Often people get to the latter stages of burnout before making changes, however, if you can recognize the early signs on the road to burnout, you can prevent hitting rock bottom.
Honeymoon Stage – This is the beginning, where pressure may be high but so is the excitement – whether it’s a new job or new baby, you may have lots of energy at this point but as with anything new, there are always some level of nerves and anxiety for the future.
Onset of Stress – You may start to notice good and bad days, where some days are more difficult than others and anxiety levels are increasing. At this stage you may notice symptoms like fatigue, irritability, heart palpitations, not wanting to socialize etc.
Chronic Stress – At this stage, your stress levels intensify, and the symptoms are much more evident and longer lasting. You may notice you are becoming more aggressive, lacking sexual desire, always feeling panicked, starting to miss deadlines or forget things at home and you may turn to food, shopping, porn, alcohol or drugs to numb the reality.
Burnout Crisis Stage – Symptoms of burnout at this stage are critical. It becomes really difficult for a person in this stage to function. You may notice you are losing control of your life and tend to isolate yourself from the outside world. You might notice chronic headaches, problems with your gut like IBS, want to move away from people and the world as you know it, feel empty and lonely with no desire to socialize. Things that used to bring you joy, no longer do. Everything seems like an effort, even going on holiday seems too much hassle, the packing, airport etc puts you off. Hard to keep going.
Habitual Burnout –People who have reached stage 5 will feel extremely low moods, show signs of depression and will be mentally/physically and emotionally done. At this stage you are likely to develop chronic illnesses, severe anxiety, and ongoing irritability, depression and negativity. It’s common for people to feel like they are stuck, trapped and victim to their thoughts and bodily symptoms.
In stage 3, 4 and 5 it’s important to get help, ideally professional support and sharing your needs with friends and family.
If this is resonating with you, please know that you are not alone in your struggle and you don’t have to suffer on the journey to recovery alone either. I want to share tips that can help you if you feel you are getting stuck in the road to habitual burnout. This is especially important for people who are not able to quit their job or jump on a plane and go on a luxurious holiday retreat to ease their chronic stress.
Establish good habits from the onset – If you are starting a new job or you’ve just had a baby, it is important to think realistically and not idealistically. By this I mean, we all want to give 150% when we embark on a new journey, exercise regularly, keep up with our social and family life however, when doing this we are setting the bar way too high. Doing extra work or taking on all the responsibility at home just makes it harder for you to maintain this level of energy and effort. Learn not to take on too much in the beginning, so that you can adapt to your new role/new baby first and then handle the rest of the load as time goes on. If you didn’t set up the right habits to start with, start now create both an idealistic plan and a realistic plan, then be happy when you meet the minimum plan and see anything else you do as a bonus. Give yourself praise for the things you do and the rest you take.
Saying No is saying Yes to yourself – A major thing that comes up in many of the breakthrough sessions with people I help is people pleasing, not being able to say no to others. It is so important to say no to extra work, activities and chores. If you find it difficult to say no in the moment then, start to practice saying – let me check and get back to you. You can say, let me check my calendar, let me check with my partner, let me see what the children have on. With work, perhaps say I could do that, I have this and this to do first so I could get to it by Thursday next week if it’s important. Sharing what you have on and setting realistic expectations then gives that person the choice to wait or give it to someone else.
Time to Recharge – Remind yourself that taking breaks is not a reward it is a necessity. One of the most common things that comes up for people that I have helped is the reluctance to ask for help. Whether it is in the work place or home it takes courage to be vulnerable and to say, I am overloaded at the moment could I get some support. Being assertive is important. Remind yourself that if you don’t ask for help then your suffer and could get burn out which would be good for nobody your supporting.
We are less productive workers, parents, business owners when we are stretched, and spread ourselves so thinly. Take time to recharge and realign yourself. For me that is a morning walk, a guided meditation in the day and something creative in the evening.
Prioritize sleep – I can’t stress this enough – a healthy sleep routine can do wonders for your mental clarity and energy levels. Call me boring but I go to bed roughly the same time on the weekend as I do in the week, I like the routine to be the same. Even if you focus on having at least 5 nights of good sleep, your body will cope with a couple of nights of unrest. If you are suffering burnout from work, have a set time where you answer no work emails and focus on relaxing closer to bed time. A bed time unwind routine is key. I watch standup comedy to relax, laughing before bed is good for me and I always listen to a hypnotherapy track to switch off my mind into sleep. If you are nurturing a baby organizing shift work can help or sharing the housework and other activities, so that you can rest.
