While having a few cups of coffee with friends last week, we started talking about why some of us were energized and enjoying this time of year, while others were tired and lethargic. Were “the tired ones” truly tired, or was it all in their heads because it’s almost the end of the year? Of course, stress, burnout, and the effect of the pandemic came to mind.

2020 Has put many of us under enormous stress. The danger is that we are so used to stress, we may have burnout without even realizing it. Let’s explore what burnout is, the causes and solutions, and how we can support ourselves and others to recover.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress in our professional and our private lives. It can sometimes just be several personal challenges in a short period of time. The stress that accompanies each single factor might be manageable on its own, but the combination can easily overwhelm you if you don’t take steps to get support.

Trying to do too much on your own also creates an ideal environment for burnout to fester. Another explanation is, burnout isn’t about giving too much of yourself, it’s about trying to give what you don’t possess.

It is important to understand there is a difference between stress and burnout. Stress is characterized by over-engagement, urgency, loss of energy, and the primary damage is physical. Burnout is characterized by disengagement, emotions are blunted, loss of motivation, and the primary damage is emotional.

How do I recognize burnout in myself and others?

You will see or experience some of the following:

•          Physical signs and symptoms of burnout.

o          Feeling tired and drained most of the time.

o          Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses.

o          Frequent headaches or muscle pain.

o          Change in appetite or sleep habits.

•          Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout.

o          Sense of failure and self-doubt.

o          Detachment, feeling alone in the world.

o          You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

•          Behaviour.

o          Loss of motivation.

o          Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.

o          Withdrawing from responsibilities.

o          Isolating yourself from others.

o          Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.

How do we pro-actively avoid burnout?

Watch for the warning signs of burnout. Ensure you eat healthily, exercise, and make time for activities that replenish you. Build a network of support at work and friends who can help you to build your resilience.

How do we recover from burnout?

Tell your close circle at work and home, and what the support is you require, as well as what you can do and can’t cope with for the moment.

Extreme self-care. This means not pushing yourself when your body is telling you to stop. Self-care is not doing things someone else wants you to do. Treat yourself like you would a dear friend who had burnout. Replenishing your energy is crucial. If possible, take time out in nature or any environment you enjoy. Get enough sleep, rest, and eat well.

Bring more pleasure into your life. Make a list of 6 activities you enjoy, make a point of doing at least 1 or 2 every day.

Once you have enough energy, deal with the worries you need to resolve, by taking it one step at a time. Give yourself time to heal before jumping into new commitments or changes.

What can I do to support someone with burn out?

Carefully share your observations if you notice signs of burnout. It’s important to listen without judgment, acknowledge their feelings, and offer support. In some cases, your friend might not even be able to identify that they are experiencing burnout. If it is a team member, redistribute work and get the team to give emotional support.

Remember, having or acknowledging you have burnout isn’t a sign of weakness. Being proactive and relaxing and accepting assistance and support will be your strength. A last thought: Almost everything will work if you unplug it for a few minutes … including you.

Christa Loots is a MyLife Coach, HR Consultant, Facilitator and Speaker