I won't lie to you: as the end of the year draws closer, I'm dreading the 2020 'year in review' posts.
It's undeniable that 2020 has been a defining year for humanity- there is a pre and post 2020 bookmark in our brains now. At the same time, we needed a jolt to deeply reflect on so-called truths and imagine a different world. I would not trade that re-awakening.
However, despite how important this process continues to be, constantly being in survival mode and just rolling with the punches is emotionally exhausting! Now with the second wave of the pandemic upon us, and a potentially difficult winter ahead, it's important to reflect on our mental wellbeing.
Many of us are experiencing burn out without recognizing it for what it is.
Burnout is a state of exhaustion, alienation, and reduced performance
It occurs when our coping capacity is overwhelmed by constant pressure, stress, conflict, sacrifice, being overworked, or even under-challenged
It's Easy To Overlook Burnout
Our regular life challenges did not grind to a halt with COVID. In many ways, they got worse- financial issues, mental health challenges, difficult family dynamics, loneliness and isolation.
Oof. We have been through a lot.
Despite this, we have a tendency to 'power through', even after being aware that we are at the very end of our coping capacity. In what we believe is a noble and resilient gesture, we ignore the obvious signs that our minds and bodies are desperately in need of a break.
This can be dangerous! If we are in caring professions, pushing ourselves through burnout can be harmful for the people we are caring for. This applies to any role or relationship in life! When we insist on ignoring the signs of burnout and continuing anyway, we put ourselves and others at risk.
So, the questions is, how do we know we are experiencing burn out?
Recognizing Burn Out
Burn out looks different for everyone.
The way burnout shows up in our lives depends on our environment and what we feel we have permission to express
For example, if you work in an environment that values productivity at the expense of mental wellness, you might suppress the signs of burnout for as long as you can to maintain job security.
Or if you are a new mom who lacks a support system, you may put pressure on yourself to do it all and do it perfectly- which includes hiding any signs of struggle.
Many of us associate shame, weakness, and failure with burnout. When we view our experiences through the lens of shame, it's very difficult to be honest with ourselves and admit we are struggling.
So, in case no one told you (or has told you otherwise), you are NOT weak for feeling exhausted and burnt out lately!
Chances are, the very people who are accusing you of weakness are actually struggling themselves.
The Signs Of Burnout
It's important to note that many signs of burnout overlap with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.
We always advise seeking help if you are struggling to function in your daily life.
In general, there are 3 areas to look out for when determining if you are experiencing burnout.
Feeling emotionally drained
Headaches, stomach issues
Lack of energy
Unable to cope with both minor and significant challenges
Alienation From Activities
Growing cynical about people and the environment
Withdrawing from responsibilities
Feeling numb about work or circumstances
Questioning the purpose of point of the work or role
Emotionally withdrawing and distancing
Not enjoying regular activities or coping mechanisms
Not taking care of yourself or indulging in unhealthy coping mechanisms
Difficulty concentrating and meeting targets
While these items are good indicators that you are approaching a state of burnout, keep in mind that we usually know we are burnout.
However, our environment or ideas of what burnout means can interfere with our ability to accept it. Let me reiterate: burnout does not mean failure!
So I'm Burnout. What Can I Do?
Stepping away or taking a break from the circumstances fuelling the burnout is not always realistic. In fact, it can be considered a luxury. So many of the factors that cause burnout are systemic.
However, we also can't pretend that nothing is happening and power through it- as I mentioned above, it can be dangerous to us and those who depend on us.
Here are a few ideas on how to deal with burnout:
1. If You Can Take A Break, Go Beyond Getting Back To 'Normal'
The first phase of your time off will help you replenish your resources. Remember however, that burnout occurs when we are depleted. So getting back to baseline, or 'normal' may still leave us in a less than optimal position.
If you have the ability to do so, take the time to get to a place of abundance, not simply survival. When you feel like you are ready to return, that is your indicator to take some extra time and focus on abundance.
When the world feels overwhelming, our phones only make it worse. Also, when everyone has access to us all the time (i.e. answering emails all hours of the day) it cuts into our downtime.
Setting boundaries around technology use can help you control how much stress seeps into your life.
3. Know Your Limits
Being attuned to our bodies can help us understand when we are overwhelmed. This can lead us to seeking support early and preventing the burnout from getting worse.
Knowing your limits also helps us be more assertive in life. When you know you can't take on any extra work or responsibilities, it's easier to say no.
4. Reflect On Your Needs
If you are in a position to change your circumstances, reflect on your needs as an employee, mother, spouse, child etc.
Does your current situation meet those needs? If you have needs that are not being met, what can you do to change this?
Sometimes, we need to accept that there may be a mismatch between our needs and what the environment or situation is offering. If this is the case, dealing with burnout may look like moving on so you are not back in the same position a year later.
We have all experienced burnout at some point. However, 2020 has made us even more vulnerable to it.
With burnout, hindsight is 20/20. Knowing and accepting the signs that you are physically and mentally depleted will help you see it coming.
I want to hear from you: When was the last time you experienced burnout and how did you cope with it?
That’s all for me! If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to send me an email. Or book an appointment with anyone from WellNest’s awesome team! You can also book a free phone consult at anytime.
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist
Hala Shamsi is a Social Worker and Mental Health Content Specialist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. She is always deep in the middle of an internet spiral to bring you fresh insights into the world of mental wellness.
Is there a topic you want to see covered in this blog? Feel free to reach out at the email above to let her know!