The warning signs of burnout and how to prevent it

If you feel like you’re on the brink of burnout, this guide might just give you some food for thought.

What is burnout?

Most of us get tired from time to time – even exhausted on occasion – but burnout makes it difficult for people to cope with normal daily challenges and stresses because they’re already running on empty. People suffering from burnout may find it difficult to get up at all, or they may feel depressed, overwhelmed and hopeless. It doesn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away by itself, so it’s really important to think carefully if you feel like you may be burning out.

What are the most common symptoms?

Burnout sufferers may experience one or more of the following:

  • Frequent illness. The likelihood is, those suffering with burnout are rundown and have weak immune systems, which may lead to frequent colds, sore throats and minor illnesses. Others may suffer from insomnia, anxiety and depression.
  • Irritability. It can make people less patient than they normally would be, leading them to lose their temper with family members, friends and co-workers. Everyday tasks may seem overwhelming, especially if something doesn’t go to plan, leading to frustration and even rage. It’s possible that sufferers will start to unfairly blame those around them for being lazy or incompetent because they are not coping themselves.
  • Excessive drive. It’s healthy to have ambition, but those who are working to full capacity and pushing themselves ever harder may be suffering from burnout.
  • Exhaustion. It’s likely those suffering from burnout will feel physically and emotionally depleted. They may also experience stomach problems, headaches or changes in appetite.
  • Withdrawal. Some burnout sufferers can feel overwhelmed in social situations, causing them to withdraw even if they are normally sociable and outgoing. Others may continue to socialise but struggle to confide in friends and family where they may have done so beforehand.
  • Neglect of personal needs. Some will neglect important aspects of self-care such as exercise, eating healthily and regular sleep because they just have to keep going and focused in case everything collapses around them.
  • Forgetfulness. Burnout can make people feel overburdened, so they may miss appointments, forget to respond to messages or make constant mistakes, which simply adds to the stress.
  • A need to escape. Many sufferers dream of running away or holidaying alone to escape the everyday pressures. Others may turn to drugs, alcohol, food, videogames or gambling to help take their minds off everything that’s going on around them. Sufferers may feel detached from reality and those around them. They may feel hopeless, as though life has no meaning.

How can we prevent burnout?

Small changes often make a big difference:

  • Take regular exercise. This can help physically, mentally and even emotionally, even if it’s just a regular lunchtime walk or a gentle jog.
  • Eat well. Stop snacking to save time and eat proper meals with plenty of vitamins and omega-3s. Cut out the caffeine and the booze, and drink lots of water instead.
  • Get more sleep. Ditch the distractions, and make time to rest and relax. Your body and mind need it!
  • Ask for help. Talk to friends, family members, church leaders or your GP, or if you don’t feel as though any of these are viable options, call a helpline like Premier Lifeline or the Samaritans.
  • Stop trying to save the world! Sometimes the pressure we’re under is partly our own doing. Perhaps you can’t say no to anything you’re asked to do, or maybe you feel as though everyone else’s problems are your responsibility to fix. Start focusing on the essentials in your own life so you’re in a good place to help others when a genuine need arises.
  • Pray! God can heal any condition and meet any need. He knows exactly how you feel, and he has the answer. Trust his word and hand your burdens over to him. He loves and cares for you. If you’re at a point where you can’t even pray, ask someone you trust to do so on your behalf.