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Let's Talk About Burnout

What is burnout? What causes it? What can be done about it?

A phone with a crying emoji

The NHS defines good mental health as the positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities, and the wider environment. Over the last decade, the number of people being diagnosed with Mental Health issues has risen and now sits at approximately 1 in 4 people suffering from a type of Mental Illness each year in England. However, the term 'Mental Illness' can refer to things like Schizophrenia, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Borderline personality disorder (BPD), Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), Bipolar disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and commonly Depression and Anxiety - you check out a full list here.

There are a range of treatments are available to help treat Mental Illness and many things you can try to help manage symptoms. In this article I will be looking at the meaning behind the term 'Burnout', how to recognise the symptoms and most importantly, what can be done about it. If you think you may be experiencing signs, please seek medical advice from your GP! If you live in the UK you can self-refer to a range of talking therapies - you can find the form here.

What is burnout?

The term 'Burnout' is a term that has become a regular in conversation in the last few years and is a term commonly used in social media. The term simply refers to stress, more specifically the emotional impact stress can have on a person. This can be caused by a range of things, working long hours without breaks for instance, or irregular shift patterns, money problems, and relationship problems. Basically, any events or situations that leave you emotionally worn down can lead to 'Burnout', for many this is a range of things happening in their life at once. If Burnout or Stress goes without treatment it can become the prelude to other Mental Illnesses like Depression, General Anxiety Disorder or even PTSD.

Some people can be more susceptible to stress than others, this can be caused by past experiences, their personality and even their upbringing. For example, when I was in my early twenties I found myself experiencing Burnout. I woke up one morning and started to cry, uncontrollably. The thought of going to work made me show physical signs of fear. I was shaking, stuttering my speech, and restless, I felt nauseous, even the thought of eating breakfast made me want to throw up. I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what to do about it. In the 4 years working there, I hadn't taken a single sick day. The mere idea of telling my manager I wouldn't be in caused me to spiral into a panic attack. It wasn't until I sought help from my GP that I discovered that I was suffering from Stress and had been for a long time. I was prescribed anti-depressants to help stabilise my mood, a type of heart medication that helped ease the shaking, was given a sick note for 2 weeks off work and I was also referred to the Mental Health team for talking therapy. Even to this day, I take the medications that were given to me then, I have since been diagnosed with GAD, Social Anxiety and Depression. During CBT, I discovered that a lot of what caused me to end up like that was more to do with my personality than the situation itself.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

There is a range of symptoms that can be associated with Stress, both Physical and emotional. Emotional symptoms can be difficult to recognise as unusual, but they are worth being aware of. The emotional signs to look out for are:

  • Being unusually irritated, angry, or overly tearful.

  • Feeling worried, anxious, hopeless, or scared.

  • Struggling to make decisions.

  • Having racing thoughts.

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed.

The physical signs are a little easier to spot and can include:

  • Stomach problems.

  • Stress headaches.

  • Unexplained muscle pains.

  • Skin breakouts.

  • Rashes or hives.

  • Feeling dizzy, sick, or faint.

It is also worth being aware that stress can raise your blood pressure, so it is worth keeping an eye on it if you already suffer from issues with your blood pressure.

Stress can affect our behaviour and can affect a number of things. It can cause us to overeat or not eat enough, affect how much we exercise, can cause us to drink more alcohol or smoke more and can even affect how much we see our family or do the things we enjoy.

Five matches but one is burned out

What can we do about it?

There are many things that we can do to ease the symptoms of stress without having to see a GP. One of the most useful things I have tried is just simply keeping a routine; while taking a rest is important, you don’t want to neglect your other responsibilities. Even if it’s just getting up to feed the cat, that will lead you to get in the shower and brush your teeth and by that point, you may just find yourself thinking “I might as well get dressed and go for a jog”.

Making sure to take some time for yourself, book a week off work and relax. Book a spa day, break out the Yankee’s and have a bath with those fancy bath salts we all get for Christmas and never use. Take life at your own pace, especially if you work in a busy environment. If you feel that your stress is getting worse or you think that you are past the stage a good face mask can fix, speak to someone, a GP or a trusted member of the family. And remember, your Mental health is important and should be taken care of just like the rest of your body parts.

If you are interested in learning more ways to manage your own stress, you can find them here and here.


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