Recognising and Avoiding Burnout

With Aimee Bateman


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Recognising and Avoiding Burnout


Burn out is the build-up of stress over a long period of time. There are different ways it can show itself. Perhaps you're overeating or getting a lot of colds lately. Maybe you are a bit withdrawn or you've lost all levels of motivation. Aimee talks about how it can show itself, how it can impact your work and lifestyle and suggestions on how you can get back on track. 

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Recognising and avoiding burnout

Hi, my name is Aimee Bateman. I’m a career coach and I’m the founder and CEO of Careercake.

Most of us at some point have had days when we feel a little bit rubbish, we can feel helpless, we can feel really overwhelmed with stuff, we can feel underappreciated, or maybe stuff at work isn’t challenging you and things just feel mind-numbing. People can feel totally drained by that too.

Maybe getting out of bed in the morning is just taking too much effort. And it’s not because you’re tired, it’s because life doesn’t feel good anymore and taking on the day ahead just feels like, quite frankly, something you can’t be bothered to do. Caring about your work or your home life seems like a total waste of time. A total waste of energy.

If you feel like this more than you don’t feel like this, you may have burnout.

Now burnout goes undetected and unnoticed and the reason being is because it’s quite different to stress. We know when we feel stressed, yeah? People around us can feel it, see it…but burnout? Burnout is quite different. Stress is often characterised by feeling over-engaged. Over-engaged, stressed - and that can lead to anxiety disorders. Burnout is often characterised by the opposite - actually feeling disengaged. It goes unnoticed.

Burnout is basically a build-up of stress over a long period of time. If you think about your stress levels building and building and building and you become overstimulated all the time, your body can’t remain like that … your nerves are shot and they shut down and your body and your mind goes into defence mode. This can lead to detachment and then depression.

In 2016 through to 2017 I, myself, got burnout. I put on quite a bit of weight, I isolated myself. Apart from people I worked with I didn’t see anyone, so I lost quite a few friends that year. I should have spotted the signs because this is what I do! But I didn’t. I ignored them, I knew I was stressed, I ignored it. And that’s why I really wanted to make this video because this stuff matters.

Burnout’s a gradual process like I said, and stress and come on pretty quickly, but burnout will build, it'll build and it's important and you can recognise the signs when they're creeping in and do something about it rather than ignoring it like I did.

Now, if you want to know what burnout looks like, what the physical signs of burnout could include, it’s headaches, maybe aches and pains, maybe having breathing difficulties. He can't quite catch your breath. That comes from lazy, lethargic, breathing when you're only using part of your lung. I had this.

Change in appetite and maybe you're less hungry or maybe like me, you're just eating all the time. You're always hungry.

Change in sleep. Maybe you can't sleep or maybe actually it's the opposite. You're feeling lethargic and you are tired all the time and all you want to do is sleep and you can't get out of bed.

You've got low energy or maybe you've got low immune system. Maybe you're feeling poorly more often. Maybe you, you're getting a bad throat, you're getting quite a lot of colds, and then there's the emotional signs of burnout, which could be loss of motivation. Maybe some days you just feel really sad, or maybe some weeks you have really low mood and you don't know why. There's no real reason. Feeling like a failure, feeling helpless, feeling trapped, feeling defeated, and increased cynicism and negative outlook on the world and just on situations in general. Maybe you've got an increased feeling of anxiety, or maybe it's the detachment. Maybe it's just feeling really alone and really numb. Then you've got behavioural signs of Burnout, so this is where you could be maybe snappy or angry. Maybe you're overreacting to situations that normally wouldn't bother you, but that's like you've got sunburn and normally if you touch your skin, it doesn't hurt, but if you've got somebody in touch his skin, it's like you overreact. Withdrawing; skipping work entirely. Maybe you're just leaving early, you know, procrastinating, taking longer than usual to do things.

Or maybe it's like you're forgetting things. Yeah, the forgetfulness that can creep in too or just isolating yourself, which is what I did. Maybe you’re smoking, maybe you're taking up smoking, or if you do smoke, you’re smoking more than usual. And maybe the same goes for your drinking.

So we've looked at the signs and the symptoms and you might've noticed a few of those yourself. But in order to really do something about this now and to safeguard ourselves, we have to first identify the causes of this burnout. And it's not always that simple. It's not that black and white. It's not like, “Oh, it's that thing” or “I have burnout because of that.”

But here are the three main causes of burnout.

So, the first one tends to be work. So you’re feeling like you've got little or no control over your work right now. Maybe there are some over-demanding expectations on you, or maybe those expectations are slightly unclear.

