We hear about creatives experiencing burnout all the time. Although it’s a common term, not everyone understands what it truly is. Whether you’re working from home, or working in an environment interacting with other humans, many of us are experiencing the symptoms of burnout without even knowing it.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can happen when you feel overwhelmed and debilitated by constant and ongoing responsibilities.
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administering stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.”
― Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man
Signs of Burnout
Exhaustion: If you feel depleted emotionally and physically, you might be suffering from burnout. Physical symptoms might include excessive fatigue, loss of appetite, changes to sleeping patterns.
Escape fantasies: Many of us long for the freedom of that long-deferred vacation, but if you find yourself feeling trapped in your life, with a sense of desperation, it might be something to pay attention to. If unable to take time off, people suffering from burnout often turn to drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self-medication.
Frequent illness: Have you noticed how the moment you complete an exhausting project, you get sick right away? Your body often has a way of pushing through difficult periods on adrenaline and then collapsing with exhaustion at the first possible moment. If you are getting sick frequently, you’re probably driving your body too hard.
Irritability: Have you found yourself snapping at your friends, family, and coworkers more often? Of course, none of us can keep our cool all the time, but excessive irritation can be a sign of emotional exhaustion. When we are over tax and overtasked, our world feels like an elaborate house of cards that can collapse at the slightest inconvenience.
Isolation: Sometimes, dealing with other human beings is just too exhausting. If isolation has become your go to coping mechanism when friends, family, and coworkers are too much to deal with, you may be suffering from burnout.
“Animals overwork only when they are working for humans.”― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
One of the primary drivers of burnout is our refusal to heed the warnings our body is giving us. Our culture and economy condition us To push ourselves beyond our limits.
In their paper “Burnout: a fashionable diagnosis,” Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have outlined the 12 phases of this process driving burnout in most of us:
- The compulsion to prove oneself (excessive ambition)
- Working harder
- Neglecting own needs
- Displacement of conflicts and needs
- No longer any time for non-work-related needs
- Increasing denial of the problem, decreasing flexibility of thought/behavior
- Withdrawal, lack of direction, cynicism
- Behavioral changes/psychological reactions
- Depersonalization: loss of contact with self and own needs
- Inner emptiness, anxiety, addictive behavior
- The increasing feeling of meaninglessness and lack of interest
- Physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening
What to do to reverse burnout:
Exercise: Research outlining both the physical and emotional benefits of exercise is exhaustive. But it has also shown that exercise improves cognition as well. Basically, any amount of activity that you can fit into your schedule will help you reduce stress. You can’t get to the gym, try standing up for the last five minutes of every hour and doing some stretching, jumping jacks or lunges. During quarantine, many of us have become familiar with the joy of walking around the block. Don’t sleep on it!
Eat a balanced diet: It’s tempting to rely on comfort foods during times of stress and intense boredom. And there’s nothing wrong with taking joy in your diet, but make sure you’re not consuming refined sugar mindlessly. Make sure that your body has the nutrients it needs to thrive. Make sure to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods to avoid exhaustion. If your schedule is tight, consider a green juice or smoothie in the morning to start the day off right.
Practice good sleep habits: research has shown that disrupting your circadian rhythm is stressful on the body, and we’ll leave your energy all over the place. Try to the same bedtime every night if you can, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s tempting when you’re overworked to cut corners, but if you do, sometimes the corners will cut you! Develop a bedtime ritual to help you unwind and unplug from the stresses of the day.
Audit your information intake and social media habits: When we are stressed, it’s tempting to keep our minds in a constant state of activity and distraction. Our smartphones and computers offer us endless simulation, but much of it can contribute to increased anxiety. If you’re feeling burnt out, try reducing your information intake to an absolute minimum and replacing your everyday online activities with meditation or some other method of relaxation.
Ask for help: Lastly, there are many available resources to help cope with stress, but you may need a personal touch. Sometimes we just need someone to listen and provide support for us. Identify which relationships in your life offer you drama-free support, and don’t be afraid to reach out and deepen those bonds.
In closing: If you are exhausted, anxious, stressed, you’re absolutely not alone, and it is entirely normal. The Covid pandemic has exposed all of us to new challenges and anxieties.
If you are struggling with burnout, don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you and collaborate on constructive solutions to get well. Also, remember to keep a very open line of communication with your healthcare professional. If a friend or family member feels burned out, take the time to listen to them if you can. Sometimes people just need to vent, and while it is tempting to take on someone’s struggle, try to develop the ability to listen without feeling the obligation to fix their problems. Most of us are just looking to be understood, and a little kindness goes a long way. If you can keep yourself well and avoid burnout, you will be most effective at showing up for the people in your life.
Were these tips helpful? Let us know in the comments.