Navigating Burnout: A Holistic Approach to Burn Out RecoveryNov 21, 2023
5 Holistic Steps to Recover from Burn Out
I had always heard the term "burn out" before, however never truly understood what burn out really meant.
It was not until I experienced burn out first hand that I finally understood what it is.
If you are reading this, you most likely are Googling information on what is burn out? And wanting to learn the signs of burn out and to see if you indeed are burning out. I get it. I was there.
If this is you, please know, I feel you and I see you.
Burn out is real.
Burn out sucks.
But burn out is also a weird way, a gift, a reminder, forcing us to slow down, and remind ourselves what is important in our lives.
My Personal Experience with Burning Out
In 2021 I thought I was losing my mind.
I couldn't understand what was going on...
- My mind starting getting fuzzy at work,
- I was dropping the ball on things I needed to do,
- the littlest tasks started to seem overwhelming huge,
- I was emotionally drained,
- I started being very cynical about work,
- I started viewing the world through a negative lens,
- everyday tasks that I once enjoyed drained all of my energy.
- I was agitated and easily annoyed.
- My emotions were all over the place and I was tearful/crying almost daily
This is not my typical disposition.
I could not understand what was going on with me.
As a "Type A, over-achiever, super organized" personality type I became incredibly frustrated at 'not performing' and 'not living up' to the unrealistic expectations that I placed upon myself in both my personal and professional life.
When I look back now I understand and show myself self compassion for why I experienced burnout.
Like so many during the pandemic, I was balancing parenthood of a young child with the balance of work all the while completely losing my support system. In addition, my husband and I had a significant loss during this time - that I did not allow myself to grieve; instead throwing myself into work, building a business and side projects outside of work and anything possible to distract myself from what was going on around me.
Well, that strategy didn't work.
And I burned out.
I burnt-out bad.
At the time, I didn't even know what burn out meant. My Type A personality could not even comprehend how this could happen. After finding myself in tears every single day for no apparent rhyme or reason, I sought out mental health support.
It was then I was told I was suffering from burnout.
What is Burn out? Burn Out Signs
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burn out as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." It is characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- Reduced professional efficiency
Historically, burn out has been primarily focused around burn out from work and burn out in the workplace. However, COVID opened our eyes to the fact that there are multiple personal and societal situations which contribute to burnout which have lasting impact on our lives.
Dr. Sahar Yousef, Cognitive Neuroscientist, UC Berkeley explains burnout it layman’s terms:
“Burn out is a long-term phenomenon that is much more than having a tough day or tough week. When we are burned out, we see measurable changes in both the brain and the body that are difficult to reverse. It’s a slow, cumulative process that can eventually debilitate us, making dedicated time off the only cure.“
My definition/experience of of burnout:
- being so incapacitated that I am unable to function in at my normal capacity.
- A lonely, confusing place to be.
- feelings of shame. Confusion. Guilt.
- A time of rest, reflection, unknown.
- a whole lot of feelings to work through.
- A wake up call. My body, mind and sprit screaming at me to slow down. To make a change. To do things differently.
- An ego-reset. A time of self reflection, crying, hopelessness and hopefulness.
- A mind-fuck.
A time in my life that I sometimes feel embarrassed about, but am grateful for.
Burnout Epidemic - You are not alone
When I began researching burnout I found there was not a ton of relatable content out there. Then I stumbled on the term burnout epidemic and I realized what a gap in services there are for people who are burnt out.
The term "burnout epidemic" refers to the widespread and growing phenomenon of burnout, which is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened concerns about burnout; the isolation, grief, and trauma associated with the pandemic have also contributed to burnout among many people.
The Causes of Burnout
Remember as mentioned above, Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that occurs as a result of chronic stress. It is often associated with work-related stress, but it can also occur as a result of other types of stress, such as caregiving or chronic illness. The following are some common causes and symptoms of burnout:
Burn out from Work
AKA Work related Stress and burn out in the workplace: This can include long working hours, heavy workloads, lack of control over job responsibilities, and poor relationships with colleagues or managers. Often burnout is only associated with work stress. However as the Pandemic showed up there are a multitude of factors that contribute to one burning out.
