What is burnout?
Put simply, burnout is mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. For some people, burnout can be an ongoing concern and for others, it can be triggered by significant or traumatic life events (e.g. a divorce). One of the best ways to prevent burnout or recover from it is to take time out for yourself.
In this article we consider:
• The signs that we could be heading for burnout
• The deeper causes of burnout and possible solutions
• Why some people find it so hard to take time out
• How taking time out can help prevent burnout
What are the signs that I may be heading for burnout?
The typical signs that you may be heading for burnout include:
1. Mental health issues. For example, burnout can often be linked with bouts of depression and feelings of helplessness. Negative thinking or lacking a life vision can also contribute to the stresses associated with burnout.
2. Unusually excessive, obsessive or compulsive behaviours can be a strong indicator that something is seriously out of balance.
3. Emotional issues. For example, your levels of chronic frustration and any bouts of anger or rage are happening at increasing intervals. Or you suffer from chronic negative emotions such as hopelessness, fear and panic which just seem to be getting worse.
4. Physical issues. You may struggle to digest your food or regularly suffer from heartburn or indigestion. Alternatively, you may also have increased tension in your body that seems to be getting unmanageable, for example, tight shoulders, migraines etc. For more information on the effects of stress in your body see our article.
5. Lack of trust. Burnout is often associated with a feeling of excessive responsibility and a lack of trust that others are able or willing to take on responsibility.
6. Denial. There may be an excessive denial that there is a problem and that anybody else can help.
Deeper causes of burnout and possible solutions
Having worked with hundreds of cases of burnout there are some common deeper themes that I regularly see. In this section, I have identified the three most common.
People having trouble accepting their emotions
We all need to self-manage our emotional states from time to time. However, there are two mechanisms that typically head down the path of burnout. First, there is a group who believe that listening to your emotions is a sign of weakness. They find emotions pointless or worthless and put logic before anything else.
The second group deal with their difficult emotions by passing the responsibility to others. For those heading down the path of burnout, this is usually through the mechanism of blame. They tend to focus on who is to blame, rather than figuring out what is really causing the emotion.
Both strategies have a place, but if they are over-used, they can become part of the cause rather than part of the solution for managing emotions.
At the retreat, we encourage our guests to get back into balance through listening to their bodies and quietening their minds. Both help us to face and acknowledge our emotions which is the best way of allowing difficult emotions to dissolve.
I work with many guests who feel stuck and between a rock and a hard place. They cope to some extent by blaming others or circumstances, however, by doing this, they lose their personal power to deal with a situation. The truth is that we are dealing with an inner conflict that we are not conscious of and that hasn’t yet been resolved. For example, I regularly come across the conflict between “the angel” and “the devil”. “The angel”, tells you that you should be helping others or be living a wonderful life of joy and fulfilment but “the devil” part can feel angry, betrayed and bitter that life circumstances are stopping us.
The first step to help resolve internal conflicts like this is to understand what the positive intention of each part is. For example, the positive intention of “the devil” may be to protect you from hurt and keep you safe, for the intention of you being able to relax and enjoy life. Once you realise that both parts want the same thing you can start to heal the internal conflict.
Low self-esteem or self-worth
Low self-esteem or self-worth usually reflects a belief that we are not good enough just as we are. This can typically be associated with patterns of “defeatism” (that won’t work), “perfectionism” (that’s not good enough) and/or being overly critical.
Low self-esteem also stops you from putting yourself first. Often those with low self-esteem try to compensate by putting themselves out for others and being “a good person”. In this way, they get praise (rather than criticism) from others to artificially compensate for the relatively negative view of themselves.
The seeds of our self-esteem or self-worth are determined in our childhood. However, this does not mean that they cannot be changed or evolve. One of the best ways of improving our self-esteem is to face it and understand it. Most self-help books will help you to figure out what you really want for your life vision and help you tune into what makes your heart sing. At the retreat, we make available life makeover workshops and transformational coaching to help you see that no matter what you have done or not done in life you do matter, just because you are you. The workshops and coaching also allow you to dissolve any self-defeating attitudes and belief systems.
Why do some people find it hard to take time out?
There are many reasons people avoid taking time out and many of these are associated with burnout including:
• A fear of letting others down and feeling obligated. This is closely linked to overly worrying about what other people think about you. For some guidance on dealing with fear and anxiety, see our article.
• Being or acting the hero. Some people get a kick from rescuing others and crisis management. This person likes to show how they are irreplaceable and can, therefore, take too much ownership of things.
• Finding yourself too isolated. This issue is often driven by a perfectionist streak and a view that no-one else does things as well as you. This type of behaviour can alienate people and lead to a lack of teamwork or shared responsibility.
• Boredom. Some people are addicted to excitement and are uncomfortable with stability and moments of quiet. Taking time out for yourself can often mean getting away from others and your usual patterns of behaviour. Having time out means you must rely on yourself to deal with any potential moments of boredom and many people don’t think they can cope.
• Fear of missing out. This is very similar to the fear of boredom but is motivated by social pressure. If this resonates with you then you may want to check out our article on managing peer pressure
• Financial challenges. When time equals money or our financial results at work are poor, it can be tough to take time out. However, somewhat ironically, taking time out will make you more efficient and effective at work in the longer term. When we are clear on our targets and goals we also tend to do a better job at work.
For other guidance on creating time and space in your life check out our article.
How can taking time out help prevent burnout?
Often the issues associated with burnout can often seem complex and difficult to resolve, however, there are some tried and tested ways of helping to prevent it. Top of the list is taking time out for yourself.
Taking time out is a great option when you need to reassess priorities. The whirlwind of day to day life can lead to becoming over-committed and an inability to prioritise things well. Taking time out can also help you to get clear on your boundaries. A lack of clarity on when to say no to others and when to put yourself first can create multiple issues (most of these have already been outlined).
Other times when taking time out is a great option include:
• You are confused about what you really want. Under these circumstances, it can be easy to get side-tracked by other people’s agendas and feelings of overwhelm. Taking time out helps you to get clear on what is important to you. It can also help if you need to make a decision, as you can get back to basics.
• You need to find the strength or courage to put yourself first. Ironically taking time out is putting yourself first and at the retreat, we understand that finding the time and the money before you book can be challenging (it’s the easy bit when you get here!).
A final thought
One of the techniques we share at the retreat is how to meditate. Prioritising meditation is a great way of prioritising time for yourself. Meditation allows you to develop a healthy self-awareness and can help you to calm your mind and emotions.
If you struggle to put yourself first, then why not start with meditation. At the retreat, we start most days with a short 30-minute opportunity to meditate. Here is a link to a meditation technique that you could try called Metta.
If you feel short on time, then you can still find five minutes to take time out. You might also like to try some of our favourite five-minute pause-button activities to find that quiet time.
Life makeover retreats for health and wellbeing
One of our goals at the retreat is to help you get back in touch with yourself. Becoming aware of your specific emotional signals and allowing them to be processed fully can help you to dissolve excessive emotions. Taking time out can help you to get back in touch with your emotions, become more aware of your body and help you to practice valuable self-care. I hope you have enjoyed the article and we look forward to welcoming you to the retreat to help kick start a healthy lifestyle!