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How to identify and prevent burnout

We all experience stress from time to time, it is a natural part of life. However, when we experience a high state of stress for a long period of time, this can escalate into a more challenging state of burnout. Founder of Calmer, Tania Diggory tells us how to recognise burnout and gives tips to manage it.

by Psychologies

Woman looking at computer screen - looking stressed

How do you manage your own stress levels?

Burnout not only affects your ability to perform in your job, but can also impact the state of your mental health and wellbeing in general.

There is good reason to believe that burnout is on the rise, with a 2020 survey reporting that 22% of UK employees have experienced job-related burnout and global searches for the term ‘occupational burnout’ increasing by 184% from 2019 to 2020, according to Google Trends.

The good news is, burnout doesn’t have to be feature in your life. There are many burnout-prevention strategies you can explore to help you build your sense of self-awareness, recognise the stress signals in your body, and nurture your mental health.

With that being said, it’s important to understand the difference between stress and burnout, and when it could escalate into something more serious, to ensure you’re aware of how it can manifest.

So, what is burnout and how can it be prevented?

What is burnout?

Burnout refers to a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, commonly related to job stress. It can leave you feeling unable to cope, resulting in a lack of motivation, not only in your job but also in your personal life.

In truth, burnout can affect anyone at any stage in their life. However, studies have shown that burnout currently peaks between the ages of 25 and 44. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, demotivation, lack of energy, a feeling of detachment from work and personal relationships, exhaustion and reduced productivity.

At Calmer, we’ve identified five stages of burnout that are most commonly experienced. These are:

  1. The honeymoon phase which occurs when embarking on a new project or job role. It can be identified by experiencing high productivity, enthusiasm and also predicting where there could be future stresses. Overall, feeling in control.
  2. Onset of stress is the second stage of burnout where individuals may feel their optimism waning due to a range of circumstances, such as competing demands on their time, managing expectations, and workload. Common signs of stress start to show, such as overwhelm, physical tension, fatigue, anxiousness and lower productivity.
  3. Chronic stress is more severe than stage two and occurs when individuals go from experiencing minor symptoms to very frequent feelings of stress. Symptoms include chronic exhaustion, increased alcohol/drug consumption, missed work deadlines, tiredness and even resentfulness.
  4. Burnout is identified as the fourth stage, where symptoms become critical and cannot be ignored any longer. Individuals could be experiencing behavioural changes, persistent tiredness, ongoing mood or anxiety issues, and a sense of isolation. Continuing as normal is often not possible, and therefore it’s important to seek intervention.
  5. Habitual burnout is the final stage and refers to the symptoms of burnout being completely embedded in an individuals life. It’s very important to recognise this stage, as ignoring these symptoms can lead to serious physical or emotional harm.

How to prevent burnout

Burnout is a result of long-term, unresolved stress, so a big part of preventing burnout is giving yourself the tools to manage stress, whether it’s work-related or otherwise.

In the work context, this could mean openly communicating your feelings to senior management and colleagues to gain support, or delegating work to others to lighten the load.

If you’re working as a freelancer or are an entrepreneur and don’t yet have a team to turn to for support, consider who you can speak to in your wider support network. You could also think about hiring help or adjusting your deadlines.

Downtime can be viewed as an investment in your productivity, so while going through stressful periods consider lessening the number of projects you are working on, to help manage any overwhelm.

There are also various practical methods you can explore on a day to day basis to help alleviate stress, including Mindfulness practices, self-care routines and exploring what a work-life balance means to you.

Nurturing good mental health

Whether it’s work related or linked to other stressors, if you’re concerned you may be feeling burnt out, below are three techniques to help you nurture good mental health, manage stress and avoid burnout.

  1. Taking note of any negative feelings and fully accept these thoughts, without judgement and with kindness to yourself. This will help you to understand and address what may be causing them. If it’s helpful, speak to someone you trust, or use a pen and paper to write down how you feel – journaling is a great way to pause and reflect on your feelings and can give you the boost you need to move forward.
  2. Take a break and remove yourself from any work-related stresses. This can be difficult if you set high expectations for yourself, though it can be helpful to remind yourself that the mind and body need time to rest, recharge and recuperate. Multiple studies have shown that taking regular breaks can help you to return to your work or project with higher levels of productivity, creativity and improved focus.
  3. Making time for things you enjoy can appear low down on the priority list if you are dealing with stress. However, instead of over-working, start by creating space for the little things you truly enjoy. Whether this is during your work day, in the evenings or at the weekend  - allow yourself pockets of time to read, spend time in nature, relax in a bath, meditate, or spend time with loved ones. Whatever you feel helps you to reset your energy levels.

You’re in control

What’s interesting about challenges is they truly test your resilience, perseverance and dedication to achieving your ambitions. Ultimately, you are the one who can engineer that, so take comfort in knowing this and feel encouraged to take what you learn from each situation and put it into practice.

Look after your mental health and wellbeing as a priority, and remember that it is always possible to move forwards and recover from burnout. We are living in the best time for mental health and wellbeing support.

No matter what stage you are at, there is always hope.

About Tania:

Tania Diggory is an entrepreneur, Mental Health & Wellbeing Speaker and author of This is Calmer: Inspiration, support and encouragement for the entrepreneurial mind and Working From Home: The Complete Calmer Guide To Remote Working.

Having run three businesses before the age of 30, Tania founded Calmer in 2016 and has grown the business alongside a team of dedicated and supportive professionals.

Image - Getty images