This is the second in a series of three blogs exploring burnout. In the previous blog, we considered what burnout is, the signs and symptoms of burnout and who is at risk. Here, we cover practical self-help strategies you can employ to help manage burnout if you feel you are beginning to suffer from or are firmly in the grip of burnout.
Burnout: No fuel left in the tank
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. If you’ve begun to spot some of the physical, emotional, mental and behavioural symptoms of burnout, then it’s time to take action. Self-care and self-help for recovering from burnout are essentially about taking steps to reduce stress and to find ways to re-resource. Burnout is a diagnosable health condition resulting from continuous and long-term stress exposure (ICD-10 International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision). And, as with any health condition, a return to good health can take time and comes after rest and active treatment.
Reduce Your Exposure to Stress to Tackle Burnout
At the point of burnout, we’ve borne the brunt of stress and pressure for too long. The depletion of burnout comes after exposure to stress and suffering, causing us to remain in a state of flight or fight – on high alert, for too long, without sufficient respite. Therefore, once you recognise that you are experiencing burnout, it is essential that you reduce your exposure to stress. Your brain and body need chance to regulate and recover.
A significant aspect of self-care and self-help for burnout is taking a long hard look at what you can do to reduce stress and pressure in your life. Do you need to take a break for a few weeks? It may be prudent to book in annual leave as a matter of urgency to give yourself a total break. For some people, burnout means that they are not well enough to work and require a break from the pressure and stress of work. In which case, speak to your GP. Remember, burnout is an accepted health condition.
Consider, too, the various commitments that add to your daily or weekly load. What can you pause or take a break from in order to reduce your exposure to stress? Perhaps it would help to hire a cleaner for a couple of months to reduce any household pressures. Or, at least accept that – for this season at least – some jobs will just need to remain undone. Step back from volunteering for a while. Learn the art of saying “no”. The last thing you need right now is more commitment. However you manage it, it is essential you have a respite and reprieve from stress and pressure for a while.
Filling the Tank After Burnout.
As well as reducing your exposure to stress, it’s also important to find ways to replenish after experiencing burnout. If we take the analogy of a fuel tank, reducing our exposure to stress helps to cover the “hole” in the tank that’s been leaking fuel. But there is a need to now refuel and restock your energy levels.
How to refuel? Take a long hard think about what it is that gives you energy and gives you life. What makes you feel alive, feel engaged, feel like “you”? Dancing? Meditation? A yoga class? Time alone to read, relax and create? Socialising with precious friends? Walking in nature? Watching your favourite film or show? You’ll know yourself what helps you to feel energised and enlivened. It’s different for each of us, and only you really know what feels a perfect fit for you and your own needs. It is important that you schedule plenty of opportunities to do the things that help, that bring you joy. These things are a powerful antidote to burnout. Make space in your diary and prioritise these activities to fill the tank and refuel after burnout.
Give Yourself Time
Consider that burnout often takes months to take a hold. Burnout occurs after the prolonged exposure to stress and pressure. Therefore, you need to allow time for recovery from burnout. Give yourself time and aim to adopt an attitude of self-compassion and patience with yourself as you slowly recover from burnout.
Take time to make changes to your daily, weekly and monthly routines so that you are in a position to recover from burnout. Give yourself time each day for some relaxation, and rest and chance to replenish. Re-evaluate the expectations you place upon yourself about what you can cram into each day, each week, each month. Build in time to rest and time to recover. These are lifestyle changes that will help you to recover from burnout but will also help you to safeguard against future burnout.
Seek Professional Help
Many people seek therapy and professional counselling or psychotherapy as space to explore how they feel about the experience of burnout. Burnout can trigger a range of feelings and responses. For example, some people feel ashamed that they have reached a point of burnout. They are suddenly faced with their own vulnerability and fragility and may feel shocked and shaken at this recognition. The experience of burnout may also challenge self-beliefs and personal constructs. For example, if we hold a “be strong” mindset, the experience of burnout may lead us to question our own identity. Perhaps we are someone who has gained our sense of self-worth from doing, and from helping others. Burnout can challenge that and leave us questioning whether we are worthy or okay as a person. Therapy is a place to explore and examine our own beliefs and feelings about ourselves, as well as offering opportunity to consider alternatives that can help towards recovery from burnout.
Burnout….. so what?
We’ve explored some of the important aspects of recovering from burnout. Recognising burnout is a first step towards recovery, that takes time and deliberate and active action to helps us towards a healthier future.
The final blog post in this series will explore how to take actions to protect yourself from burnout in the future.
Let me know what works for you in terms of recognising and managing burnout in your own unique circumstances. And do get in touch if you’d like to discuss how counselling can help you in your recovery from burnout.