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Feeling tired? Maybe a little beyond tired, like it goes to your bones? Or like it’s making your brain feel...foggy or as if it’s offline? Then keep reading, we’ve got something you might want to hear!
These are some of the common signs of burnout; an experience more and more of us are being faced with in times of stress, busyness, and uncertainty.
In fact - in 2019, burnout formally became considered a work-induced syndrome by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), burnout has been classified as a syndrome that develops due to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
But, when we look at the three defining characteristics of burnout, it’s not surprising that the definition expands beyond the professional, and is becoming a term used by many to describe the effects and experience of chronic stress in our personal lives.
The three defining characteristics of burnout are:
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
For a lot of us, we can relate to the above when we think of family, relationships and home life. Describing these experiences under the banner of burnout then feels natural as we experience it not only in a work environment, but also in our daily personal lives.
Let’s look at COVID as an example. Hands up if you felt (or feel) burnt out even though you are at home the whole time? This is a key event that allows for this definition expansion.
If you’re a parent or caregiver then chances are during lockdowns you go from being a working caregiver to a full time teacher, cleaner, chef, and employee. And chances are that any selfcare you would usually employ fell to the bottom of the list. Even if you didn’t have anyone extra to take care of, there was no real incentive not to work or chip away at things that needed to be done because we didn’t have many options when it came to taking a break.
It’s no wonder many of us are feeling ill-equipped to effectively manage this new norm and stress load.
Our body responds to burnout and chronic stress in myriad ways, some of which may be familiar to you and others less so. The more of these we recognise, the more likely it is that we have gone from ‘the road to burnout’ to being burnt out - the level of which will determine what actions we can take to find balance again.
- Do you find it hard to be creative?
- Does the idea of a small and simple task feel like too much work?
- Do you find it hard to switch off at night while also feeling physically and mentally exhausted?
These are all signs, in the body and mind, that our stress levels are higher than desirable and that it’s time to take action!
So, how can we determine what is manageable stress and what is the chronic stress that leads to burnout?
Beyond normal day-to-day stress, the road to burnout becomes gradually (or suddenly for some) filled with a sense of overwhelm, anxiety, and apathy. The road to burnout is gradual but there are points along the way that move us away from a place of stress balance (homeostasis) and toward an unrecognisable place of distress. Looking out for red flags along the way can help us redirect our path before we reach the point of total burnout.
5 signs you could be on the road to burnout:
1. Tiredness that edges towards a sense of complete body exhaustion
A hallmark sign of burnout is fatigue. When our body has endured stress for a period of time it down-regulates the production of our stress hormone, cortisol, which, when in balance, helps us feel vibrant and energised.
According to Hans Selye, a psychologist who coined the term and stages of General Adaptation Syndrome, there are three stages we transition through on the road to burnout.
These successive phases are:
- Resistance; and
Both the alarm and resistance stages enable our body to perform above our baseline and push ourselves beyond normal parameters for a period of time. This is ideal if we need superhuman levels of strength to complete a task or challenge BUT, when we spend a prolonged period of time in this out-of-the-ordinary state, we become exhausted. Quite frankly: our bodies aren’t designed to exist in this state for too long.
Because stress = cortisol and too much cortisol is bad for us, our body stops producing it at this exhaustion stage and deactivates that which we already have. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent and know exhaustion is preferable to the whole host of issues that come with too much cortisol.
Cortisol is our survival hormone and has been historically used by our bodies to activate our fight or flight response. But it’s not a great multitasker so, in doing this it deprioritises things like the immune system. If you’ve ever gone on holiday after a stressful period and gotten ill almost immediately - that’s this phenomenon in action.
Early warning signs of the resistance phase include sleep disturbances, hypervigilance, irritability, frustration and poor concentration so keep an eye on these and think about actively relaxing as much as you can.
2. Emotional numbness, detachment with the world and others
As we veer towards burnout, we can notice our relationship with others and the world begins to change. Perhaps you lack the usual enthusiasm to catch up with friends. Or you feel disconnected from your partner and family. You don’t have the spark to play with your kids or every little thing they do becomes annoying.
Why is this? Burnout can create a desire for isolation because the hormones that drive us toward social interaction are suppressed. These include dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin - our happy, calm, balanced hormones.
- Dopamine is responsible for reward, pleasure and enjoyment when we are moving towards our goals.
- Endorphins are our natural pain reliever and help us to feel good.
- Serotonin, our happy neurotransmitter, gives us a sense of pride, lifts our mood, and encourages socialisation and feelings of gratitude.
- Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, is critical to the maintenance and formation of our bond with others. Oxytocin creates trust, altruism and a sense of generosity towards our peers, loved ones and wider community.
They sound lovely, right?
Without these feel-good hormones and neurochemicals running through our system - we are left with only our two stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which, in isolation, can lead to feelings of fear, self doubt, anger and hypervigilance.
