Burnout symptoms: Warning signs you need to slow down (and how to bounce back)

Closeup of sad young Asian woman at cafe leaning head on clasped hands and staring into vacancy. Tired freelancer feeling burnout. Stress and bad news concept

For years, we can use our mental and physical resources to cope with stress, but, one day, if stress continues for a sustained period of time, we will totally burnout

According to recent Google search data, there has been over a 200% increase in people searching for ‘signs of burnout’, with almost half of UK employees experiencing excessive stress and suffering from exhaustion. We are in danger of a burnout epidemic and we need to take action to prevent this.

Signs and symptoms of burnout can include you reacting to something emotionally, losing your temper and control, lashing out at those you love, those you hate, random people you don’t care about – and of course yourself.  Other warning signs include negative attitudes, cynicism, a lack of energy, a loss of willpower and an inability to deal with anything new, different or unwanted. 

As humans, we are very good at being resilient. Resilience is defined as the ‘capacity for successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances.’ We are so good at it, in fact, that our means of coping with stressors can make us exhausted and lead to burnout.  

When a person is ‘resource-full’ they create, build and maintain the right mental, emotional, and physical resources that they need and then deploy them in a way that is smart, positive, self-aware, engaged and successful. People who don’t have sufficient mental, emotional and physical resources are unable to process information fully, which in turn leads to burnout.

How to bounce back 

The good news is that there are ways to bounce back from burnout and become SOUND. SOUND people go beyond responding reactively because they are resource-full.

Being resource-full involves knowing themselves: which resources deplete them, making them feel bad, and which replenish them, making them feel good. They monitor their resource levels, and they actively seek and develop the resources they need when they need them. Having gained these resources, the SOUND adult chooses where to invest and deploy these resources. They use their resources to manage their environment, rather than their environment managing their resources.  

SOUND individuals are able to manage their thoughts and emotions, recognising that these can use up resources unnecessarily. In understanding that the brain can work with or against them, they manage it accordingly, creating clarity of thought and rational responses.

Here are some examples of activities you can incorporate into your week to beat burnout and become SOUND: 

Recollection and Reflection

Consider the tasks and activities you have done in the last week. Which did you enjoy or gain a sense of satisfaction from, or which made you feel energised (even if you were physically tired afterwards)? Which of them made you feel negative or grumpy? How much effort did you have to put in to complete a task (how tired did it make you feel)? Think of the people around you. Which ones provide you with positive resources, which drain your resources? 

Focus on one event from last week. As you recall the emotional response you had, describe the emotion to yourself. Was it a positive or negative emotion? What did you do with the emotion? Did you accept it and carry it around, or did you change it? If you managed to change it, how? 

Understanding what adds to or depletes our resources will enable us to plan our activities, so the amount of resources going in exceeds those going out. Of course, there are always jobs we have to do that we don’t enjoy, but make sure you offset them with positive activities.

Recording and Comparing

Another brilliant tool is to keep a diary  for a week: record  when and what you eat, drink and exercise. Note the hours of sleep you get. Also note the emotions you had that day and how well you felt you handled events. By writing these down, you become more aware of them and whether there is a pattern.. There is a diary template and tips for increasing water consumption and getting better sleep available to downloaded on www.drsammather.com.  

Think about the people you spend your valuable time with. How does each one make you feel: happy, exhausted, stressed, loved, relaxed, intimidated, inferior, safe? Which connections make you feel good, and which cause you to feel exhausted? Track this in your diary.  

After at least a week, reflect on your diary. Which areas are you nailing? What do you need to do more of? Which people added resources to your balloon? Which didn’t? If several things in your life are exhausting you, note how you feel. For the next week, feed your brain well, adding only positive resources, then check in with yourself again. How do you feel now? How do the two weeks compare? 

Dr Sam MatherAbout the author

Dr Sam Mather is a neuro-practitioner and author of RISE: The science and practice of creating and developing your cognitive resources for resilience and wellbeing (published by ReThink Press, priced at £12.99)

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