How to recognise if you're burning out, by someone who has lived it twice before
Burn baby, burn.
The term 'burnout' is one that we hear a lot about today, mostly because, with the advent of new technologies, it’s near impossible to completely switch off.
On top of that, corporate expectations are increasing and society’s fetish with success is swelling. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have become pissing competitions of shit motivational memes that tell us we are the only ones holding us back. It’s like it’s not okay to be one thing anymore, like if you don’t have a slash beside your name - DJ/blogger/entrepreneur - then you ain't shit.
Is it any wonder that more and more millennials are burning out before they reach 30? Stateside research done on women in their twenties is showing that they are breaking their backs way more than men in order to get that perfect CV and trump their peers.
The term ‘burnout’ was coined just 41 years ago by psychoanalysts seeing an increasing amount of people who couldn’t cope with the stresses of the modern world. It's defined as a psychiatric and physical breakdown that occurs when chronic stress has not been successfully dealt with.
When I hear that word I see myself. I’m only 27, but I’ve already ‘burnt out’. Not once, but twice.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) August 9, 2016
I used to feel a lot a shame admitting that because I used to think that I should’ve been able to deal with stress. I felt like I somehow wasn’t good enough for the real world, delicate and decrepit frail twig, who could snap at any moment.
However, the more we talk about hidden problems the more we de-stigmatise them and acknowledge them.
The first time I burnt out was in my second year of college. I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student with a fire in her belly, and I wanted so desperately to prove myself. I was the deputy editor of the student newspaper, working as a waitress, living out of home and paying my own rent, and somehow interning all at the same time.
— BBC Future (@BBC_Future) August 7, 2016
I was an obsessive, over-competitive self-saboteur. Above all, I was delusional. I ignored the advice of friends and family who all told me to slow down, and instead relished the stress, convincing myself that I was better than most people.
I wasn't, and I'm not. I stupidly ignored the flashing red symptoms the first few times, as detailed in a 2000 journal entitled ‘Burnout syndrome: a disease in modern societies?’, and consequently became completely immobile for quite some time.
So what were the symptoms I had that convinced me I was burnt-out?
It’s like everything just shuts down and stops working. Your body and mind have gone on strike because you didn’t look after them properly. Laughing made me weak. I was constantly tired. I was depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t get out of the bed full stop.
This is defined as "a lack of precision and disorganisation". I couldn’t remember simple things like people’s names, what I ate for lunch, what I did yesterday. My brain felt about as sharp as a blunt knife. I couldn’t speak properly because I was in a constant fight-or-flight. I could never find anything, even if I put it down seconds ago.
By far the scariest one. I went from a bubbly, inquisitive, and gregarious girl to a sad, worried, disinterested empty shell. I prided myself on my offbeat sense of humour and ability to take a joke. I would sometimes cry in my bedroom for hours longing to be that girl again, and worried that I’d lost her forever.
I had a fear of everything, overthinking every situation to the point where my brain started to overheat. Sometimes I would walk down the street and think that I was going to die. I would clench my fists so hard in my pocket that my hands would bleed.
I’ve burnt out so many times I’m surprised I haven’t turned to cinders. But if I've learned anything from those experiences, it's this:
Become a detective in your own life:
Learn who you are and what makes you happy. Easier said than done, granted. I got through my last burnout by taking myself on walks, bringing a book and sitting down in a public space to sooth my anxiety. Essentially, learn how to be by yourself. Your friends are always going to be there for you, but only you know how to fix you.
Become a sun-worshipper :
Get plenty of sunshine; it has so much Vitamin D, which has been proven to increase happiness and it's good for our brains.
Regulate your eating habits:
Improve your diet. If you’re not eating enough, then start eating. Your body needs fuel. If you are eating, but it’s all junk food, throw a smoothie in there, and some veg in pasta. (peas are so good with penne!)
Try to stay away from stimulants:
Drugs, alcohol, and bad friends can be triggering when you are in recovery.
Music and books are your friends:
The one thing that calmed me when I had a panic attack was reading, be it a novel, a comic, or a scientific journal. Knowledge is power and chances are someone has gone through what you are going through right now and have written about it.
Most importantly, be patient with yourself.
These things take time and it will get better. I promise.
The HSE has a designated section of its website for workplace stress and burnout. Check it out here.