‘Burnout’ is a phrase thrown around a lot in the modern working world. Especially with mental health now at the forefront of many though processes as people begin to understand its impact upon both our professional and personal lives. However, burnout is often misunderstood and often confused with stress. This is because the symptoms are very similar. The easiest way to think about the difference between them is as follows. If you are stressed, you may feel overwhelmed, but you still feel like you can get on and get through the time and complete the tasks. Being burned out means that you are mentally exhausted, and you don’t have the energy to complete even the simplest of tasks. Prolonged exposure to stress can leave one feeling burned out, but it is not an automatic thing that happens.
Burnout can often occur after the stress has passed. If you spent 2 years working on a huge project at work and worked 15 hours a day for those two years, you may reach the end and just be completely spent. The idea of even having a few meetings the following week is just not something you could comprehend. You put all your effort in to ensuring it was delivered and you have nothing left. That being said, there are also those who seem immune to burnout and regardless of circumstance carry on like normal. So, what can you do to reduce your chances of burning out?
Focus on prevention
Without a doubt the easiest way to avoid burnout (and stress in general for that matter) is to take accountability early. We make choices everyday that set our schedule and one of the easiest ways to prevent burnout is to pre-emptively shut it down. So, if you have that huge 2-year project I outlined earlier, does it make sense to work 15 hours a day when the deadline isn’t for 2 years? Do you need to do all of the work, or are you able to delegate or get others to support you? If something is that urgent and important in nature, its highly likely you could hire additional people to support you. Failing this, make sure you plan and prioritise your time properly. If it is just on you, there are numerous productivity hacks that can ensure you can work smart and not just hard. Personal empowerment goes a long way to ensuring that you remain in control.
Remember to have a social life
Burnout is not just about stress, it’s about mental exhaustion. One of the best ways to ensure that you do not reach this point it to make sure that you are switching off and taking some personal time. Even if you are only working 8 hours a day. If those 8 hours are at 100% intensity, burnout can still occur even though you are not necessarily “overworked”. It important that our brain feels like it has an opportunity to switch off. Whether it is dinner or drinks with friends after work, watching a silly TV show or movie with the family after dinner, or participating in a hobby, that mental break from work is critical to avoiding burnout. If all you are doing is commuting to work, working hard, commuting home, eating dinner, sleeping, and then repeating, its possible you can end up feeling burned out.
Finally, the importance of exercise when combating all manner of mental health issues is to not be underestimated. As also outlined in my articles on dealing with stress, depression, and anxiety we must not forget to try and incorporate some sort of physical activity into our routine. This does not necessarily mean hitting the gym every day and becoming a super athlete, even a long walk is helpful. A lot of the stress related issues we experience are on a biological level caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain. Stress, fear, anxiety and worry all trigger fight or flight type responses from our body. This leads to an increase in chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline which amplify our emotional responses. Exercise is a natural counterbalance to this as the endorphins released rebalance us and allow us to feel more “normal”. It also has the added benefit of keeping our hearts and lungs healthy, reducing blood pressure and so on.