Burnout is a term that gets used frequently, but unlike depression, anxiety or other related disorders, it cannot be officially diagnosed. However, the symptoms can be very similar to depression, although it is more likely that burnout is a sign of adrenal exhaustion, following a period of chronic stress. General adaptation syndrome, as described by Hans Selye (1), states that there are three phases of stress:
Exhaustion is the final phase, where the body has depleted all of its reserves in trying to maintain status quo, and becomes overwhelmed. The symptoms of exhaustion and burnout are very similar, including:
- Lack of motivation
- Depression/low mood
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal disturbances or poor appetite
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of exercise
- Inability to concentrate
Unfortunately, a modern lifestyle provides little chance for those feeling the effects of chronic stress to take time out to relax and bring some balance back into their lives. Many people feel guilty just at the thought of taking time to put their health first, and so the struggle continues.
Burnout is caused by chronic “life stress”.
Many people associate burnout with work, but there are many other causes too. Human beings require a certain amount stress in order for us to survive, a phenomenon known as ‘hormesis’. Small stressors allow us to adapt to our environment, and even result in positive changes to gene expression that upregulate antioxidant pathways and improve longevity. Currently however, stressors frequently push us far beyond hormesis and into unregulated stress. I constantly have clients tell me that they “can’t switch off”, and I’m sure lots of people can relate. Literally and figuratively this is absolutely correct. We can’t switch off – technology does not allow it. Where our working days used to be 9-5, they are now practically 24 hours a day or whenever you’re in front of your phone, laptop or tablet. And even if we’re not working, access to the internet and social media keeps our brains switched on and running hard.
Burnout can happen to anyone, no matter what their circumstances. Long term, chronic, and unresolved stress is most certainly the cause, so what’s the solution?
Yes, stop. Sometimes, we all just need to have a time out. That doesn’t mean quitting your job, neglecting to pay your bills, or caring for your family. What it does mean is that you need to take some time for yourself, grab a notepad and pen, and write down what’s really important to you, and work backwards from there. If you find that you’re doing or worrying about anything you don’t need to, work on being able to let those things go.
Talk to somebody about how you’re feeling. An objective opinion can be helpful. It could be a friend, a counsellor or other therapist, someone you can rely on to give you support. If you feel like you don’t have anyone that you can trust, try Beyond Blue. It’s important to remember that even when you feel like you’re alone, you’re not.
Make time for yourself
In my opinion, this needs to part of everyone’s daily routine. I recently had a situation where I was very close to burnout (chronic overcommitting!), so I stopped, worked out what was really important to me, and instead of pushing myself till I went to bed every night, I now switch off my phone at 7pm, and do something relaxing – for me this is anything that allows me to be creative.
Taking care of your physical health is very important, but this requires an entire post of it’s own (which we will publish next week, so stay tuned!). Personalising your nutrition will provide your body with the right nutrients to get you back on track, and there are plenty of soothing herbs that are useful in helping the body cope with the demands of stress, and recovery from burnout.
As always, do not self-prescribe herbs or supplements, especially if you’re taking medication or have a medical condition.
If you’d like to know more about how we can help you manage stress or the symptoms of burnout, please feel free to contact us.
(1) Selye, H. (1950). Stress and the General Adaptation Syndrome. British Medical Journal, 1(4667), 1383–1392.