This can include financial stress, relationship problems, caregiving responsibilities, and other personal issues that can impact an individual's ability to cope with stress.
Lack of support
This can include lack of emotional support from colleagues, managers, or loved ones, and lack of resources or tools to manage stress effectively.
This can occur when an individual's work life takes priority over their personal life, leading to a lack of time for self-care and other important activities outside of work.
Types of Burnout
It's true that burnout can occur in many different contexts and professions, and it can be helpful to recognize the unique experiences and challenges of each type of burnout in order to address and prevent it. Here's a brief overview of some common types of burnout:
- Mom Burnout
Mothers may experience burnout from the constant demands of parenting, which can include managing a household, caring for children, and possibly working outside the home. This can lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
- Emotional Burnout
This can occur in any profession that involves working with people in emotional distress, such as mental health professionals, social workers, and counselors. The emotional demands of the work can lead to feelings of emotional exhaustion, detachment, and cynicism.
- Caregiver Burnout
Those who care for elderly or ill family members or friends may experience caregiver burnout. The demands of caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and may lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and guilt.
- Millennial Burnout
Young adults in the millennial generation may experience burnout due to the pressure to succeed and achieve, coupled with the challenges of navigating an uncertain job market and balancing work and personal life.
- Counselor Burnout
Counselors and therapists may experience burnout from the emotional demands of their work, which can include dealing with clients in crisis, hearing traumatic stories, and managing complex ethical issues.
- Social Work Burnout
Social workers may experience burnout from the high demands and low resources in the field, as well as from the emotional toll of working with vulnerable populations.
- Nurse Burnout
Nurses may experience burnout from the physically and emotionally demanding nature of their work, as well as from the long hours and high stress environments of healthcare settings.
Please note, these are just a few… there are many many professions that experience burnout and if yours is not listed above it does not mean you are not experiencing burnout. If you are recognizing any symptoms of burnout it is always best to speak with a trained professional.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
Now that you know what burnout is, the causes of burnout and types of burnout, I wanted to dive into signs and symptoms.
When I experienced my burnout I had no insight into what was going on. And when I scoured the internet trying to find out what burnout was, I found lots of information that was difficult to digest and quite honestly, information that my brain could just not process at that time.
If you are reading this now and feel like you may be experiencing a burnout, there is a science to why your brain and body feels the way it does. If you are anything like me, sometimes it helps to understand the logic and science behind what is going on so you can process it better.
The Science of Burnout: What Happens to Your Brain and Body When You're Burned Out
As mentioned above, Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that occurs when the demands of a job or other responsibilities become overwhelming.
It's a common problem, affecting people from all walks of life, and it can have serious consequences for both physical and mental health.
Research has shown that burnout is associated with changes in the brain and body. These changes can have a significant impact on a person's overall health and well-being.
What happens to your Brain when you are Burnout?
The brain plays a critical role in regulating stress and emotions, and it's often the first to be affected by burnout. Chronic stress and burnout can cause changes in the brain's structure and function, which can have lasting effects on mental and physical health.
Ever wonder why you are having such a hard time making decisions?
When I was in the midst of my burnout, I remember my Mother-In-Law, who is usually very reserved, respectful and allows my husband and I to live our life the way we want to (I am very, very fortunate!), taking a stance with me.
Usually I am a person who is confident in making decisions. I am a very ‘Type A’ personality who likes to be organized and have a plan. However, when I was in the whirlwind of my burnout (which I did not know I was in!) My Mother-In Law noticed the trouble I was having making even the simplest of decisions.
And it was not until she made me aware of this and literally stepped in to make a few decisions about some family issues that I realized something was really wrong with me.
Now that I am on the other side of my burnout, I learned that one of the key areas of the brain that's affected by burnout is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that's responsible for executive functions like decision-making, planning, and attention. When you're burned out, the prefrontal cortex can become less active, which can make it harder to focus and make decisions.
In addition to not being able to make decisions during this fog of burnout I was in, my emotions were all over the map….
I pride myself in regulating my emotions quite well - feeling all the feels when I need to, processing them and moving on… however when I was burnout, I was an emotional wreck to say the least.
I found myself constantly crying and my emotions were completely dysregulated.
