What are the warning signs you are heading for a burnout?

Dr Geraint Evans is a personal development coach and the author of Do One Thing. He shares his thoughts on the warning signs you might be heading for a burnout.

What a couple of years it has been for all of us. As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues into 2022 it is more important than ever that we look after each other and ourselves.

It has been hard to pluck out too many positives from this time, but one area I feel has thankfully become more and more discussed is our mental health. The pressures of balancing work, life and all of our obligations – especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 Pandemic – has been hard on many of us.

Even before this all happened we experienced stress in our lives of course. In a competitive marketplace, jobs can be high-pressure and extremely stressful for us, often resulting in mental and sometimes physical symptoms.

The concept of ‘burn-out’ is also something that is becoming much more of a known phenomena in our lives. The World Health Organisation recognises burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), defining it as “ …a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The British Medical Association 2021 (bma.org.uk) mentions several behaviours associated with burnout to look out for, such as fatigue, detachment, cynicism Increased frustration and irritability. For others it manifests in behavioural changes, depersonalisation and a lack of energy, concentration, and effectiveness. In others its is evidence through decreased work standards and substance misuse.

Let’s unpack those a little as there is a lot there for managers and business leaders to consider. Work, whilst often being very fulfilling can also drain you and your teams’ emotional reserves, which may in time result in burnout for some. People can develop ‘burnout’ if they have been under stress for a prolonged period of time. Burnout is often characterised as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Someone experiencing it often feels powerless about their situation and believes they can’t do anything to change it – or feels there is no value in trying.

Avoiding the feeling is of course different for all of us. Taking better care of ourselves in general and developing a greater awareness of how we are feeling is crucial first step for many of us. Recognising you are aren’t coping as well as you might be in some ways is key. However this also often necessitates support from your manager and people team, or if you run a business others close to you.

The signs of heading for burnout can be physical, emotional or behavioural. Each of us is different of course, but three commonly cited warning signs to keep an eye out for in relation to burnout are:

  1. Growing or constant feelings of exhaustion or feeling your energy is depleted.
  2. A feeling of detachment or ‘distance’ from your job that is often evidenced in feelings of negativity or cynicism.
  3. A sense of ‘ineffectiveness’ or lack of accomplishment/efficacy in your role.

Please remember this is article is not exhaustive, and I’d really encourage you to speak to someone if you any of this resonates and you are just not feeling yourself. The first step to addressing how we are feeling is acknowledging it.

Sometimes the areas I mention above are often considered ‘normal’ in our busy lives. We all feel like we need more energy to get through the day and deal with everything we’ve had going on during the pandemic. Balancing working from home during lockdowns, ongoing restrictions and an increasing blurring of boundaries between our home-life and work-life has been hard on all of us. However if the feeling of having no energy is a constant, and you are also noticing you are not feeling the same about your role or contribution to your company as you once did it might be evidence of a growing sense of burnout.

Recognising the early warning signs can help you start to take more control of them and figure out actions that you can do to prioritise your own welfare. You are likely to have multiple other pressures in your life, but please don’t feel guilty for focusing on what you need or asking for help to try to work on it.

We all need to take care of our mental and physical wellbeing more than ever. As well as professional support options, many of us will benefit from talking to friends, family, and if you feel comfortable to do so, your colleagues about how you are feeling – all of whom can provide support and someone to talk too when you need it.

If you’ve not tried it before consider investigating mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing exercises or exploring meditation. As always try to make sure you are getting enough sleep and getting regular exercise – again, this has been hard for a lot of us during the last few years but both can make a significant difference to our well-being.

Also consider your hobbies. Have there been things you’ve enjoyed in the past but perhaps are doing less or now or would like to learn more about? What others things do you enjoy you can do more of in 2022? All of these will hopefully help restore a healthier work-life balance.

Burnout is a difficult thing to deal with, so if any of this article has resonated with you I hope it has also encouraged you to look into ways you can get more help and look after yourself as we head into 2022.