3. An anxious or overwhelmed feeling of not being able to cope
In the face of chronic stress our fight or flight response can get stuck in overdrive and leave our body flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and devoid of all of the neurochemicals and hormones that make us feel good.
When we experience this change in our neurochemistry - having only stress hormones and very few happy ones - it leads to feelings of hopelessness and an inability to deal less with everyday challenges and novel situations.
When our body is already flooded with these stress hormones we have no capacity to deal with any extra. This is generally when new challenges and learning can overwhelm us and lead us to feelings of frustration and reduce us to tears. It’s also, unfortunately, at this point when we are prone to berate ourselves for these gut reactions when, in reality, it’s a mix of our survival instincts and modern life which don’t always mix. When we’re aware of this, we have the power to harness our hormones, not fight them.
If you’ve ever had a big cry and then instantly felt better, that’s because crying releases oxytocin. It also reduces the amount of stress hormones in our body which can help bring us back to a new baseline from where we can continue to work forward from. Like how restarting a computer somehow makes it work better. For those of us that get angry and are faced with stress-induced rage, physical exertion often helps due to its ability to increase endorphin and dopamine levels - this helps with the cortisol overload and brings us to a place of calm.
4. Low feelings of satisfaction, low motivation and an sense of self doubt
Similarly to point two, in a place of burnout we’ll notice our joy or sense of fulfillment from our work or completing tasks is diminishing. We no longer experience the joy we normally find when we have a professional or personal ‘win’.
With high cortisol and adrenaline clouding our ability to release dopamine and feel the reward of our efforts, our hours of hard work only leave us feeling depleted, unfulfilled and purposeless.
This can make personal and vocational accomplishments and the completion of our normal responsibilities feel fruitless and unfulfilling when the reality is we have worked hard and done a good job and it’s our hormones that are telling us a different story.
5. A lack of creativity and the ability to think outside the box
Trying to switch on our creativity when in a place of burnout is like trying to turn on a car with no gas in the tank. There’s nothing there to help rev us up.
Stress is great for getting things done but is a hindrance when it comes to creating new ideas, joining dots that would not normally go together and for developing or expanding a concept. We need to be calm to be creative and we need to feel safe to relax and explore the wonders of where our imagination can lead us.
If you’re anything like us, a lot of that is going to sound familiar - these are the familiar signs that we are burnout, or well on the way there. And when we look at all it impacts, there’s something quite exciting about the fact that the more we know, the more we can do about it.
When stress begets more stress and we find it increasingly difficult to feel like we’re in control, how can we get back to balance?
3-Step Check In
STOP - The awareness phase.
Heard the saying “we don’t know what we don’t know”? If we blindly experience feelings and don’t know where they’re coming from, how can we be expected to change them?
Awareness is the first step on any journey towards making a change. Raising awareness within yourself that you are dealing with high levels of stress means you can note that you need some time to reflect, restore and rest. This also reduces the stress we experience when we aren’t sure why we feel overwhelmed and therefore get stuck in a stress loop.
So, stop and ask yourself:
On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your stress levels at this moment? How overwhelmed or anxious do you feel?
- Rating of 1-3 Green zone = You are good to go!
- Rating of 4-7 is the Orange zone = Beware you are pushing hard.
- Rating of 8-10 Red zone = You may be close to breaking point.
You don’t need to do it all at once - just one solution is all it takes to make a step towards nourishing your nervous system.
3. Choose a SUPPORT strategy
- Breathe deeply
- Support a good, deep sleep
- Reduce overstimulation from caffeine and screen time
- Move your body (albeit gently, choosing something like yin yoga or a gentle walk)
- Get outside in nature as much as you can
- Choose to eat nourishing whole foods
- Balance your blood sugar levels by eating the right balance of fats, carbohydrates and protein
- Reduce inflammation by reducing sugar, gluten dairy and transfats
- Top up on key nutrients that support burnout, magnesium, zinc, omega 3, vitamin B, vitamin D and selenium
- Seek out supportive herbs including calming kava and passionflower and nourishing lemon balm, ashwagandha and rhodiola and theanine
I think I’m on the way to burnout or already there...
If we feel like we are nearing, or at, a point of exhaustion and mental overwhelm that isn’t countered by our usual rest and relaxation techniques, taking more extensive steps to prevent, or come back from, burnout can ward off total mental and physical exhaustion.
Implement the STOP, SCHEDULE, and SUPPORT strategy to check in with your mind and body, take time to prioritise your health, and choose one of the many tried and true effective, natural support tools.
Soon you can be living your life without being too spent to enjoy it!
If your stress levels feel consistently raised and don’t end when the stressful circumstances end, try BePure Inner Strength for ongoing nutritional support. Inner Strength builds our resilience and its blend of adaptogenic herbs help us manage with our busy, modern life.
- In need of a bit more balance? Read our blog 4 Ways to Find Balance Amid Anxiety, Burnout, and Stress.
- Take the BePure Energy, Anxiety & Your Stress Quiz and check in on how your energy levels and anxiety indicators measure up.