In stressful times such as these, it is almost normal that individuals will begin to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue without any visible underlying reason.
This is a condition known as burn-out. The World Health Organisation classifies burn-out as an occupational phenomenon. However, studies have shown that it is not simply a result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks, though those both play a role.
Parents, sportsmen, students and even general populace can experience burn-out, given a prolonged period of strenuous conditions. The negative effects of stress and strain such as depression and lethargy that are characteristic of burn-out most often occur when a person realises they are not fully in control of how a job is carried out or the results achieved by their input, be it at work or at home.
Burnout is a gradual process that occurs over a prolonged period of time. The signs and symptoms are subtle and can be brushed away at first, but these can become worse and more vicious as time goes on.
The early symptoms are important red flags that something is wrong that must be addressed seriously. Therefore, one must pay attention and actively reduce stressful experiences and situations preventing a major breakdown.
It must be noted as well, that there is a difference between burn-out and stress. Stress mostly involves too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. Burnout has gone beyond that point to the point of apathy with work and life in general.
In order to know whether you are burnt out or stressed, one can assess themselves for the following:
When one is experiencing burn-out, they may become a pessimist. The brighter side of life will no longer exist for them. When this happens, one can start to say and do things that are out of the norm for the individual.
It also becomes tempting to drop everything and disappear to an unknown destination where no-one will be able to find you, no-one knows you and no-one has any expectation of you. You will feel tempted to disappear from whatever is causing the significant and prolonged amount of stress.
Motivation and performance will drop and so quality of work will suffer as well as important relationships. One may also often find themselves forgetting important dates and deadlines or plans that have been in place for a while.
It is also easy for people to then believe that you are just “off” and anti-social. So it is an important point for family and friends to check in once in a while especially if a person begins to behave in ways that are entirely out of character.
Unending exhaustion is another flag to look out for. It becomes normal for one to wake up and immediately just want to crawl back into bed. No amount of sleep will ever be sufficient. No matter how much rest one gets, it is not enough and there are always complaints of not feeling rested, not having rested well or being unable to rest.
Day-to-day stress can shake the body’s immune system. This is no different from a burn-out situation because it is mostly a prolonged stressful situation. So it follows that when experiencing burn-out, the body’s immune system has been suppressed by the compounded stress. You are more likely to catch a cold, have headaches, or even experience digestive problems.
An individual’s confidence takes a serious knock due to poor or no results and fruitless effort. There is a build-up of negative perceptions and views in the mind that makes one despondent and hopeless. At the end of the day, one no longer actively enjoys life. At this point, the burn-out is active and there are noticeable differences in one’s countenance, behaviour and attitudes.
In most instances, when you are burned out, problems tend to seem insurmountable and there appears to be no hope. One must, however, always remember that there is immense transformative power in our mindsets and that one has a lot more control over stress than it may seem.
It is important to take positive steps to deal with the overwhelming stress and regain a good work life balance. Humans, by nature are gregarious – we thrive in social settings and groups and communities. So one quick fix is to go out and meet people, reach out to existing connections, join clubs and church organisations – this will help you get into a different mindset than the lonely, painful state of overwhelming stress.
Avoid thinking about the stressors you are facing and enjoy time spent with loved ones.
For many of us changing jobs or a career is not a plausible way of managing burn-out. However, it then becomes necessary for one to reframe how they approach work tasks to stop them from being mundane and boring. Again, engaging your mind and changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control and go a long way to minimizing burn-out and stress.
It is also important to take time off, especially if burnout seems inevitable. Take those leave days and do not accumulate them – that is why they are there. Actively use the time away to recharge your batteries.
You might also find yourself needing to re-evaluate priorities because burn-out is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working as it should be. Think about your hopes, your goals, and your dreams and re-shape your life and activities to make sure you are taking steps towards self fulfilment.
The progress in these things that are important to you will serve well to minimise and remedy burn-out symptoms.
Boundaries are also an important and overlooked method of coping with stress and burn-out. Also, take a daily break from technology because technology these days is especially tied in to work tasks. So you should take time each day to completely disconnect.
I am sure you have heard of people who switch off their phones at 7pm, only to switch them back on at 7am; this may be something worth doing in the long run for the sake of your good health.
Actively look for fun things to do to bring a positive vibe to your life, try things like a hobby, a do-it-yourself project or any other fun clubs. Choose activities that have no association with your work or source of your stress. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, nature walks, meditation, or deep breathing can activate the body’s relaxation response – the opposite of the stress response.
Though it may be the last thing you feel like doing, exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout because it causes the release of hormones that induce positive moods – endorphins – commonly known as feel good hormones.
A 30-minute exercise period can do wonders – especially since a short 10-minute walk is said to improve your mood for up to two hours. With exercise, another addition is diet. You are what you eat, the things you put into your body can and will have an impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
Karen Manyati is the director of Zimbabwe Leadership Forum and writes in her personal capacity. She can be reached on [email protected]