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Signs of Burnout

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

I couldn’t cover last week’s topic ‘How to Do it All’ (go check it out on the blog or podcast episode if you missed it), without following with this. It’s vital that you become aware and can recognise signs of burnout because so often I believe we live with symptoms that we put up with as ‘normal’ or don’t recognise as stress, only for them to bloom into full-blown illness later on.


If you resonate with even one of these signs that I’m going to talk about today, then please, I urge you to do something about it - never mind if it’s all four! Watch, read or listen below...

Listen to this on the podcast:


Lack of motivation


That feeling of meh. With this sign of chronic stress and burnout, it’s like you lose the capacity for emotions a little bit. You feel numb and dead inside, and it’s really hard to enjoy anything. Everything becomes a task to try and get through, or it becomes massively difficult to motivate yourself to do anything.


Warning signs for me with this is when I’m dreading rather than looking forward to things I usually enjoy. Working out, yoga, one-to-one sessions with my clients, creating content to serve you all; I usually LOVE these things and it’s not an effort to fire myself up for them or to feel excited about them. But if I notice that these start to become chores or unenjoyable, then it’s not the fault of the activity. It’s not that it’s something I no longer find enjoyable and should stop doing. It’s that I’ve overloaded myself so much that I’ve lost the capacity to find joy in what I do (temporarily).


Physical symptoms


Our body is very clever at sending us signs that we are over-loading ourselves, and the signals it will send us will get stronger and stronger if we ignore them; until we break down. My personal experience of stress and burnout has in fact included all of these things.


With sleep, I find I am hugely more sensitive; any noise, light or step will wake me up! Thanks, nervous system! I also have recurring random insomnia, where sleep just does not happen for one night. Any kind of disruption to sleep e.g. trouble getting to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to drop back off, or waking up super-early can all be stress-induced. It can definitely help to invest in sleep hygiene practices and if you’re interested, Matthew Walker’ work is a brilliant place to dive into this further, with his book 'Why We Sleep'.


I also find decision fatigue is a real thing, along with memory loss. Not having very many memories of my recent past, and in no way remembering conversations (even arguments!) that I have had with my husband in the past. When we live in fight or flight, compounded by not enough sleep, our brain does not prioritise shifting information to long term memory. It basically chucks out anything it thinks you don’t need to survive in this instant.


Stress can also produce pain, and tension headaches is a common way this shows up, but pain elsewhere, even back pain, is potentially at least contributed to by stress. Digestive discomfort and problems are also massively linked to stress. This can include painful bloating, feeling sick, poor digestion, constipation, diarrhoea and more wind! Your gut bacteria are a powerful indicator of how your system is doing, and the gut-brain axis has been a huge area of research over the last ten years. We know now that our gut bacteria can be involved in synthesising things like certain neurotransmitters, so looking after them is prettttttty important.


Recurring Limiting Beliefs


Ooooof, this really gets me. It actually took me a while to be able to recognise this as a sign of burnout! You might feel like you've come along way, dealt with a lot of stuff, healed and let go etc, then bam, you're right back in it!


Doom scrolling is one that gets me. I get caught in comparison-itis and I am not good enough. I am not creative enough, likeable enough, attractive enough, I should be achieving more, I am not doing as well as this person, there’s no space for me in this job or industry. Literally, so many scarcity issues! It also crops up in my body-image as well. If I take a nose dive in this area of limiting beliefs, then literally, I’m in deep. One episode of comparison-itis and it snowballs, and before I know it, I’m basically the world’s most horrible, rubbish-at-everything, awful-looking person.


Limiting beliefs cropping could be a sign of other things happening in our life, not just burn out, but we are potentially more vulnerable during times of high stress. When our priority is keeping going and surviving, old fears and patterns of thinking re-surface to try and keep us safe. Compounded by potentially not getting enough rest, being tired and low energy, we can be particularly susceptible to falling into unhelpful or unkind ways of thinking about ourselves.


Self-Sabotage


Self-sabotage in the context of burnout can look like an unwillingness to engage in what we know will make us feel better. We know a walk, or getting outside, or yoga, or journaling or breathwork, or our fun hobbies or self-care habits will make us feel better. But we really feel like not doing them. It’s so interesting isn’t it. Temporary disconnect from these practices or hobbies should be a real red flag. It’s a massive sign that the inner fear has taken over; the conscious or sub-conscious voice that says we are not worthy of feeling good. That we don’t have the time because we’re not worthy of rest. That we haven’t got through the to-do list so we’re not worthy of rest. So notice when we tell ourselves we don’t have enough time, and if it’s more than a temporary lack of interest in doing the things you love, don’t rule out reaching out for help.


Summary: lack of motivation, physical symptoms, limiting beliefs re-surfacing, and self-sabotage.


What can help?


So you've noticed one or more of these signs of burnout. First of all, receive a great big dollop of love from me.


The biggest thing we need to do when we notice one or all of these things is STOP.


Yes, that might sound like the most impossible thing to do, but you need to create the space to swift off.


I’m going to repeat some of the advice I said from last week - because trying to do it all and burn-out are two sides of the same coin.


You must set aside a time when you can truly stop and do less. This might mean some tough decisions and saying no to some good opportunities. It might be stopping doing something you want to do. But if you don’t do this, somehow, sooner or later, you’ll be forced to. It can be simply one day or even one afternoon, where you shut off work, social media, emails and everything other than just being. Heck, maybe you need to start with those boundaries for ten minutes!


The other really important thing is to plan also for how to slow down or stop. It might mean gathering the support around you to get you through the tough feelings that come with slowing down. Ask for help; from your friends, family, work colleagues or a health professional. It might mean making a list of restful activities or hobbies that bring you joy, deep relaxation and connection, so you’re not fidgeting around in frustration with nothing to do. Sometimes if you don’t plan this, then the easy thing is just latch onto other numbing behaviour such as binge-watching TV, alcohol; put yourself on a scripted spa weekend if you can! At some point, when more rested, plan and reflect on how you ended up in burnout, because being stuck in burnout cycles is pretty miserable.


Please know, you are more than enough. Feeling burned out can also involve feeling grief, shame and pain. Please know that It is ok if you are overwhelmed, or burnt out, or stressed out or anxious. You’re not lazy, it’s not that you’re too weak to handle it. That’s a heavy burden to carry. Your big dreams need you to rest. Your family needs you to rest. Your career plans need you to rest.


You are not supposed to feel anxiety, exhaustion and overwhelm all the time


Our natural state is in fact - free, happy, peaceful, relaxed and joyful.


You are worthy of rest.


You get stronger when you rest.


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