Maybe there's a lack of recognition and reward for doing a good job. Maybe you’re doing a great job, but nobody's telling you. Maybe you're working in a chaotic environment in an ever changing environment, highly pressurized. Or doing tasks that are monotonous and totally unchallenging and completely boring.

Or number two - lifestyle. So, this could be where you're just working too much and you're not spending enough time socializing, relaxing. Or maybe there's a lack of sadly supportive relationships in your life and maybe you're taking on too much responsibility or maybe everything's fine but you're just not getting enough sleep.

And then there's the personality that could be a cause of it. Your personality, are you a perfectionist? Do things never seem to ever be good enough? Are you quite pessimistic? Do you have quite a negative view of the world and sometimes have low self-confidence? Do you feel like you need to be in control of loads of things? Are you a high achiever? Do you tend to set yourself - this is what I do - set yourself huge targets to achieve? So, it could be one of those things. It could be all of those things, but we really need to start thinking about what is the cause because if we know what the cause is, we can start doing something about it.

Now this video is just about burnout at work, so I'm going to focus there. And there are two different types of burnout that you may have in the workplace. There's the worn-out burnout, and they're the people that are just worn out. They're struggling with the day to day challenges and ultimately then they just choose to neglect their work because they're feeling too much pressure. They might want to achieve something and you know, reach that goal. They haven't got the energy anymore to actually power through to get there. These are the people that have just got too much on their plates. Now. People often adopt a negative tone during this time. They might complain or feel really negative and just vent about their work because they've just got overload. I mean, it's just total overload.

And then the other type is being under-challenged. Okay, so it's the under-challenged burnout and these are where people are just generally not getting any satisfaction from their work. They're like, “What's the point?” Employees that experience this type of burnout might be doing stuff that is really boring, so they're distracted. They don't really want to do their work because it's really unrewarding. Now it is worth noting that you might feel these things at some time, okay? Even the happiest people who absolutely love their job like me sometimes feel these things and it's totally normal. It's just when you start feeling these things, more than not feeling these things. You know when these feelings are the norm - that's when you've just got to stop and look at things.

So, my first piece of advice is to actually give up on trying to get motivated. Stop beating yourself up about it. Because even trying to feel positive, even trying to feel positive and then stay there can take up energy that you just don't have right now. I know that when I was experiencing burnout quite badly, I would beat myself up all day long because I wasn't feeling positive because I wasn't feeling motivated. Because “Why are you feeling sad, you loser?” It was horrible. Basically it was like a vicious circle. So firstly, stop it. Stop beating yourself up that you have burnout. You have and you're not the only person in the world and you won't be the only person in the future, Okay? So it's okay.

Secondly, I would love you to take some time out so take some annual leave, but use this annual leave to recover. And what I mean by that is that sometimes when we take annual leave, we try and cram loads of stuff in ‘cause our days off are valuable. You might only have 20, you might only have 25 days annual leave a year. You want to do all of the good stuff and, you know, you've got to renovate the bathroom or paint the kitchen or something or visit these family members that you never get to see.

Take this time to just do things that bring you joy, yeah? You've got the rest of your life to paint the kitchen. You've got loads of time to renovate that other room, catch up on the ironing and all that – unless you like ironing, like me. Just do stuff that brings you joy. And if you're going to go on holiday, think about the type of holiday, cause sometimes when we go on holiday, they could be more stress than they're worth. You know, there's a lack of sleep. Maybe you've got a tight agenda, you've got to stick to. Maybe a lot of travelling, a lot of things that need you to think about things and process things. Ever come back from holiday and go, “Oh my goodness, I really need a holiday to get over the holiday.”? Again, this is not the time for that. This is the time for stopping and recovering.

Next, let's look at the stuff that you're putting into your mind. We know that at the moment your mind has got sunburn, like I said earlier, or it’s overstimulated. So, let's just look at what you're going to put in there. So, firstly, maybe social media - just take a little bit of a break. Now if you are always checking Facebook, if you're always checking Instagram then that might be like “No way!”. All of those things, all of these people, those apps are still going to be there in three months, if you do a 12 week break, which is what I did. And yeah, just stop looking, stop comparing, stop looking at all of these people having a fabulous time when you do not feel fabulous. And then also I would say stop trying to fix this by reading books. That's another thing. So, people will always be - and I'm a massive fan of self-development, if you've watched any of my stuff, you know that I'm always reading, I'm always learning - just not now. Yeah, not when you've got burnout. It's okay to not be reading self-development books and trying to read your way out of it by educating yourself on the problem and the solution. When I had burnout, one of the things that I did, which I found really helpful was, I actually promised myself that I wasn't going to read any self-development books and all I was going to do is read fiction. And not only did I just start reading fiction, but I went back to Roald Dahl stuff. I went back to the stuff that I was reading when I was a child. So, I was a 35 year old woman reading James and the Giant Peach and The Twits. And I loved it. It was just - it's not mind-numbing because they're obviously interesting stories - but it was just a case of not learning, yeah? Not stimulating anything.

