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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness. If you feel you are experiencing burnout or at risk for burnout, it is important that you see your health professional for medical advice.
Let’s face it, life is stressful these days, particularly the past couple of years since the beginning of the pandemic. In order to maintain good health and be prepared for anything that may come in the future, it is important to be aware of burnout. In this article, I will share some low-cost and hopeful strategies to address burnout.
What is burnout?
You have probably heard someone use the term “burnout.” You may have even felt at one time like you have burned yourself out.
The term “burnout” was coined by an American psychologist in the 1970s who observed health professionals who became “exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.”
One definition I find helpful is that “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.”
While the term came from the observation of health professionals in the workplace, it can affect anyone. The stresses that contribute to it do not need to come from the workplace either. Other stresses, such as caring for an ill family member, or relationship stresses, can also be a factor.
The Mayo Clinic observes that “burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis.” Although this is the case, being aware of this widely-observed dynamic can help you maintain your own health and that of your family members.
Burnout is not stress.
As the definition above observes, burnout is a state caused by “excessive and prolonged stress.” So, being aware of how stressful our lives are and when that feels excessive is important. We can’t avoid stress. Even wonderful events or times in our lives involve stress, such as getting married or coming home with a new baby.
HelpGuide.org makes these powerful distinctions between stress and burnout:
“Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.
Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.”
Burnout can lead to depression.
The National Library of Medicine highlights that there are some symptoms that are shared between burnout and depression: “extreme exhaustion, feeling down, and reduced performance.” For this reason, it is important to see your doctor if you are not sure if you are depressed or burned out. The authors conclude that while burnout is not the same thing as depression, someone with burnout may have an increased risk of becoming depressed.
There are some signs that may help you decide if you are experiencing burnout.
The following is a list of possible signs of burnout based on a Mayo Clinic checklist.
- Feeling disillusioned or cynical about what you do
- Not able to enjoy what you do, doubting yourself, lacking a sense of accomplishment
- Not having enough energy to be productive or focus on what you need to do
- Turning to drugs, alcohol, food, excessive tv watching, or gaming to escape
- A change in your sleep habits
- Experiencing physical complaints, like headaches, bowel problems, backaches, or other, that your doctor can’t find a reason for
If you see yourself on this list, then it is important to see your doctor so you can find out if what you are feeling is burnout or depression and to rule out any other medical condition that could be causing your symptoms.
How can you address burnout?
Once you have support from your health professional, there are many low-cost things that you can do to improve your health and the quality of your life.
HelpGuide.org recommends the “Three R” approach:
Recognize – Awareness is the first step to making any change. While it may seem like a small thing, paying attention to your health and how you are managing stress can help you stay on top of conditions like burnout and prevent a major breakdown.
What do you need to do to be aware? Jot some notes in a notebook? Record some thoughts on your smartphone? Track some numbers, like hours of sleep or drinks per week, on a spreadsheet?
Find something that works for you. It doesn’t have to take much time at all, and it doesn’t need to cost a cent.
Reverse – The hopeful part of all of this is that you can recover and reverse the damage that all that stress has done to you. This is where some advice from your health professional can get you started. It is likely that you are going to need some support to make a plan here.
If you have been coping with drinking, for example, you may need some help to make a plan for how to reduce your drinking and substitute some activities that will help you build your health back. If you’ve been streaming a lot of movies and then dropping into bed, perhaps you can recall a book or two that inspires you and read them instead or call a friend.
Resilience – For today and for your future, you can focus on building your resilience and your ability to manage stress effectively. The first in this may simply be to slow down and reflect on what you need right now.
Is it your job? Do you need to quit or take some time off? Is there anything in your life that you can reduce or quit? Slowing down will allow you to get some clarity on what you need.
Reaching out for support and connection is crucial. While it may feel awkward, being honest about what you are facing could be the only way you will receive the support you need right now. Spending money to go out can be fun, but if money is tight, a simple walk in a local park with a good friend and a thermos of coffee can do wonders. Perhaps you’ve felt too tired to attend church. This might be a time when you try to reconnect with your church community or a club that you have enjoyed.
There are also some general health supports that also support recovery from burnout.
Along with focusing on your resilience, you can assess where you’re at with the basics of health. How is your diet? Have you been relying on canned soups or fast food to get you through the week? Scheduling time for one hour of cooking and doing the necessary shopping can allow you to make a big pot of something that you like to eat throughout the week. Bean and lentil-based dishes with a smaller amount of meat can still be delicious and easier on the pocketbook.
Are you exercising…at all? What is one small thing you can do this week to get started? Take a brief walk? Buy a skipping rope and jump for one minute? Do ten pushups and sit-ups today? Maybe you have a gym membership, or there is a low-priced recreational club nearby. What is something easy you could do to get started?
How are you sleeping? Are you on your phone or laptop until right before you go to bed? Some easy research on sleep hygiene might do the trick. If you find you are wound up in the evenings, some low-cost “Sleepy Tea” an hour before bedtime could help.
What are you enjoying in your life these days? You might answer in your mind, “Not a lot!” During the development of burnout, it is common to drop out of activities you previously enjoyed. Is there something you liked to do, not related to work or your source of stress, that you have around the home? Maybe your guitar is sitting there, with dust on the case. Or perhaps you might enjoy some sketching or coloring in the evening?
Maybe you can call an old friend up and do something fun like go bowling or mini golfing just for a laugh. Or you have that old project car in your garage, and a good friend that you know would enjoy coming over to tinker a bit on the engine. None of these things need to cost very much at all. The secret is to mix things up and try and get that sense of enjoyment back.
(Looking for tips on productive Frugalite hobbies? Check out this great article!)
There is a definite relationship between burnout and work-life balance. This is a good time to slow down and reevaluate where your life is at….who knows…you could come out of this to reshape things even better than ever.
Burnout is not expensive to solve.
The solutions to burnout are not expensive, as they are rooted in basic health maintenance. Have you ever suffered from burnout? Could you see yourself trying any of the low-cost tips offered here? Do you have one you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!