3 signs of burn-out and what you can do about it

Are you on the road to burn-out?

In one of my recent workshops a participant commented that she always realises that she’s burned-when it’s too late. There always seems to be a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment when she shouts at her partner for no reason or comes down with a cold.

I could really relate to this comment. Even though I successfully help others to manage stress and anxiety better, I am still human and want to do all I can to juggle childcare, work, time with my family and social life.

There is sometimes an overwhelming urge to just push through, keep going and tell yourself ‘it’ll all be fine’. Our ‘always on’ culture doesn’t help either. However, experience has taught me that I need to manage my time to make it as difficult as possible for burn-out to strike. Because once it happens, productivity, health and enjoyment of life can go out the window. It simply isn’t worth it.

Here are 3 signs that you may be on your way to burning out plus another 3 top tips to help.

3 signs of burn out

  1. Difficulty in concentrating and short-term memory gaps

Do you have 100 browser tabs open on your computer? Are you constantly distracting yourself, unable to focus on one thing for more than 10 minutes? Distracted, skittish behaviour can be a sign of burn-out. It’s also a pattern that is more likely to result in you feeling exhausted because every time you change activity, your brain uses up energy in the transition. It needs at least 10 minutes to ‘catch up’ with the new activity.

Both struggling to concentrate and experiencing memory gaps can be a key sign that you’ve got too much swimming round your brain. Forgotten a conversation you had this morning? Chances are you weren’t present when talking to that person and were too distracted by your internal chatter. This can be an important sign that you need to slow down or simplify your life.

  1. Not making time for you

Time to recharge means different things to different people. It might be yoga, football or a new course you wanted to try out. It might just be a bubble bath.  But demands of the office, children, partners, friends and everyone else have taken over and ‘me time’ has been eroded. You might be feeling annoyed and resentful about it but you just keep on giving anyway. We all need time to recharge our batteries and if everyone else’s wants and needs always come before your own, your body will eventually protest from the strain.

  1. Stiffness or aching body

Our physiology unconsciously changes when we are particularly stressed or overworked. Our breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. Our muscles tend to tighten particularly in the jaw, neck or shoulders. Spending hours in front of a screen without moving can leave us with a stiff, aching body. In a quest to maximise productivity and to ‘get on with it’ many of us teach ourselves to ignore or brush aside sensations that exist to alert us that we need to give ourselves a bit more TLC. When we keep ignoring our bodies we tend to end up with illness that could have been easily nipped in the bud if we had taken the time to slow down a little.

What you can do

These tips encourage you to slow down in different ways. When we’re wound up and stressed, slowing down can feel counter-intuitive because our busyness is a way of protecting ourselves from further stress. We often think we can control our circumstances better by always doing more. Nonetheless there must be an end point and letting go of the need to control every aspect of our lives can be extremely powerful in reducing burn-out.

Here are my top tips:

  1. Reduce multi-tasking as much as possible

If you read the book ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport you’ll quickly learn how multi-tasking is an extremely inefficient and energy-draining use of your time. When multi-tasking you are never fully focused on what you are doing, and your attention is scattered. Your productivity suffers and the quality of what you’re trying to create is compromised.

Need more convincing? One of the most joyful experiences we can have in our working life is that of ‘flow’, when we are fully immersed in what we are doing and time flies away without us noticing. This is virtually impossible to achieve if we are multi-tasking because flow requires singularity of focus.

Take each task at a time and place your full attention on it; it’s so much more rewarding and energising. A couple of quick and easy ways we can stay focused on the task at hand are to:

a. put away the smartphone (until you intend to make it your sole focus); and/ or

b. limit yourself to one browser or the minimum necessary to carry out a task on your computer.

  1. Get clear on what’s important to you and create boundaries

It’s impossible to care about everything. As a society we are often bombarded with messages about what we should care about, usually to prompt us to part with our money. But the reality is we only have a finite amount of energy. We cannot care about everything and our quality of life improves drastically when we decide not to care about things that aren’t meaningful or a waste of time. For example, caring too much about being popular or being liked is an almost certain way to lead to misery and burn-out. We cannot control what people think of us and its impossible to be liked by all people.

What is important to you? Freedom? Purpose? Family? Adventure? Security? Money? Learning? Community? Excitement?

Decide on your top 3 or 4 values as the filters for your attention and have confidence that you are investing your energy and attention where it matters most.

Creating boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people is also a crucial part of avoiding burn-out. If you’re worried that this may harm of compromise your relationships, you can read about why boundaries create better relationships.

  1. Listen to your body

There are many ways you can grow your awareness of your body and become more mindful of what it’s telling you. You’re less likely to succumb to something more serious down the line if you  maintain a positive relationship with your body rather than cutting yourself off from it. Just spending 60 seconds twice a day every day to bring your awareness to how you’re feeling can really help. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Slowly scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes bringing your awareness to each body part. Where do you feel tension? Where does it feel looser and more comfortable? If there are areas of discomfort how can you change your position or stretch to support your body better?
  2. Bring your awareness to your breathing. Are you breathing quickly, high up in your chest? If so you may find that slowing your breathing down, extending the exhale and breathing from your belly relaxes you. It can be helpful to imagine sending oxygen to those areas of your body that need it most on the ‘in’ breath.

The coach Rich Litvin often uses the term ‘slow down to speed up’. We need space to think clearly, efficiently and to be productive. When our brains are swimming with 101 things we feel we should be doing, our quality of life suffers and so do we. Ultimately this boils down to a choice of whether to prioritise your health and for most of us there are few things more important than that.

If burn-out is a familiar pattern for you and you would like to change it, why not get in touch today for an initial consultation. It’s a free, no-obligation conversation to see if working with me would right for you.

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