3 Signs of burnout and what to do next

Sometimes life becomes such a dance of emotions, actions and disappointment that we do not realise how quickly it all can start to add up. The word burnout is quite a new concept, and had its origins in the early 70’s when it was fist coined by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger defined it as:

“A reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress that is characterised by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability”.

It is easy to see why the working environment can become a source of constant stress and unhappiness, and why people who are driven and hardworking, can suffer from it. But I think it goes further than that.

Burnout can come from several other sources than just work. We live in a society characterised by speed, change and disruption, where business exist mainly to profit and people have become victims of an economic drive that places very little value on what we extrinsically are. Human!

We destroy – the environment, harmony and ecosystems, we take more from nature than we give back – and we do the same to each other. Could it be a result of so many things going on, so much responsibility, so little time and increased individualism? Have we created a human race that is depleting our humanness – and with it our ability to deal with the ever-increasing pressure at our own peril?

Dealing with life is not for the faint-hearted. I doubt that we were designed to absorb constant conflicting demands day in and day out – but in our modern world, we need to find a way to survive this upside down reality that we have so carefully crafted for ourselves.

Burnout is not the person collapsing in a heap, close to a heart attack (off course it could be!) but it is possibly a lot more subtle than that. I believe any of the following are warning signs that you are on fire, and that burnout is around the corner:

Intense and constant worry that does not ease. We are all under a lot of stress most of the time but if it becomes prolonged, and the situation is either dragging, or not changing, the toll it takes is much greater than you realise. Whether you are a struggling single mom, an entrepreneur never certain about the next pay check, or have been waiting to hear about a temporary job turning permanent for months on end, it adds to the load and wears you out slowly.

Emotional outburst, tears or feeling an inability to cope. When the pressure tap is constantly gushing, small things really can turn it into a big Tsunami. This type of heaped up pressure is frighteningly paralyzing. You cannot think, act or cope in that exact moment and your brain goes on flight mode as the only available setting. Coming back from a situation like that is hard to do. People with burnout feel empty and powerless and added pressure at a time when it is already heighted can lead to an unexpected meltdown in the grandest fashion.

Scatter brains and no focus. It is safe to say that it is already hard to keep things together in the normal day to day running of the mill, but throw a scattered brain into the mix together with a lack of focus and it almost becomes impossible to cope. Too much responsibility, or a to-do list that never takes a break will just exacerbate the situation, leading to resentment or cynicism.

Tiredness and health issues. Stress quickly takes its toll on your body. Constant headaches or tummy trouble is one of the first signs. Being tired all of the time is another. Not feeling well allows less energy to cope with pressing demands and this often triggers a downward spiral.  

Do you suspect that you are on fire and on your way to burnout?

It is important to pay attention to your body and being aware of what is happening, as often those affected pay little, or no attention to their own psychological and physical limits. Once you suffer a breakdown the road back is often long and slow, and that will not do you or anyone around you any good.

It is important to take steps right away and smooth things out. Stress is real, but you have a choice whether you control it – or it controls you.

Do something kind for yourself today, ask for help, take a break, then rinse and repeat regularly. It is time to step out of the fire. You deserve it!

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”– Sydney J. Harris

2 Replies to “Burnout – Are you on fire but have not realised it yet?”

    1. Dis juis omdat dit op my van toepassing is dat ek daarvan bewus geword het. Mens kom nie noodwending agter nie want jy hou aan en absorbeer alles rondom jou. Ek is nou bietjie meer ingesteld daarop. Hoop dit kan vir iemand anders ook iets beteken!

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