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Burnout can be misunderstood as simply being ‘a bit tired’ or ‘stressed’. But for anyone who’s experienced it, they’ll tell you that it’s something quite different!

In my counselling and coaching work, although I help my clients with a number of issues, the one that’s most common is linked to burnout; the feeling that they can’t cope with the demands of life.

Having supported people for several years, I think I’m pretty good at recognising when they’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed. However, it’s not just my client work that’s helped me to spot the signs, but the fact that I’ve experienced similar struggles myself.

In response to my own struggles and the reality of my vulnerability, I’m more intentional now about checking in on myself, practicing stress management techniques, and being accountable to my wife and friends. I do this because I want to reduce the risks to my emotional and mental health.

Likewise, when counselling or coaching others, I invite them to consider the changes needed for them to take more control of their lives that will lead to a better sense of happiness and wellbeing.

For some, it’s as straightforward as choosing to address boundary violations. For others, its developing new or more productive habits. For a handful, taking control means the more intensive work of reassessing the structure and direction of their lives, and making some significant changes.

What is burnout?

Burnout can be defined as a state of chronic stress that limits your ability to function. It’s normally triggered when you’re in contact with long and sustained periods of emotionally demanding relationships or work. Examples of where this type of contact can result in burnout include the teaching, pastoral and healthcare professions.

For the purposes of this post, let’s consider burnout as being the result of an imbalance between your psychological and emotional capacity, and the demands or expectations being made on you in any given context, where over a period of time, the imbalance causes an increase in stress, which then becomes chronic.If unaddressed, burnout will impact the quality and satisfaction of your life and can have a detrimental affect on your long-term emotional and mental well-being.

What are the signs of burnout?

When younger I’d leave my silver Diamond Back BMX outside where it’d sometimes get rained on. Once or twice wasn’t a problem, but after several days of rain I’d start to notice my bike not moving as smoothly. I’d then notice signs of rust on the chain — and this was a problem!

As burnout doesn’t happen overnight, it can easily go unnoticed. Like with my BMX, if left in the rain for too long, the demands of life will start to have a corrosive and damaging effect on your well-being.

Many people are in danger of burnout simply because they’re not aware of the signs. But, with some awareness to help you see when you need to improve your self-care, you can be on the lookout for a number of signs that would indicate you being at risk.

Just being aware of the signs can help. Here are just a few:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of focus on important tasks
  • Loss of appetite or comfort eating
  • Increased physical illness e.g. colds, flu, aches and pains
  • Irritability and/or anger and aggression

My experience of burnout has been characterised by all of the above. Forgotten phone-calls, comfort (junk) food, bouts of man-flu or eczema, and becoming irritable and aggressive. All have formed part of my colourful repertoire!

But overall, my burnout culminated in a consistent feeling of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that resulted in a decrease in my productivity, effectiveness and worst of all, my empathy. And as someone committed to helping others, loss of empathy isn’t ideal!

How do you know if you’re at risk of burnout?

If you’re concerned about whether you’re experiencing or close to burnout, have a look at these 7 causes of emotional burnout that I’ve written about before. Once you’ve done that, come back to this post to answer the following ten questions.

Avoid burnout with these ten helpful questions

Giving these ten questions some thought will help you to consider where you’ll need to address the corrosive effects of emotional burnout.

And because I want you to avoid the temptation to rationalise your answers instead of facing the reality of how you’re doing, I’ve deliberately asked closed questions.

  1. Have you caught yourself becoming increasingly more critical than usual?
  2. Are you finding it more challenging to remain focused on important tasks?
  3. Are you becoming more irritable about things that would ordinarily be overlooked?
  4. Do you find yourself to be more impatient with others?
  5. Do you feel tired, exhausted or lacking energy?
  6. Are you living with a sense of overwhelm or boredom?
  7. Do you feel a lack of control in your personal and/or professional life?
  8. Are you using food, alcohol, pornography, or drugs to feel better or relax?
  9. Has your appetite or sleep pattern changed?
  10. Are you often experiencing any negative physical symptoms e.g. headaches, back aches, or digestion issues?

What you might’ve noticed about many of the symptoms highlighted in these questions is that they’re also connected to other health issues like depression.

So, if you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of the ten questions, it’s advisable that you speak to your GP, a counsellor, or seek advice from a mental health professional.

Which of the ten questions were most helpful to you? What other helpful questions would you add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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