Pay attention to your body!
It’s very easy to get caught up with work, family, friends and all the other obligations you shoulder. A demanding job is sure to drain you; then, you have to provide healthy meals for your husband and kids, stay on top of your ailing parents’ doctor’s appointments, help your sister plan her wedding, and always be available for your BFF who has, yet again, had her heart broken. Sure, you can probably keep going full steam ahead for months without incident, but the pressure will eventually take its toll. And, if you don’t slow down and hit the pause button, you may be left feeling exhausted and drained, because burnout hits you when you least expect it.
So, is it ever possible to steer clear of burning out? The answer is yes, you can…by paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.
When your approach to life is to give equal amounts of yourself to every aspect of it, or person in it, you eventually stretch yourself thin and barely have time for yourself. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when extreme fatigue sets in and you suffer a breakdown. You might be in conversation with your sister when the next thing you know, you’re flat on the floor wondering what happened. The doctor declares you’re suffering from extreme physical and mental exhaustion, and insists you take a couple of months off from ‘adulting’.
Psychology explains burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness.”* The symptoms of burnout accumulate slowly, over time. At first, you’ll hardly notice them and will often put it down to just being a little stressed or tired, and assume the symptoms will eventually pass. But they don’t. They just continue to quietly pile up, manifesting over a period of as long as one to two years.
Of course, a certain amount of stress is good, because it pushes you to a level of optimum alertness, as well as above-average behavioural and cognitive performance. You learn, build resilience and become more creative. But as much as you push yourself, you rarely take time out for sufficient recovery. And as you get older, the necessity to succeed at work increases, family responsibilities pile up and technology keeps you relentlessly connected. In effect, recovery times get tremendously shorter. When you do have time to yourself, you often resort to TV or alcohol to ‘switch off’, and as a result, physical and emotional issues keep developing…because neither of the two cures burnout in the long term. They are nothing more than temporary reprieves.
What’s more, as a woman, there’s always an additional need to be on point and ahead of the curve for fear of being judged by society. Occasionally, you might receive sarcastic remarks like, “Oh, she’s a woman. She needs ‘time’ for herself,” or “Her place should just be in the kitchen. She can’t achieve much anyway.” Fear of being subject to comments like these is enough motivation for women to keep pushing forward and piling on responsibilities with grim determination to prove the world wrong. Unsurprisingly, this is also a sure-fire way to burn out.
But, before you can treat and prevent burnout, you need to identify the warning signs:
Constantly Disturbed Sleep And Fatigue
If you’re suffering long periods of tossing and turning at night with worries running through your head, then pay attention—your mind and body are trying to tell you something. You might convince yourself that the problem is temporary, but if the nightly restlessness persists, chances are it’s a lead up to a bigger problem. Without adequate shut-eye, you wake with less energy and require copious amounts of coffee to push through the day and stay awake as you go about your daily tasks; if you’re driving, you could fall asleep at the wheel…which is a risk you should not be willing to take.
Bad Temper, Anxiety And Dissatisfaction
Positive individuals can easily turn negative and grumpy when burnout hits. You might notice you frequently lose your cool and focus only on feelings of paranoia, failure, helplessness or worthlessness. You could also begin to judge others or situations and always retort with sarcasm. You feel anxious without obvious cause or develop panic attacks. People and projects that once brought an immense sense of satisfaction might not excite you any longer. This nagging sense of dissatisfaction can lead you to feel like you’re not getting much out of your regular routines.
When overly stressed, your brain reacts negatively. As a result, your memory, emotional control, decision-making skills and focus can become skewed. So if you notice that you’re making bad decisions, forgetting important things, making careless mistakes or getting emotional all the time, then it’s very possible that you’re burning out.
Working At Home Past 6 PM
Do you lie in bed constantly thinking about the volume of work you have to get done? Perhaps your worry pushes you to open up your laptop at home and get a “head start” for the next day. If you can’t seem to leave your work at the office and always take it home with you, sit up and take notice. This is a strong indication of stretching yourself too thin.