Maintain connections with loved ones – It can be easy to get lost in the world of being a new mum or working a new job. It is so important to make a conscious effort to spend time with your loved ones – the ones who lift you up and make you feel special. I hear mums say too often that while they are focused on being a good mum, they forget to enjoy experiencing their children grow up. So take time out to have family time – it doesn’t need to be anything major, even a movie night at home with homemade treats can be fun! This really helps to build a strong bond between you all and gives you that much needed boost of serotonin!
Redirect your negative thoughts – When you compare yourself to others, or even if you find yourself comparing you to a younger version, you are instantly putting yourself on the back foot and thinking you are not doing as well as the other person or what you used to do. This influences the way your mind processes what you can do – if you keep telling yourself “I’m not a good mum” “I can’t handle this new project” or “I’m going to fail” etc, your unconscious mind is going take this as verbatim and act on it. It’s like a downward spiral – thoughts become things so be careful of the thoughts you allow to flow through your mind.
Following on from the last point I just mentioned – I feel it is important to share that for a lot of people I have helped in my breakthrough intensive program, one of the main things that came up that contributed to feelings of burnout is having unresolved traumas and emotions that are screaming out for attention.
When we do not address or process what we are feeling or have experienced in the past, we will trap those emotions and traumas in our body, which can crop up in different ways like illnesses or anxiety and stress. All of which directly impact our overall mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. In my breakthrough I help clients get to the root cause of their actions and support them in building healthier lifestyle choices that reduce stress levels and increase productivity.
If you have a partner who is experiencing burnout, you may not know how to support them so the last thing I want to share with you all is how to help a partner with burnout when they cannot quit or go on a vacation.
Understand the signs of burnout – You know your partner best and should be able to notice the subtle or major changes in their demeanor, their language, their attitude etc. For example, they may snap more and seem more irritable, or maybe they lack energy or excitement for things that they used to. I’ve shared with you what the common signs of burnout are so you hopefully you are able to easily spot any in your partner. Remember there are 5 stages to burnout so it’s important to understand each stage and how you can support them best depending on their symptoms.
Get physical – It is easy for us to ignore what is going on around us until a person hits crisis point, however, please know that your actions as a partner can prevent your loved one hitting rock bottom. Sometimes all your partner needs is reassurance – hold them, hug them, kiss them and tell them they are doing an amazing job – look them in the eye as you remind them how great they are doing so that they really feel your words. There have been countless studies that have highlighted the positive impact of touch and how touch can have a calming, soothing effect on people who are stressed or overwhelmed so don’t be shy with your hugs and small gestures of love.
Work out how you can help – Instead of asking your partner what they want you to do, it would be a great idea to figure out what you can do to lighten their load. Maybe there are house chores you can take over while they have important projects at work, or maybe you can take on some of the kid’s activities to give your partner time to have some down time etc. It’s all about finding the right balance for you both so that neither one of you feel like you are too burdened or carrying the rest of the family and work all alone.
If you’re really not sure how you can help, speak to your partner. Tell them you want to do more and ask them to prioritize their tasks or responsibilities so that you can both decide who can do what to ease the load.
Don’t judge – If you have never experienced burnout, it may be difficult to know what exactly it feels like and so you may end up making flippant comments that can end up hurting your partner and adding to their pressures. Remind yourself that they are not doing this to themselves on purpose and that as a partner, your role is to encourage them, support them and lift them up so that they do not reach crisis point.
Make use of extended family/support network – If your partner is the main caregiver and rarely gets a break from housework/childcare/employment, it is vital that you support them by enlisting the help of friends and family. Sometimes with mum guilt it can be extra hard to leave children with others – especially if the parent is working, however as a supporting partner, remind them that they also need a healthy, recharged parent so some time out is beneficial for everyone.
As always, if there is anything you would like to talk to me about or want to share your personal situation and how I can help you or your partner, please feel free to contact me on email@example.com or join my FB group “Relationship Advice & Support, Wellness Tips & Meditations with Nicola Beer” where we have a community of supportive members all sharing their experiences and advice.