Avoid Burnout By Asking Yourself These 6 Questions
- Jan 06, 2021
We have all heard about and probably know someone who has experienced enough stress for them to burnout. According to the American Psychological Association, the definition of burnout is a “mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others”. A tricky feature of burnout is that the prolonged mental stress or overburdening workload that precedes and causes burnout can make it difficult for oneself to recognize the symptoms of its onset. Therefore, you may need to deliberately check-in with yourself to know if you are heading toward burnout. Take a self-assessment by asking yourself these six questions before it’s too late.
Has my diet changed?
When we head toward burnout we subconsciously start to become less organized. It becomes more difficult to make decisions and stick to our plans and routines. As a result, a sign that you are burning out is that your diet starts to change. This happens as our minds default into an energy preservation function, thus old eating habits and choices about food that do not require any mental energy, start to emerge. To get back on track it is helpful to ensure the house is filled with healthier choices. Better preparation will assist in maintaining healthy choices when life gets overloaded. For example, it’s a good strategy to prepare fresh vegetables in advance so that it’s less tempting to make unhealthy choices when fatigued. Also, proper nutrition will assist in building your mental resilience to handle stress.
Has my motivation for exercise or recreation changed?
It’s normal to feel unmotivated once in a while, but if you are experiencing a drastic change in how motivated you feel to do things that you previously enjoyed doing, then the reasons why may be a result of changing brain chemistry that is developing due to stress. When stressed, our cortisol levels start to rise. Higher circulating cortisol levels result in weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. To reduce your cortisol levels, improve your concentration, and increase your motivation, remember to practise self-care and treat yourself holistically. Strive to get plenty of sleep, exercise in moderation, recognize stressful thinking patterns, inject some levity and fun into each day, maintain healthy relationships, tend to your spirituality (however that looks to you), and of course choose healthy eating habits.
Have my sleeping patterns changed?
Healthy individuals should be able to maintain the same sleep schedule, but psychological changes can disrupt the natural biology that drives sleeping behaviour. Furthermore, lack of sleep can affect psychological well-being. Stress is one of the most common psychological antecedents AND outcomes of disrupted sleep. To improve sleep, keep to the same bedtime and wake-up time, regardless of what day of the week it is. You should also limit distractions before bedtime, especially distractions that involve looking at screens that contain blue light. Make sure to avoid caffeine in the evenings, be physically active during the day, and refrain from napping if possible.
How am I treating people I care about?
Sadly, we tend to lash out at those that are closest to us when we are feeling stressed. Irritability and shortened temper are prime symptoms of burnout. Recognizing this is happening and monitoring your moods and interactions with others will provide you with a signal that burnout is approaching. A step to ensuring that we are maintaining healthy relationships with those closest to us is to acknowledge to them that you realize you have not treated them the way you used to, or would like to. Our loved ones provide a protective factor to burnout. Cherish these relationships by sharing with them what is going on. Talk with them and work together to find strategies to overcome impending burnout.
Is my stress temporary or chronic?
We all experience stress, but it becomes especially concerning when we are under stress for a prolonged period of time, in which the effects of stress begin to change. As previously mentioned, stress leads to the release of cortisol which leads to other complications with prolonged elevated levels. Stress is inevitable, there is no avoiding it, therefore we need to put systems in place to help us manage the stress we are faced. Self-care is a key component to keeping stress from infiltrating all domains of our lives. Self-care comes in different forms for different people, but ultimately what matters is that it is an activity that relaxes you. Create a list of activities and individuals in your life that nourish you on a psychological level. Meditation and yoga are common examples of self-care activities. However, there are many other activities that can bring you a sense of calm. Some other ideas include watching funny videos online, playing board games with loved ones, or playing a favourite playlist and dancing while you prepare dinner.
Is my relationship with drugs evolving?
As you fall victim to burnout you may not realize that alcohol or drugs begin to take on a new role in your life. Left unchecked, your relationship with a substance could evolve into an addiction or dependency. Therefore, it is important to monitor your use of alcohol or drugs, particularly if you have had issues in the past or someone in your family has struggled with substance misuse. When it comes to recovery from substance dependence, early intervention results in more promising outcomes. If someone comes to you expressing concerns about your substance use, carefully consider and review what they are saying. When under the influence, it is difficult to recognize these behaviours. An outsider may have a more objective and honest perspective.
Burnout can also be viewed as a consequence of depriving ourselves of what is necessary for our well-being. When life’s responsibilities cause us to neglect our diet, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, relationships, or substance use, we increase our risk of burning out and experiencing a health crisis, whether that be a significant mental health episode, dangerously impulsive decision making, or succumbing to a physical disease. Care for yourself by monitoring your habits, and if things are changing, hopefully asking yourself the aforementioned lifestyle questions will allow you to steer clear of burnout before it is too late. If you find yourself struggling to make these lifestyle changes for yourself, consider consulting a counsellor who is part of our lifestyle medicine team.
Bernadette van der Boom-Bebb