Health Issues And Mediocre Self-Care
Have you been experiencing chronic pain, backaches, depression, obesity or heart problems? Perhaps you’re constantly falling ill. When you suffer from burnout, your confidence and motivation take a hit, and you find yourself giving into quick fixes and sugar cravings. Additionally, because you’re not feeling great, you start skipping the gym and so gain weight, which automatically results in more health problems. Take a step back and objectively look at what’s been going on over the past few months; it’s time to put a stop to this vicious cycle.
Other Body Ailments
If you’re spiraling towards a meltdown, you might also notice skin rashes, breathing difficulties or hyperventilation, heart palpitations, a racing heart, tightness in chest muscles, and changes in appetite and libido.
Now that you know you’re burning out, you can take steps to better yourself—because once you have all the information, coping becomes easier. Primarily, you need to start focusing on you. Separate yourself from all the areas of your life that are fighting for your attention and concentrate on replenishing your body and mind.
Go On A Holiday And Make Time For Yourself
You clearly deserve a vacation, so why don’t you take that trip to Bali like you’ve always wanted? If you feel the pressures of life pushing you down, it’s necessary to create distance and separate yourself from it all. If you don’t want to travel overseas, send the kids off to grandma’s and plan a staycation over the weekend. Head to the spa for a little rest and relaxation, read a book or catch up on some sleep. Schedule in time for a little TLC each week. You’ll be one step closer to recovery.
Leave Your Work At The Office
Choosing to work from home may sound appealing, but it’s less advantageous in the long run. It’ll stop you from enjoying life and cause needless worry. So, make it a habit to finish off your work at the office, instead of taking it home with you.
Disconnect From Your Devices
Disengaging from technology is important. Stop checking your email on your phone, don’t answer work calls after office hours and get off social media. At a certain point, even your BFF’s boyfriend woes can wait till the next day. You’ll automatically have more time for yourself and won’t feel compelled to be always switched on.
Workout And Eat Properly
Exercise is a powerful tool. It generates endorphins and helps you feel good. Slot in a daily workout, and ask a buddy to join you. This will create accountability, so you’re less likely to skip. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, and steer clear of processed food and sugary treats.
Stay Away From Pills And Alcohol
Having an occasional glass of wine or popping a sleeping pill might sound like no big deal, but these substances (especially when suffering from burnout) disrupt your brain’s natural sleep processes. Sedation interferes with sleep cycles, and ultimately has terrible consequences on the quality of your shut-eye. To effectively battle burnout, you must have proper sleep time.
Celebrate The Victories
You ran 4 kilometres at a stretch? Your child just won Best Actor at the school play? Ate clean for a month? That’s great! You should definitely celebrate! We’re so focused on the next goal that we forget to make time to rejoice in the little triumphs. When we fail to pat ourselves on the back for our achievements, we often become disheartened and focus on the bad things happening in our lives, which in turn, contribute to burnout. So, remember to celebrate the good things as and when they happen, and be grateful for the incredible life you’ve built for yourself.
Talk About It And Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, you just need to get it all off your chest. So, reach out to your support system of loved ones and talk to them about your situation. It’s bound to make you feel better, and you’ll know you don’t have to fight it alone. Spending time with the people who care about you will help lower the stress in your life. If you don’t feel close to any family member, speaking to a counsellor or therapist is just as refreshing. Plus, you don’t have to worry about being sensitive to others’ feelings; you can just let it all out!
Remember, there’s no shame in suffering from extreme exhaustion, and you’re definitely not going crazy. Burning out is your physical and mental response to an overload. Your system’s telling you enough is enough. So, work towards taking better care of yourself and recharging your batteries. By spending time on yourself, you’ll create an enriching life for both yourself and your loved ones, and you’ll be much happier, kinder and empathetic, regardless of what role you’re currently playing in your life.
*Definition taken from “The Telltale Signs of Burnout…Do You Have Them?” by Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D., published in www.psychologytoday.com, November 2013.
This article was originally published as ‘Are You Running On Fumes? Here’s How to Figure Out if You’re Reaching the End of Your Tether’ in the March 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more life advice and tips, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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