If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.
Another area of the brain that's affected by burnout is the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that's responsible for processing emotions like fear and anxiety. When you're burned out, the amygdala can become more active, which can make you more sensitive to stress and more prone to negative emotions.
What Happens to your Body When you are Burnout
Burnout doesn't just affect the brain - it can also have serious consequences for the body. Chronic stress and burnout can cause changes in the body's stress response system, which can lead to a range of physical symptoms and health problems.
One of the most common physical symptoms of burnout is fatigue. When you're burned out, your body is constantly in a state of stress, which can make it harder to get the rest and relaxation you need to feel refreshed and energized.
Burnout can also cause a range of other physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, and digestive problems. These symptoms are often the result of chronic stress, which can cause the body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can have a range of negative effects on the body.
Burnout is a serious problem that can have lasting effects on both the brain and body. One of the first steps is recognizing that you, or someone you care about, may be experiencing burnout and taking the necessary steps to get the help you need
How to Spot the Signs of Burnout Before It's Too Late
The problem with burnout is that it can sneak up on you and catch you by surprise, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and helpless. The good news is that you can learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of burnout on the job before it's too late. Here are some tips to help you recognize the signs and prevent burnout.
Emotional Symptoms of Burnout
If you find yourself getting easily irritated or frustrated, even over small things, it could be a sign of burnout. Stress and exhaustion can make you more sensitive to your surroundings and cause you to react in ways that are out of character. If you're snapping at your colleagues or your family members, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate your priorities.
Becoming cynical or negative about work or life in general
In the haze of burnout it is easy to feel very cynical about work and life in general. As a generally ‘glass half full’ type of person, when I was burnout I found myself being extremely cynical about all areas of my life. Often when I was able to find hope, gratitude or the sunny side of things, when I was burnout, I had a very difficult time in seeing the good.
Feeling helpless or trapped, with no way out of the situation
I am a big proponent of figuring things out. Knowing that “this too shall pass’ and that certain experiences are put in our life for some unforeseen reasons. However in the midst of a burnout, it is easy to feel helpless, trapped and like there is no solution to whatever problem you are in.
Physical symptoms of Burnout
One of the most common signs of burnout is feeling exhausted all the time, even after a good night's sleep. You may feel like you can't keep up with your workload or your responsibilities at home. If you're feeling drained and lethargic, it could be a sign that you're heading towards burnout.
Unexplained Headaches, stomachs and muscle tension
If you are not one to experience unexplained health issues and suddenly are experiencing many annoying and frustrating physical symptoms - burnout may be the culprit. As noted above in the science of burnout, our bodies can manifest many different physical symptoms when dealing with chronic stress.
Study and study has shown the effects stress can have on our bodies. If you're experiencing these symptoms regularly, it could be a sign that you're under too much stress and need to take a break and talk to your health professional.
Cognitive symptoms of Burnout
Lack of Motivation
Another sign of burnout is a lack of motivation. You may feel like you're just going through the motions, without any passion or enthusiasm for your work or your life. You may also feel like you're not making any progress, even when you're putting in the effort. If you're feeling uninspired and unproductive, it could be a sign that you need to take a break.
Difficulty Concentrating and Lack of Focus
Burnout can also affect your ability to concentrate and stay focused. You may find yourself easily distracted or forgetful, making mistakes that you wouldn't normally make. This can be a sign that your brain is overloaded and needs a break.
When you are unable to concentrate and your brain is being biologically changed from the stress you are under, it is easy to start forgetting things you may not have in the past. For examples, when I was burnout I struggled with remembering things that I would not usually forget - like picking up certain items at the grocery store or not remembering names of movies, people or other things that usually were at the tip of my tongue.
Difficulty Making Decisions.
As mentioned above, neuroscience has shown that one of the key areas of the brain that's affected by burnout is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that's responsible for executive functions like decision-making, planning, and attention. When you're burned out, the prefrontal cortex can become less active, which can make it harder to focus and make decisions.
Behavioral symptoms of Burnout
Withdrawal from social situations or isolating oneself
When the cloud of burnout overtakes you, your energy may be completely sapped, leaving you to isolate yourself from others and withdraw from situations you may normally enjoy.
