Sadly burnout is becoming increasingly more common.
But a lot of us don’t actually know what burnout is, how to spot the warning signs and what to do about it.
In 2020, the number of internet searches for ‘signs of burnout’ increased by over 20%.
The biggest difficulty with burnout is that if you’re headed for burnout, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have enough self awareness to notice the signs.
More often than not, when we are deep in chronic stress or burnout - the only thing we can think is something like:
‘What’s wrong with me’?
’Why can’t I cope’?
We feel flawed, broken, damaged, weak, less than.
One important thing to note is that chronic stress and burnout takes a village. It takes someone (a friend, a colleague or family member) to have enough compassion to notice somethings not quite right, to notice the signs and help steer you towards the help you need.
So - What are the signs of burnout?
The components for burnout were defined by Herbert Freudenberger, a German American psychologist back in 1975.
His definition still stands today, and consists of 3 components.
Emotional exhaustion. that exhaustion that comes from feeling you’ve given too much to too many others for too long. Feeling like you just have nothing more to give, emotionally.
Depersonalisation. A sense of brain fog, and depletion of empathy. Feeling unsympathetic. A sense of feeling numb to everything, cynical, detached and excessively negative.
A decreased sense of accomplishment. An unconquerable sense of futility. Feeling inefficient and unsuccessful, like nothing you do is good enough, or makes a difference. At this stage there’s a deep sense of incompetence, feeling inadequate and lack of productivity. Signs of depression are clear here too.
It’s important to compassionately look at the people you care about and take note. Are they exhibiting any or all of these burnout components?
If so, it’s important to be there for them. Offer them support, let them know that they aren’t broken, weak or flawed! Be a part of their support community.
Now you know the signs, what can you do about it?
The first thing to really fully understand is that stress is a normal function / response of the body.
There are lots of events that happen in our day that can trigger the stress response. That’s not so concerning. What is concerning is that most of us don’t proactively close out the stress cycle on a daily basis.
I‘ve created a S.T.R.E.S.S acronym as a simple methodology for understanding the various phases of the stress cycle.
You can use this to figure out which stage of the cycle you are getting stuck in, and what you can do to move through the remaining stages to complete the cycle And hopefully avoid burnout.
Sense - usually our subconscious will SENSE a threat to our survival. Real or imagined! We have a natural intuitive impulse reaction to any and every threat.
Tune In - once you’ve had the intuitive impulse, you’ll be able to look around and identify the threat. It’s like your mind and body hone in and identify the actual issue. (imagine a caveman out hunting, first he might have a sense that there’s a danger and then he’d tune in and actually see the danger - say, a saber tooth tiger hiding in the bushes )
Respond - this is where your fight, flight or freeze response kicks in.
It’s important to understand that our subconscious mind analyses each potential threat and then identifies the response most likely to help us survive.
We don’t CHOOSE our response.
(I feel like now is a good time to mention that we need to stop judging various peoples’ responses. There seems to be an unspoken hierarchy where people who Fight are considered braver, more heroic than Flighters and then somehow Freezers are lowest on the ladder.
There is no merit to this thinking! All responses are based on survival potential giv