How to recognise, prevent and deal with burnout

'Burnout' is a word that we often hear in the creative industries, and not just from people who run their businesses.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

It’s a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

Burnout leaves you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with simple tasks. It can make you lose all interest or motivation in your work, and you might also become helpless, cynical or even resentful.

Eventually, you might want to hide under your duvet with the weight of depression hanging over you. The following article aims to help you recognise, prevent and deal with burnout.

Recognise burnout

Because burnout affects your productivity levels and drains you of all energy and happiness – it’s essential to recognise the warning signs before it’s too late. These signs and symptoms can be physical, emotional and behavioural.

The physical signs of burnout

You’re always exhausted and drained. You have lower immunity and suffer from regular colds and flu. You suffer from headaches, back and muscle aches. You’re struggling to sleep at night. Your appetite habits have changed. You keep sighing loudly, to the point where people notice.

The emotional signs of burnout

You feel hopeless and have adopted a negative outlook on the world. You feel like a failure. You feel detached, and like you’re all alone. You lack motivation and care less about things. You feel trapped and defeated. Your satisfaction levels have taken a nosedive.

The behavioural signs of burnout

You increasingly isolate yourself from other people. You procrastinate and take longer to get things done. You turn to food, drugs or alcohol to cope with stress levels. You take out anger on loved ones. You withdraw from all responsibilities and avoid work altogether.

Preventing burnout

If any of the above warning signs sound familiar, then it’s essential to tackle your stress levels immediately. That’s because burnout can affect your whole life, including your health. For instance, your body will become more susceptible to colds and flu, and you could even suffer from anxiety and depression.

So how do you prevent burnout? How do you ensure you stay happy, healthy and stress-free? Read the following top tips.

Start as you mean to go on

A lot of people get straight out of bed and go to work. It isn’t the right way to begin a new day. Instead, take half an hour each morning to wake up gradually and do some gentle stretching. Give yourself a chance to relax, as it will prepare you to tackle anything that comes your way.

Be kind to yourself

Sleep right, eat well and exercise daily to be healthy, happy and able to deal with life and its ongoing challenges. Be kind to yourself to ensure your mental, physical and emotional well-being is top-notch and firing on all cylinders.

Set boundaries

Burnout can often be the result of too much work. In which case, become savvy at saying ‘no’ and ensure you have a manageable workload. If you freelance, learn to say ‘no’ to family and friends who might want your help for free. If you’re employed, speak to your boss if colleagues are delegating too much work. Set boundaries, so you don’t overextend yourself.

Make changes if necessary

Burnout could be the result of too much work or a difficult client or project. In which case, change things to avoid burnout. Ditch a client or speak to your boss about switching things around. Don’t be afraid to take steps to reduce stressful situations in your life. Your health and happiness are far more important.

Take regular breaks

It’s tempting to sit at your desk all day, but it won’t leave you feeling very productive. Get up and take frequent breaks to avoid burnout. Step outside to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. It’ll do you a world of good.

Learn to switch off

At the end of every day, it’s tempting to still think or talk about work. You might even use your ‘downtime’ to learn new skills or concentrate on a ‘side project’. Although it’s ok sometimes to do this, don’t make it a regular thing. Learn to switch off and enjoy your evenings and weekends away from work.

Put the technology down

With so much technology these days, it’s difficult to disconnect and unplug. Email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Foursquare – they can all alert us to updates via our smartphones, making it impossible to switch off. Therefore, at the end of each day – switch off your phone, put away your laptop and hide the iPad. Take daily breaks from technology to manage stress levels.

Start a new hobby

Nothing beats a nice old pastime, especially a creative one – as it acts as a powerful antidote to burnout. Take up something new, like painting or knitting, to give your mind a rest. Make sure you choose an activity that is entirely unrelated to your profession.

Dealing with burnout

We've covered the signs of burnout and how to prevent it. But what if you’re already suffering from the condition? How do you deal with it and turn things around to get better? If you’re suffering from burnout, then you need to go through various stages of recovery.

Recovery Stage One: Be pro-active

Burnout is often the result of issues in the workplace or problems with clients. In which case, be pro-active and make the necessary changes to improve the situation. You’ll feel much better if you do something about it, rather than allowing things to get worse. Change is good.

Recovery Stage Two: Find support

Burnout can make you isolate yourself from the world. But instead of hiding under your duvet, turn to family and friends for help. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you’re suffering and share your problems with loved ones.

Recovery Stage Three: Reassess your life

Burnout can offer a silver lining by encouraging you to reassess things. It can help you reevaluate goals, priorities, hopes and dreams. It can make you discover what does and doesn’t make you happy and help you take positive steps towards a better life.

Recovery Stage Four: Take time out

Burnout sometimes requires a complete break from work. Therefore, use up any holiday entitlement to getaway. Leave your laptop and smartphone at home to completely recharge your batteries and get better. Because work isn't worth the stress.


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