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We all feel stressed off and on. But when the stress is always on for too long, it becomes burnout. Here’s how to recognise the signs of burnout, prevent it, and recover from it.
A recent survey found that 22% of UK workers have experienced burnout. But burnout isn’t just a work problem–it affects your health and wellbeing in every area of your life.
The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to avoid burnout, and to turn things around if you’re already experiencing it. The first thing you need to know is how to tell the difference between stress and burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Often–but not always–related to job stress, it can leave you feeling demotivated and unable to cope at work and at home.
While people of any age can suffer from burnout, studies show it tends to peak between age 25 and 44. Symptoms include demotivation, low energy, reduced productivity, and feeling detached from your work and relationships.
How to identify burnout
Like grief, burnout has five stages. These are:
1. The honeymoon phase
This happens at the start of a new job or project. You’re feeling enthusiastic and in control, and productivity is high. This is the time to look ahead and predict future stresses so you can take steps to manage them.
2. Onset of stress
Optimism starts waning as the reality of your workload, managing expectations, and competing demands on your time starts to set in. You may start showing signs of stress like physical tension, fatigue, lower productivity, and feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
3. Chronic stress
Stress symptoms go from minor to very frequent. They may include chronic exhaustion, resentment, missed deadlines and increased alcohol/drug consumption.
The fourth stage is burnout proper. Symptoms have become too critical to be ignored. You may be experiencing behavioural changes, ongoing emotional issues, and a feeling of isolation. It’s often impossible to carry on as normal–you need to seek help.
5. Habitual burnout
Symptoms of burnout have become so embedded in your life that you may start thinking this is just who you are as a person. It’s vital to recognise this stage. Ignoring it can lead to serious emotional or physical harm.
If you’re suffering from burnout because of your workload, the best thing you can do is to open up to your colleagues and your manager.
How to prevent burnout
Burnout springs from long-term stress, so prevention involves learning to manage stress. At work, this could mean being open about your feelings and needs or delegating work. If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, think about who you can turn to for support, and consider hiring help or adjusting deadlines.
Next, look at your work-life balance. Downtime isn’t wasted time, it’s an investment in future productivity. If stress is building up, consider cutting work down.
You can also explore practical stress management techniques like mindfulness and self-care routines.
How to recover from burnout
1. Take note of any negative feelings
Recognise and accept what you’re feeling. Try to be self-compassionate and not judge yourself. If it helps, journal or talk about your feelings to someone you trust.
2. Take a break
It’s difficult, because burnout tends to make you feel anxious and guilty, but taking a break is vital for recovery. Your mind and body need time to recharge. Studies show regular breaks improve productivity, creativity and focus.
3. Prioritise things that bring you joy
Burnout makes it all too easy to let your own happiness slide down the priority list. But making space in your day and week to do things you enjoy will reset your energy levels and make you more productive.
4. Remember you’re in control
Everyone faces challenges and failures in life–and it’s always in your power to learn from them and use them for growth. Treat your wellbeing as a priority, and remember it’s always possible to recover from burnout. There’s never been a better time for mental health support–and whatever stage of burnout you’re at, there’s always