When I was in the height of my burnout, I could not focus or be productive if my life depended on it. My once ‘A-Type’ Personality was put on pause (and not by choice). Where I often was productive and engaged, I was lackluster and detached. I found myself staring at tasks without getting anything done. My productivity was significantly impacted and almost muted.
Maladaptive Coping Strategies (ex: Increased use of alcohol or drugs, online shopping, zoning out on Netflix/social media to cope with stress)
There are many options people go to when they are not coping well with life. The ones most think of are increased use of drugs or alcohol. However there are other maladaptive coping strategies that you may find yourself in. For instance: Online shopping, constant scrolling on social media and numbing out with food.
Having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
The hilarious thing about being exhausted and fatigued from burnout , is that some may experience even more difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Your body and mind want to sleep, but you just can;t…
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it may be a sign of burnout. It is important to address these concerns with your medical professionals.
How Long Does Burn out Last?
The duration of burnout can vary depending on the individual and their situation. As mentioned above, Burn out is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. If the stressors causing burnout are removed and appropriate measures are taken to address it, burnout can be resolved relatively quickly. However, if the stressors persist or are not addressed, burnout can last for weeks, months, or even years.
My mental health provider advised me that burnout can take anywhere from 6 months to a year if not longer to overcome. I was dumbfounded when she told me this and was ADAMENT that was not going to be me.
My personal expectations and societal pressures of being 'Super Parent', 'Super-Career Person' and 'Super Spouse' were so ingrained into my being that I refused to give myself the time and self compassion to heal.
It was not until 3 months into my burnout, with little progress being made that I realized I had to change. It was a pivotal moment when I found my usual calm demeanor getting incredibly frustrated at my sweet little 2.5 year old - over something trivial.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Trying to be 'super' in all areas of my life, lead me to being mediocre in all aspects of my life.
My work was suffering, my home life was suffering, my parenting was suffering and my marriage was suffering - all because I was determined to be the BEST at them all.
Although the WHO notes that burn-out is job specific, with a background in social work and holistic health, I do not believe we can separate one aspect of our lives from the other as they are all intertwined.
It was then I took a step back and re-evaluated my priorities.
I'm not going to lie, this was not easy.
Actually it was one of the hardest things I have done in a while - stripping down my subconscious expectations of worthiness and re-defining and accepting that I am still enough without being the 'super star' in all areas of my life.
The length of burnout can also depend on the severity of the symptoms and the individual's ability to recover. Some people may be able to recover from burnout within a few weeks, while others may require months or even years to fully recover. It's important to seek help and support if you're experiencing burnout, as it can have serious negative impacts on your health and well-being if left untreated.
Over a year and a half later and I am still healing. And I still have to by hyper aware of symptoms when they begin to pop up - so I do not go back down that path again.
It's important to note that recovery is not a linear process and there may be setbacks or relapses along the way. It's also important to take the time needed for a full recovery, rather than trying to rush the process, as this can lead to further burnout.
There is hope.
I am finally beginning to feel like my old self again - but a better version of her. A more balanced and self compassionate version of her.
Although, burnout is a systemic issue that still needs a lot of re-structuring from multiple systemic levels on a much larger scale; if you are struggling with burnout, and wondering what you can do as an individual today...here are some tips that may kickstart your journey:
How to Recover from Burnout
In reading above, if you feel you are burning out, below are some tips and trick on how to deal with burn out. * Again please note, this information does not replace medical advise. If you are struggling please reach out to a medical professional *
Learn More About Burn out
I know this may sound funny, but do you actually know what burn out is? I thought I did... I had heard the term thrown around here and there - but until I was in the depths of it myself, and did my research that I fully understood the severity of it. Get on Google and start researching or talking to people who may have experienced this. I did not understand or appreciate the nature of burnout and how debilitating it can be. Educating yourself on what it is and understanding you are not alone is a good first step for showing yourself some self-compassion.
Define Your Values
Take time to define your LIFE values. Your CORE PERSONAL VALUES. So often we go through life without even stopping to ask ourselves what matters most to us in life. What is most important to you? Family? Conscious Parenting? Career? Travel? Education? Being Present? Narrow it down to your top 3-5 to provide you with a compass for getting re-aligned with what really matters TO YOU in your life. Need help defining your Personal core values? download my free worksheet here.
