Work is piling up. Bills are mounting. Your to-do list is a mile long. Let’s not even mention the kids, the dog, the dishes and the laundry. If the pressures and stress of everyday life are starting to feel insurmountable, you may be experiencing burnout. Many people may confuse the symptoms of burnout with depression, but depression and burnout have very different effects on the body. According to Dr Deborah Serani, “Burnout starts with fatigue. You feel tired and overwhelmed, and you struggle to get things done. Soon negative thoughts come into play - and your cynicism leads you to feel helpless. Before you know it, you're in a full state of burnout and are unable to cope. Whether it is work, school or family, sometimes burnout gets the better of us.”
Depression is associated with high levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted by the body in response to stress, whereas burnout is actually linked to low cortisol levels. The issue here is that people often visit their doctor with symptoms of burnout, and as there are similarities, they are subsequently treated for depression – given antidepressants that only lower their cortisol levels even further. This does not treat the problem and only makes burnout worse. While stress is unavoidable, burnout is. Remember that the mind and body are intrinsically connected, and that stress and the physical inflammation it causes can ravage the body and age you before your time. Identify the symptoms of burnout and learn new ways to keep a meltdown at bay.
Burnout Symptom #1: Emotional Exhaustion
This symptom presents with the feeling of being emotionally drained, as if you feel you’ve got nothing left to give, even when dealing with the people and relationships that matter to you most.
Burnout Symptom #2: Depersonalisation
You feel mechanical and robotic. It’s as if you’re just going through the motions to survive the day. You feel as if your normal self has disappeared.
Burnout Symptom #3: A Sense of Diminished Personal Accomplishment
Chronic stress can result in you feeling that you just can’t get anything right. You may feel that you are failing at your job or in your relationships. You’ve become very hard on yourself. If how you feel matches up with these symptoms, it may be a sign that chronic stress has taken its toll on your body. But there are things you can do to more effectively manage your stress and reduce your risk of burnout.
Track Your Stress for a Week
1. Keep a stress journal. There are 3 things you must monitor when journaling: what the stressful situation is, what thoughts are associated with that situation, and what physical response results from the stress. Becoming more vigilant of what triggers your stress will help you become more mindful of how you react.
2. Pack a Stress-Reducing Kit. If you know something has the ability to soothe you, keep it on hand. Your favourite song or a specific scent or taste (dark chocolate or mints) can appeal to your other senses and may help you relax.
3. Find Your Sounding Board. Let it out – release the stress from inside you and express your feelings to a friend, a partner or a therapist. Make this the person you vent to, either every day or once a week. You can also look to yourself as a source of relief by practicing meditation. The purpose of meditation is to let go of your thoughts, especially, in this case, the ones that have a negative effect on your overall wellbeing.