Burnout is a phrase people throw around all the time. In fact burnout is very real and more serious than simply being tired, stressed out or over committed. When experiencing burnout a person becomes so completely overwhelmed and exhausted emotionally and physically that they literally shut down. This can last a few days or in severe cases much longer, even leading to anxieties like agoraphobia.
One man, on his way to speak at a conference, all of a sudden sat on the curb of the sidewalk and began to cry. He simply couldn't go any further. He had no idea he was experiencing burnout. Another mother described her experience after an intense time of caring for an injured son. As soon as he recovered she "crashed? and truly couldn't move off the couch for a week. Other clients have described experiencing burnout because of workplace trauma, which took a very long time to heal. No, burnout is not a simple thing at all.
The first thing to consider when battling burnout is the suddenness in which it appears. This is something that often creeps up on you without you even realizing it. Generally speaking we are not very self-aware. We push ourselves too hard, force ourselves to "suck it up? and underestimate our emotional health. People who have experienced and are coping with chronic depression tend to have learned this lesson. They understand the patterns of thinking and behaviours that lead to burnout. For some they recognize physical symptoms like chronic neck or jaw ache, stomach upset or insomnia as a warning sign that should not be ignored. Yet, for many who experience burnout, these cues are not noticed ahead of time and ignored as the stress grows into something unmanageable. Learn to look for your own small symptoms and take them seriously. You may need to speak with someone to help you see the patterns you don't see.
Secondly, self-care is essential and often overlooked when we're busy caring for everyone and about everything. It sounds too simple, but eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise (even just walking) is the key to avoid the slippery slope of burnout.
Thirdly, learn to prioritize. Too often we spend our energy doing instead of living. Ask yourself: What do I value in life? What are my priorities? What are my goals? Write these things down. If the things you are spending your time and energy on don't align with what's in these boxes, either move them to the bottom of your to-do list or get rid of them completely.
Finally, give yourself permission to take some down time each day. Whether it is watching a documentary, reading a good book or playing the piano, take the time each day to quiet your heart and your mind and just rest. You'll be glad you did.
Written by: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser
Principles for Real Living:
I am responsible for my own attitude
My attitude affects my actions
I can not change others, but I can influence others
My emotions do not control my actions
Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world
Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008