And then another thing that I did as well, which I'd love to just share with you, is that I stopped watching some of the stuff on telly. So, I stopped watching the news, I stopped watching thrillers. There was stuff like Luther I wouldn't watch that all my friends were talking about and people at work. All I did for a period of time, I can’t remember how long it was, but it was quite a period of time, was watch Family Guy and I would watch comedies and unless it was a comedy - Gavin and Stacey, I'd watch that over and over again, or the Royle Family, you know, just stuff that's just good comedy stuff and I would watch that. Because what you put in your mind, it's like what you eat affects your body, what you put in your mind affects your mind. So just be careful that you're not putting anything that could potentially be toxic for you right now in here.

So hopefully you've stopped beating yourself up about the fact that you don't feel positive. You've taken a holiday, some recovery time, you’ve thought about what kinds of things you're putting into your brain - so the books you read, the stuff you watch on telly, social media activity. No matter what type of burnout you have, all of these things are really, really positive for you. But I'm just gonna assume that you're back and you're working towards your recovery and now I'm going to give you some practical advice depending on what type of burnout. So, if you have worn-out burnout, you could start by maybe going back into work and talking to your boss about your hours that you work. Maybe they could be restructured just temporarily. Maybe you could take more breaks, ask a colleague to go for lunch with you every day and then you've got some accountability there. You have to take a lunch hour.

Be Realistic about accepting tasks from people so are people's demands a little bit too unrealistic at the moment. Maybe we can start saying no to things.

And the things that challenge you, you know the stuff that you might want to do to work towards your personal development, may just need to go on hold for a little while. We've all got tasks that we can do and skills that just come naturally to us when - I like to call it - when we're in our flow, so do more of that stuff for now. It's like if you've got physical burnout, you wouldn’t want to go to the gym and lift loads of weights and work really hard, but you could still maybe go for a bike ride or enjoy a really nice walk.

Next, schedule reading your emails so that, and it's only a little thing, but just so that you just read them once in the morning, lunchtime or end of the day so that you're not just constantly being interrupted by other people's demands. And then ask yourself, is your work environment contributing to your burnout? Is it a little bit crazy? It's a little bit manic. Does it need to be that way? But maybe you could one day a week work from home? Ask your manager, even again if it's just temporarily.

So, what if you've identified that you may have under-challenged burnout? Well, here's some practical tips for you.

Firstly, speak to your manager, to your boss. Ask if there's any extra responsibilities that you can take on. Maybe there's a promotion you can work towards. Or even if it's just a sideways move, it could be something different. And if you can't get that differentiation at work then think of a side project that you can do in your own time, because creativity is an antidote to under-challenged burnout. It's not always good, I have to say, if you've got worn-out burnout to be trying new things, to be challenging yourself. But if you've got under-challenged burnout, creativity is exactly what you need to be doing. Doing something fun can help relieve the stress. Because, basically, what you're doing, is that you want to be more, you want to do more, you want to be creative, but you're having to rein yourself in. You’re feeling under-challenged and reining that in and just being happy with what you've got and what you're doing takes energy and that's why, sorry, you're feeling burnt out.

So, a friend of mine started upcycling furniture and then she was selling it on Gumtree and she was really good it, actually she made a bit of money, but she was really excited. She was energized by it because it can be really easy just getting into a slump and doing the same thing all the time. Doing something new can bring you joy. So find something that will bring you joy, I don’t know, kayaking, photography that's just good for the soul.

Now next I'm going to talk about isolating yourself. It's not very good when you've got under‑challenged burnout to isolate yourself and withdraw from people. You’ve got worn-out burnout that’s possibly what you need to do for a little bit of time, but if you’re under-challenged, it's important that you're surrounded by friends, you're surrounded by family, you need that support. It can be as simple as sharing feelings or ideas with another person. Maybe it's your HR manager, someone you trust at work, a colleague, and you don't have to go into too much detail. How much detail do you do that went to is completely up to you, but telling them how you feel, asking them for help gives them the chance to support you.