Understanding and Coping with Burnout

The term ‘burnout’ is typically associated with the workplace; however, it can be applied to other areas of our lives.  It can be a product of taking on too much, whether it be at home, at work, or in relationships.  Feeling burnt out may not be something that is recognized immediately.  It shows up slowly, and will sneak up on people over time.  It can be common to reason it down to, ‘not getting enough sleep,’ ‘having a busy week with work or school,’ ‘having lots going on,’ or generally feeling stretched too thin.  It’s like a slow leak in a tire, it shows up gradually, and isn’t usually noticed until you’re completely flat. 

What is burnout?

It is a state of ongoing and chronic stress which can impact people’s mental, emotional, and physical health.  We are designed to manage short term stress, but long term stress can have negative impacts.  Consistently high levels of stress can affect regular body functions, cause digestions issues, create disruptions to sleeping and eating habits, result in immune system deficiencies, and more.  

Common signs of burnout

People experiencing burnout may grow cynical if they find that their work, personal, and relationship situations are becoming frustrating or increasingly stressful.  This can result in a sense of apathy toward circumstances and people, or emotional detachment, in order to manage the day-to-day.  Burnout can result in a lack of interest, reduced work performance, and reduced energy and productivity, where people may feel like they’re working more, but actually producing less.  People can feel constantly exhausted and depleted (even after a goodnight’s sleep).  Burnout may present physically as insomnia, general aches in the body, feeling dizzy, headaches, and even stomach pains.  You may notice that you’re getting sick more often, and this can happen due to a weakened immune system.  

Burnout causes people to feel helpless and hopeless.  They may develop feelings of anger, cynicism, frustration, and less compassion and empathy toward others.  Emotional and physical burnout can lead to cognitive impairments which may result in making mistakes and feeling unable to manage the daily tasks.  Burnout can also show up as changes in behaviours, such as eating, sleeping, and socializing.  These behavioural changes may also present as an increasing dependency on unhealthy coping strategies (e.g., drugs or alcohol).  

What can help?

Take a break from technology.  The constant engagement with news, work, and people can create additional stress.  Consider engaging in interests such as play, or something creative like arts, crafts, exercise, or getting outdoors.  Taking a break from technology can also be valuable in creating boundaries around work and home.  This may involve putting away the phone during dinner time in order to enjoy quality time with loved ones.  Carving out time for yourself may look like taking a lunch break, taking a walk, or practicing sleep hygiene to promote good sleep habits.  Creating boundaries is important in order to prioritize self care, which may not feel like such a big deal when things are busy, but the rewards that can be experienced with being intentional and making yourself a prime consideration will show!  The key is to create structure and consistency, not rigidity.  

Socializing is important, but don’t force it if you’re not feeling up to it.  It’s important to allow yourself to have those moments where you may want to hermit.  Take the time to honour your needs, and ask yourself, “am I doing this because I have to or should, or am I doing this because it will fill my bucket?”  Meaningful interactions with loved ones are important, but placing healthy boundaries around work, activities, and people can be helpful in preventing burnout.  Sometimes it can be hard to turn something down, especially during these times when having the opportunity to go out with friends and family seems few and far between.  But it can be a good reminder to check in with yourself and what your needs are. 

Stay safe and healthy everyone.  

About the author

Baljinder Sull

Baljinder Sull

For more information please contact:
Baljinder Sull, M.C.,
Registered Psychologist at Sull Psychology Services

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