increase in susceptibility to viruses, (cold and flu like illnesses).
• Isolating from family, friends, and co-workers.
• Withdrawing from social activities or mixing with other people.
• An increase in the use of drugs, alcohol, food, or prescription medication; or using activities such as gambling and online shopping, or compulsive and obsessive behaviours.
• Mood swings or changes in emotional behaviours.
• An increase in irritability, quick to anger.
• An inability to adapt to situations and difficulty in making decisions.
• Loss of self-confidence and esteem.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, rather it tends to creep up over time, with most of us ignoring the signs until it lays us out completely. If you’re experiencing symptoms that could be indicative of burnout, or another stress-related, or mental health condition, then seek professional advice. Don’t just ignore them and hope they will get better on their own.
The repeated nights of not being able to sleep, despite being overly exhausted; the head spinning, full of racing thoughts that just won’t turn off; and the bad day, week, or even month at work that you just want to forget about. Individuals struggling with the symptoms of burnout, frequently look for a way to ease their emotional and physical pain and discomfort.
It is easy to understand why turning to a glass (or several) of wine, feels like a solution, just to take the edge off a stressful workday; or why some online shopping or gambling, is a way to forget what needs to be done tomorrow; and why picking up a prescription for some sleeping tablets, may seem like the answer to the sleepless nights.
However, the next day the problems are still there, the financial implications of overspending hit home hard, and you still haven’t had a decent night’s sleep, so the exhaustion just won’t go away – plus you have a hangover to boot. Some will rely on caffeine to get them through, whilst others turn to stronger chemicals such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Unfortunately, what seems like a good choice to start with, can rapidly turn into a habit that only creates more issues, doesn’t really solve the underlying causes and can in some people lead to a serious problem with dependency and addiction.
Drugs, alcohol, and addictive or compulsive behaviours only exacerbate mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and stress worsens the physical health of a person – so long-term it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Could you be on the road to burnout? Is life feeling overwhelming? Do you feel like you are drowning under the weight of your responsibilities? Are you finding that you are self-medicating with pills or booze?
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