In our last edition, we looked at the different ways in dealing with stress. However, another very serious condition is burnout. If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care, let alone take action to help yourself. The unhappiness and detachment caused by burnout can threaten your job, your relationships, and your health. But by recognizing the earliest warning signs, you can take steps to prevent it. Or if you’ve already hit breaking point, there are plenty of things you can do to regain your balance and start to feel positive and hopeful again.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. The stress response suppresses the immune system, tissue repair, and digestion processes to focus on its task to drive blood to the arms and legs to fight or run from danger, so the longer chronic stress lasts, the more damage it does to your body and the more resources it depletes. The stress response increases the bad cholesterol and reduces the good kind.
Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.
The difference between stress and burnout
Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.
Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.
What can you do to help treat and prevent burnout?
- Reach Out
The way out of burnout is to reach out. When we are sick, we go to the doctor, but when it comes to stress and burnout, we are reluctant to get the expertise to turn off the stress response and get healthy. Studies show that one of the most effective ways to overcome burnout is through stress management coaching and programs. The courage to reach out unlocks the door to restoring health. Stress and burnout thrive on silence, not saying anything, because the engine of it all is thinking and rumination. It’s ruminating over and over about a stress trigger that keeps the perceived danger alive and making your organs work overtime, even when you are sleeping.
- Take Relaxation Seriously
Whether you take up meditation, listening to music, reading a book, a massage, taking a walk or visiting with friends and family, truly think about what you’ll do to relax, and designate time for it. While communication technology can promote productivity, it can also allow work stressors seep into family time, vacation and social activities. Set boundaries by turning off cell phones at dinner and delegating certain times to check email. Read our article on how massage is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress.
- Make exercise a priority
Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re burned out, exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout. It’s also something you can do right now to boost your mood. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day or break that up into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours. We have two downloadable exercise routines that you can do at home that is very easy to do.
- Support your mood and energy levels by eating a healthy diet
When we are stressed and exhausted, we instinctively reach out for foods to give us a boost such as sugar and caffeine and even energy drinks. These foods give us a high for a few hours and are then followed by a low, contributing to tiredness and burnout. Excessive use of these items over the long term has negative effects on our health and it is important to invest in a good diet. Cut down on refined carbohydrates and sugars, and increase low GI foods that release energy slowly throughout the day.
- Get Enough Sleep
Research suggests that having fewer than six hours of sleep per night is a major risk factor for burnout, not least because poor sleep can have negative effects on your job performance and productivity. It can lead to fatigue, decrease your motivation, make you more sensitive to stressful events, impair your mental function, leave you more susceptible to errors and make it harder to juggle competing demands. The reverse is true, too: We’ve seen that sleep can actually improve your memory. Recovering from chronic stress and burnout requires removing or reducing the demands on you and replenishing your resources. Sleep is one strategy for replenishing those resources – find out how massage therapy can help you sleep better.
- Re-evaluate priorities
Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
- Set boundaries
Burnout is sometimes motivated by internal factors and sometimes it really is a symptom of external ones. In the first case, you’ll need to ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” so you can figure out what’s stressing you out, and how to maintain your internal resources to keep yourself motivated, doing your best work and functioning well. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make.
Always remember that you are not alone, and there are people and ways to help you. We here at Massage To Wellness are always committed to help our clients on their wellness journey and how massage can play an important role in your health.