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Stop burnout before you melt

The funny thing about burn out (well not really funny, more like infuriating) is that the red flags we should look out for are usually at two ends of the same spectrum and completely contradict each other. helpful right?!

I, am a HUGE questions girl, I’m always asking ‘but why’ because once I understand the reason behind it, I usually understand IT better. So, with that in mind, lets make sure we know what burnout is.

I looked it up in the dictionary (yes, of course I did) and this is what I found-

‘’extreme tiredness, usually caused by working too much.’’

This seems pretty self-explanatory to me. Tired, overworked and exhausted. Sounds pretty accurate?

But what’s the difference between that and being ‘tired but able to push through’?

Work guilt exists (more on that another time!), and sometimes we hit a bit of a wall and we need to push past it because it is more of a confidence or insecurity problem but sometimes, we need to just stop.

I found a second definition which I think helps a bit more.

‘’If a fire burns out, it stops producing flames because nothing remains that can burn.’’

Now I know we aren’t literal, walking around hot flames (well maybe on a Saturday night!), but we are physical beings made up of energy, so when you break it down its kind the same thing!

The first definition gave us what burn out looks like, but the second brings us closer to the why, and without the why, It’s harder to find the signs and solution.

Everything we do requires energy, some things more than others. Going for a 10-mile run, for example, take more energy than sauntering to the shops for a chocolate bar! Some activities can use up more energy than we realise and we give ourselves a hard time because we don’t take everything into account.

I am one of the worst for this. I spend a lot of time traveling for work (about 3-4 hours a day, 3 days a week) and use that time do…. well work. ‘Travel time’ is not going to be ‘dead time’ if I have anything to do with it. I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with this, but what I forget to do is factor the rest of the day and I don’t want you to fall into the same trap!

Anyway, I digress…

Back to the definition! When a fire stops burning, it has run out of energy to burn. This is what is happening when we burn out. We have used up our mental, physical or emotional resources (and usually more than one of these) and we stop functioning effectively. That is why we get the feeling that we cant focus on anything or cant make a decision in a seemingly easy situation.

So lets break these 3 third degrees burns down a bit. We usually feel more than one and in different combinations, so what do they all look like and how do they manifest themselves-

Physical Burnout-

Probably the one we know the best but don’t necessarily understand the most. Of course, feeling tired, rundown, exhausted and fatigued are all clear signs that we are burning the candle at both ends but have you noticed that sometimes you cant switch off at the end of the day? You feel a bit wired unnecessarily, knowing that you will only get about 5 hour sleep but you know you need 8?! Yep, that’s also physical burnout. Don’t think that physical burnout looks like a lack of energy, it can also be an adrenaline burst where are body is trying to get us to the finish line.

 I like to refer to this see-saw as either feeling ‘tired or wired’.

Our body produces extra cortisol in stressful situations. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands just above your kidneys. it increases our blood glucose levels, giving the body and brain a much-needed sugar rush when we are in stressful situations and need a boost. When we find ourselves in stressful situations a lot, this gland goes into hyper drive and our ‘optimal’ levels of the hormone become all out of whack. This is also known as adrenal fatigue which links directly to…

Mental Burnout-

This is my personal favourite. I am pretty resilient. I think I can just keep going and going and going…. And generally speaking, physically, I can. Mentally, well….. that’s a different story.0

You may feel like your body is physically able to keep working, doing long hours and working out all in perfect balance, but I guarantee you will also find it hard to make some decisions, feel very emotional at non emotional situations (I have teared up trying to decide what train to get home!) and/or have a tendency to fly off the handle unnecessarily.

Any, or all, of those ring a bell?

Our minds need down time to process and organise everything that goes on around us. When we sleep, our body heals itself physically AND mentally. When we say ‘I cant decide now, I need to sleep on it’- its because they literally do! During sleep, our stress levels decrease, our brain is only having to keep basic functions going and we are able to compartmentalise and organise events and information that we have received during the day.

You might find relaxation and stress relief during specific activities, like exercise, but make sure you schedule in real off switch time as well.

And lastly,

Emotionally Burnout-

The way I can identify this one in myself is when i have an amazing lack of judgment or that I am unable to make decisions logically and rationally. That isn’t to say that I make decisions irrationally, more that I am unable to think through the options clearly and come to a conclusion that I am happy with.

Think of it in terms of overwhelm. When your mind is presented with too many options, its hard to make a decision you are happy with. This doesn’t just happen when you are confronted with lots of options about a single situation, it also happens when you are juggling lots of situations with few options.

Imagine you are playing catch with someone; you start throwing a ball back and forward. Pretty straight forward. Now you add more balls to the game and its harder to decide which one to focus on but generally you can. Now imagine you are playing catch with 5, 6… even 10 people but instead of the ball going between all of you, they are all playing catch with you… at the same time. You can not possibly give enough attention to each game at the same time! And we drop the ball

Personally, I find mental burnout harder to deal with but I know people who struggle more with physical exhaustion. We are all different, we have different strengths and different levels to manage.

Keep an eye out for some of the signs and take note of which ones you experience. Which ones do you think affect you the most?

Lucy sign off

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