The thing that happens when you are all-go and no rest. A feeling that can hit you like a freight train and throw you off of your game for months. There are a number of signs that a burnout phase may be approaching in your life, and there are also a few things that you can do to ensure that you don’t reach that critical point in which you can simply no longer keep on keeping on.
My first and biggest experience of burnout happened a couple of years ago as I pushed through my first professional placement for my Social Work degree. This placement required me to complete 500 hours (approximately 3 and a half months) of full-time, unpaid work within a Community Mental Health organisation. It was a long, emotional and financially grim time where I legitimately thought that I had anemia due to how exhausted I was. It was quite hysterical (in a manic way) when the doctor told me that I was physically fine, but was perhaps a tad depressed.
As soon as I finished my grueling placement, I was straight into the hospital for my second ACL reconstruction. Once I could walk somewhat properly again and be weaned off of my painkillers, I was back for my second semester of uni. I was in no way mentally rested enough to be back.
I needed a break, and finishing prac and going straight into surgery and recovery was in no way a break. Any surgery that limits your movement and independence can be incredibly hard in both a physical and emotional sense, and everything felt as though it was compounding into a huge crash-and-burn situation for my mental health.
I got a couple of weeks into the semester, limping from class to class, and felt absolutely miserable. I was burnt out, dispassionate and uninterested in my degree, and in life in general. I joked about packing up and moving away. Soon my jokes turned to action, and I dropped two study units, kept two that didn’t explicitly require my presence on campus, and moved to New Zealand.
Now I definitely wouldn’t recommend getting yourself into such a place of severe burnout that you feel the need to leave the country, but I also don’t regret that choice one bit, because lets face it, I’m slightly obsessed with NZ. But this experience taught me to be way more mindful of the warning signs of burnout.
Some key feelings that signal you’re headed for a burnout:
- Not wanting to get out of bed
- Dreading work/study/your required activities
- Feeling tired in the morning and early in the evening when you get home, even though you are getting enough sleep
- Feeling emotionally drained
- Not feeling able to socialise
- Wanting to sit in your pajamas and eat 4 blocks of Kit-Kat
- Joking about accidentally crashing on the way to work as a way to stay home for awhile (and then doing a small creepy laugh to try and cover the HELP ME in your eyes)
If these warning signs are rearing their ugly heads and making you feel crazy, it is absolutely essential that you find strategies to get on top of it before you need to take 6 months off to regather yourself (which is expensive and often inconvenient).
Ways to address the lead up to a burnout:
- Ask for help. Reach out to a friend or trusted family member and let them know that you’re feeling overwhelmed. Ask them to come over and do face masks/have a wine or a beer, and chat about how you’re doing. Verbalising your feelings can help them from bottling up and exploding at the most inconvenient of times
- Take alone time to recharge. Like a big human battery, you simply must take time to recharge, or you cannot expect yourself to function very well (or for very long). Recharging activities can include taking a bath, taking yourself our for a coffee and to read a book, curling up to watch your favourite movie, or taking time to journal and pop your thoughts onto paper
- Take a day off. Sick days are there for a reason, and do not feel guilty for taking a day off to reset and recharge. If you keep pushing yourself to burnout, you will end up needing a lot more than a day off. Take a day to work on getting back on track, and nip it in the bud whilst you are still able
- Practice gratitude for the little joys in life. This can be through verbally thanking people, writing a list of things you are grateful for, or reading positive affirmations. This will help you to keep focused on positive things, rather than sinking into a well of negativity and despair
Burnout is such a real and awful thing to experience, but in a lot of ways, I suppose we have to go through it to know how to address our limits in the future. So keep an eye out for when these feelings begin to bubble up, and ensure that you address them before it reaches a critical point. Like a cute top, it’s far easier to fix a little hole before the bugger expands and rips to pieces. Surely you deserve the same (or even better) treatment as a cute top.
Self care everyone, it is key.