I don’t know if it’s COVID, the current political climate, my own workload at the moment (my guess is, it’s a combination of all of those things), but I feel like I’m seeing burnout left and right. Whether you are a therapist, a lawyer, a parent, a medic, a student, an artist…however you spend your time, you are susceptible to burnout. And I think with the current state of affairs (in our city, our country, the world at large), we are reaching our tipping points more quickly than we’re used to. So I wanted to take some time today just to share from a therapist perspective a little bit about what burnout is, how we can recognize it, and how we can heal from it.
What is burnout?
A quick google search will show you tons of definitions for burnout, but here’s the gist: when you are burnt out, you feel like you’ve been wrung dry. It’s often the result of feeling overworked, overwhelmed, underappreciated, under-resourced, or some combination thereof. I’ve heard people describe it as being at the end of your rope, or like you’re operating with a constantly short fuse, having little to no energy. You’re overtaxed.
Notice anything about those words I’m using to describe this feeling? Over and under. It’s too much when you have too little to work with. To feel fulfilled and energized in a workplace or otherwise, you need to be filled up (have resources, support, etc.) so that you can pour yourself into your work. If you’re giving too much, especially if your tank is already running low, there’s a good chance you’ll burn yourself out.
How to spot it
Like I mentioned above, burnout usually feels like you’re worn out. This can look different for different people, but there are some pretty common telltale signs that you may be in (or close to) burnout. A big one is fatigue. Not tired like you might be after a tough workout or an exciting yet time-consuming project, but tired like you’ve been drained dry. You wake up fatigued and it remains throughout your day. Many people find that they have no energy to use on anything but their primary responsibilities- they go to work and do what they must to get by, and by the time they come home, they turn on a show that they don’t have to pay attention to before going to bed. You don’t have energy to spend on working out or seeing friends or reading books. You just want to zone out before you have to start over the next day.
Another common sign is a lack of empathy or patience. You have a shorter fuse and might be irritable for no particular reason. You may feel pessimistic and see a lot to complain about (and probably a lot of it is valid!); you may not even have the capacity for empathy for others because you’re just trying to get through the days yourself.
One other sign to look out for is psychosomatic changes. These are things like worsening sleep, consistent headaches or body pains, or finding yourself craving alcohol or other substances more than usual. These could naturally be attributed to any number of things (and are also important to check out with your doctor), but they aren’t uncommon when it comes to burnout, especially when combined with some of the above symptoms.
How to heal from it
While there’s no quick fix for burnout, the foundation for the healing is pretty simple: you need to take care of yourself. I know, self-care is a hot topic right now, and self-care advice can be a real hit-or-miss. What I’m talking about here is not pampering or treating yourself to something nice after a rough week. I’m talking about taking care of yourself like you would take care of a child. As humans, we need rest, we need support, we need healthy habits around eating and sleeping. If you notice that you’re in or heading towards burnout, it’s time to take a step back, take inventory of the toll your responsibilities are taking on you, and be intentional in exploring things that need to change, even if it’s just for a while until your tank is full again, to start to feel some restoration.
Burnout is not an easy thing to notice or combat. If you’re resonating with these symptoms and would like to figure out ways to care for yourself well, or if you preemptively want to cultivate some healthy habits and a healthy mindset to ward off burnout, get in touch with one of our therapists! We’d love to explore it with you.