Reading time: 4 minutes. How are you really doing? Burnouts have been increasing since the start of the pandemic. I have been seeing this first-hand all around me as well. People that are close to me are displaying clear symptoms of a burnout. But recognizing the symptoms and doing something about them, is something very different. The latter can be hard to do. Burnouts can take weeks, months or even years to recover from. This article helps you in recognizing the signs early on, so that it is not too late yet to prevent a proper burnout. A word of caution: this article is written to help you recognize signs. When you recognize yourself in some of these symptoms, please see a professional for proper help.
Burnout rates are increasing
“Pre-pandemic employee burnout rates were reported at 42% contrasted with a current reported burnout rate of 72% based on the results,” a Limeade Institute survey states. This is worrying, to say the least. The most worrying things about it, in my opinion, are the insanely high numbers. The impact? People are feeling unmotivated, stressed, irritable, unproductive and tired most of the time. Recognizing these symptoms in time – and then acting on them – can prevent you from having to recover for months. Severe burnouts lead to social isolation, chronic physical pains, pessimism or depression and a feeling of emptiness and no motivation to do anything at all.
The mind is like a muscle
Your mind is like a muscle. You can train it, you can (mentally) stretch it, and you can overwork it. To take the analogy one step further, let’s take the example of a strained ankle. When you have a strained ankle, it’s often the case that you want to slow things down. Too much exercise or sports can lead to a more severe injury and will put you out of the running for months. The same holds true for mental injury. Not giving in to it can lead to serious damage, that could have been prevented by an early discovery and intervention. Continuing sports with a strained ankle is playing with fire – it can escalate into a long-lasting injury anytime.
Recognizing burnout signs
There are lots of sources on signs of burnout. To try to keep it simple, you could say there are three main stages: onset of stress, chronic stress and burnout. Let’s look at each of them individually.
Onset of stress
When you’re feeling anxious, unproductive or irritable more than usual, these are signs of the onset of stress. Physical symptoms could include grinding your teeth at night, a heart rhythm that is irregular, headaches and neglecting your physical health. Recognizing these signs would be a good thing – this would mean it’s definitely not too late to work on prevention.
Experiencing things like anxiety, low motivation, chronic feelings of tiredness, feeling irritable or angry or physical illness a lot, these could be signs of chronic stress. It would be hard to wake up in the morning, hard to be motivated for anything, and almost impossible to properly take care of your body. Sometimes it can feel like you can’t do anything. You can feel alone when you’re around a lot of people – you can feel like your voice doesn’t matter. Be careful, because this state could easily lead to a burnout, while it’s hard to see this coming. It’s definitely not too late, though.
Among the symptoms of a burnout are feelings of emptiness inside, neglecting your body, chronic headaches or other physical pains, self-doubt, socially isolating yourself and an increase in escapist activities (like using lots of alcohol/drugs). This is often the moment most people start seeking professional help. They will often be out of the running for months, since recovery takes a lot of time.
What you can do
When we’re physically injured, we tend to see a physiotherapist early on. We take it easy with sports, in order to properly recover. For some reason, the current culture hasn’t evolved enough yet to take mental injury with the same seriousness. We tend to wave away early signs of stress or burnout, hoping they will automagically disappear. This is not the case. Treating your early signs of stress and burnout with the same caution as a physical injury will save you lots of trouble and suffering.
I hope it became clear from this article that recognizing signs as early as possible and acting on them is the best thing you can do for yourself – as well as for your employer. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a trust-person within your organization, or talk about it with someone close to you that you trust. Seek professional help. And remember: you’re not alone. Three out of four people will probably recognize parts of your situation. Let’s support each other in these difficult times.