Listen, if you are going to get over this burnout and avoid another one in the future; you have got to begin to look inside of yourself and reflect. I know this is not easy, it is uncomfortable at times but it is necessary. Ask yourself honestly what is your self worth connected to? And if you want to keep living your life the way you are for the next 20-30 years? My journey showed me how much I connected my personal self worth to my job, and if I was not in the top tier somehow it meant I was 'less then' in other areas of my life. When at the end of the day, I am completely disposable in my job. If I leave (which I did need to take time off), I am replaceable. They will find someone else and all that energy I put into 'being the best' really means not too much. But you know where I am not replaceable? At home. To my children. To my family.
Reach Out For Support
This is huge.... I could not have come through this alone. Talking to a mental health professional helped me to reframe, get out of my head and view the situation from another lens. Shifting your perspective on your subconscious thoughts and belief patterns is not easy and having a guide to help you is a necessity.
There are so many online mental health options out there. Locate local resources or virtual resources in your area and get professional support.
Practice Self Compassion
This is a tough one as we are always our own worst enemies. Self-care is thrown around a lot these days, and in the pandemic juggling, work, a family, Covid stressors and everything else life - you may be wondering if self care even exists some days. In those moments when we are unable to do a self care routine... we can take a moment and practice self-compassion. Do you practice self-compassion? Start going easier on yourself. Quit putting the pressure on to be 'the best' at everything. Start easing up on your unrealistic self expectations that have been drilled into us from society and show yourself some self-compassion. Reframe and ask yourself how would you talk to your child? Your parent? A friend in need? who may be struggling. And allow yourself the same love and grace.
How to Avoid Burnout
Since my burnout in 2021, I Have been learning (and re-learning) how to effectively manage my personal energy and avoid burn out again. I am not going to lie to you; it has been a learning process, and continues to be a learning process.
However, one of the things that helps me IMMENSLY manage my emotional wellbeing and helps me to avoid burnout is checking in on my personal energy.
Now, before you roll your eyes and click off this page... be open.
In or world, when anyone speaks of energy, people often conjure up images of 'alternative lifestyles', people who are seen as 'out there' or 'too woo'... which in my humble opinion is really disappointing as a HUGE majority of the population is missing out on understanding a FUNDAMENTAL way of living a more present, aligned, and joyful life.
When we learn how to look through the world through an energetic lens, our life changes. If you are like me and are more of a left-brain logical person... well guess what... even better, because when you UNDERSTAND why energy is so important and UNDERSTAND the SCIENCE behind it... you start implementing it into you life.
Considering you have read thus far... what do you have to lose? The Western Medical Model is FLAWED. Taking pills, will not cure your burnout. However, becoming INTENTIONAL about your energy, your focus, your time and increasing your vibrational literacy - you will not only avoid burn out in the future, but also see massive impacts your overall quality of life and your healthspan.
Want to go down the rabbit hole with me? Check out my in-depth guide to understanding Your Personal Energy (and guess what... it is based in science... so if you are resistant and starting to write me off a 'too woo'... don't trust me... trust the science.
Although my personal experience with burnout has been extremely difficult, I am grateful and appreciative for all it has taught me about my own 'expectations' and what REALLY matters in my life. It has been an awakening for me to take time to slow down. To remind myself of what makes me happy in life and to continue living life by my values. I'm not waiting until I am 60 and retired to live. I am choosing another path.
Let us learn from the generations before us and adopt another lifestyle, an intentional lifestyle, one that focuses on what really matters in life. If you are struggling, please reach out. Maintaining your mental health is deeper than surface level self care activities. It starts with self-compassion.
If you are interested in learning more about changing your lifestyle and adopting a more intentional and biophilic lifestyle, then I encourage you to take a read at other articles on my site listed below.
Just as tending to our inner selves is important so is tending to the environments we surround ourselves in. Intentional living with a biophilic aesthetic is the most effective way to start living a simpler, slower, more sustainable and present life.
It is your life. No one is going to choose for you.
Start choosing you.
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