As a therapist specialising in helping people who are struggling with anxiety, overthinking and stress, I've seen seen an explosion in burnout in the last few years. not just professionally in my clients but also in family, friends and colleagues.
Why are so many people becoming burned out?
Burnout as a term (in the way we understand it now) was only coined in the 1970's after it was introduced in a book called "The high cost of achievement". This book (and almost all of the information available on burnout now) focuses exclusively on work pressure. However what I'm seeing in my practice is people experiencing burnout as a result of the myriad of pressures and expectations on them. Yes, this does usually include work or business but it also includes, family, friends, health and the pressures they put on themselves. So, burnout results from a combination of pressures rather than just one specific area such as work.
We are a squeezed generation. we often find ourselves caring for or supporting elderly parents, we're looking after our own children, we have demanding jobs and many of us are studying or have business' on the side too. We are trying to fit so much into our lives that we literally begin to become overwhelmed by our never ending "to do" lists.
I don't know about you, but I'm part of a generation that grew up with the idea of "Girl Power". I took this to mean that we can have it all, a family, a rewarding career, the beautiful house, look great, feel great, a fantastic group of friends ect ect. Well.... It's turned out to not be quite that easy. I'm not saying that we can't have it all or that we shouldn't try but the truth is that it's hard to juggle all of these things. Often there's not enough time in the day and there's often not enough energy left in the cup to give to all these things. Social media also has a tendency to fuel this. We start to compare the worst moments of our life to the best moments of other peoples lives- The bits we get to see on Instagram and Facebook. Of course the result of all this is that we start to mentally beat ourselves up about not managing or feeling overwhelmed. We then find ourselves in a spiral of self critical thought processes along with guilt and shame as well as having too much to do and unreasonable expectations.
So... What is burnout and how do I know if I have it?
So many people ask me "what is burnout" and it's a great question because often some of the symptoms of burnout can be quite similar to anxiety and depression
Simply put Burnout is a reaction to chronic stress and it occurs when you feel chronically overwhelmed, drained and unable to meet all of the demands that are on you.
Things to watch out for are:
Creeping bad habits such as relying on more and more caffeine and sugar to keep you going or drinking more alcohol that is used to settle you at the end of the day.
Fatigue that you can't get rid of no matter how much you sleep. If by 11am you're counting down the hours until bedtime you could be experiencing burnout.
The inability to make decisions and focus.
Becoming snappier and more irritable than usual or finding yourself more cynical than before.
You may also get an inclination to do what we call "bolt". This is a feeling that you want to drop things completely. You might have fantasies about packing up and leaving everything and everyone behind even though you love them. You might find yourself saying that you are thinking of dropping your business or job altogether. This is quite different to looking at your life and making weighted decisions about what you want to keep and what doesn't serve you any longer. It feels rash and impulsive.
So what can be done?
Check who you are surrounding yourself with
Firstly take some time to check what is being expected of you. Do you genuinely have too much on your plate? Are people placing unrealistic expectations on you? So often so much emphasis is placed on the individual to have better coping skills, more resilience and better time management effectively letting workplaces off the hook for toxic work cultures and practices.
So many of us find ourselves putting up with difficult family members, friends and colleagues. We find ourselves surrounded by people that drain us rather than contribute to our well being. Too many of these people around us is a sure-fire road to burnout. If this resonates with you it might be time to start implementing some personal boundaries or cutting some people out of your life.
Minimise the noise
It might seem like an obvious suggestion but I really would recommend taking a look at how much social and digital media you are consuming. Excess screen time will only negatively affect an overwhelmed brain. Can you delete that news app? do you really need tiktok or snap chat? Could you replace them with mindfulness or positive affirmation apps instead? How about taking a digital media detox for a few days?
Start thinking in terms of "good enough"
We put ourselves under so much pressure to do things well and achieve in all areas of our life but the truth is we're not going to be able to give in all areas. Our high pressure lifestyles mean that it is physically impossible to give enough time and energy to all of our commitments. Choose something that you can let go for a short while or drop your standards on. Can you start to only attend the compulsory meetings at work? Can you let family and friends know that you are going to be off the radar for a while? Can you start to become a little more comfortable with having a messy house? Accept that you are only going to be able to just about good enough in some areas of your life for a while, whilst you get back into balance.
Start to enforce your boundaries"No" is a complete sentence!
Decide how much time or energy you are willing to give to a certain person or project and stick to that. Practice telling people that you are unable to help them right now. If you need to stand in front of the mirror and say out loud "unfortunately I've not got time/ capacity at the moment and I won't be able to help you with that" until you feel confident saying it to others.
If you find it hard to do this then practice what I call "therapeutic lying". Tell people that you already have something planned even if you don't. Tell your family you have a migraine and take yourself off to bed to read or have a nap. Don't feel bad about taking some time for yourself or engaging in self care activities. A small white lie to protect your sanity and your time is perfectly acceptable.
Get some professional help If you're still feeling overwhelmed and stressed and you've found that your emotions are becoming unmanageable don't feel bad about asking for help. A professional and experienced therapist will be able to help you unpick everything that is going on and support you in implementing practical tools and strategies. Burnout never goes away by itself and can lead to serious consequences if left unchecked. Acknowledge what you are feeling, seek help and start to take positive action.
Natasha Fletcher is an Internationally recognised Psychotherapist, Anxiety & Trauma Recovery Expert with over 15 years experience in the behavioural change industry. She’s helped hundreds of people manage anxiety, panic, stress, pressure and overwhelm.
With a background in Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy, Eye Movement De-sensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Solutions Focused Coaching, Hypnotherapy, Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) and Mindfulness, she combines a range of techniques into personalised treatments to help make changes that last.
Website: https://natashafletchertherapy.co.uk/ Instagram: @natashafletchertherapies