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BurnOut: What it Is and How to Stop it

Hello loves! It's another week, another Monday, and another SoupScribbles blog!

As promised, today I will be looking at Burnout: mainly what it is & how to recover from it. Next week, I'll delve deeper into how to avoid burnout in the future and listen to your body when it needs to take breaks .

So first off, what even is burnout?

In previous posts, I've probably mentioned burnout; both suffering from it, overcoming it, etc. We're old frenemies, ever since I first started experiencing symptoms in high school. And in recent years, I feel like I've been in a push-pull dance with burnout as we both try to get the upper hand; yet I've never been successful with fully pushing it away. But I'll get more into that next week.

The CDC defines burnout as an affective reaction to ongoing stress caused by the gradual depletion over time of an individual's energetic resources. In other words, people get burned out when they experience (usually work or school driven) stress for long periods of time without ever getting a break. The word itself gives you a pretty decent mental image of what happens to people's energy when they have burnout; picture a flame on a wick that's just been used it. When its fuse is all used, the flame sizzles out into nothingness.

There are a lot of symptoms of burnout, but they can usually be categorized under five main ones:

  • A sense of failure, uselessness, and self-doubt.

  • Feeling trapped, depressed, hopeless and stuck.

  • Mind wandering, detached from reality, feeling isolated.

  • Loss of motivation, feeling cynical and irritable, hating your current situation.

  • Physical symptoms of headaches, lack of sleep/constant exhaustion, stomach pain.

These five symptoms have been narrowed down based on other lists from medical sites and my own experiences with burnout. You don't have to have all five to have burnout, but you probably have most.

Now, how do you recover from burnout?

This probably won't surprise anyone, but you can't recover from burnout overnight. While it generally depends on how stressed/burnt out you are, usually recovering fully from burnout takes months if not up to a year. That might sound ridiculously long, but imagine if burnout didn't affect your mind. What if burnout affected your physical body and it sucked away your physical energy until you couldn't even get out of bed anymore?

A long recovery time wouldn't seem so ridiculous then, now would it?

We need to get in the habit of treating our minds and mental health like we would a physical injury. Burnout is a mental injury, and it needs to be taken just as seriously, if not more so. Mental health affects physical health. It's as simple as that.

Now, here are a few ways to start healing your mind from the exhausting weight of burnout:

  • First off, acknowledge and evaluate your burnout. You can't make any progress if you pretend everything is fine and perfect. It's okay to not be okay all the time. So take a moment, truly look at yourself, your thoughts, and allow yourself the space to face your burnout and stress.

  • Next, find your stressors. Sometimes our stressors are obvious. Crappy overbearing bosses, stifling workspaces with no room to grow, juggling grad school and two jobs (@myself right here). And sometimes, our stressors can be more subtle; that extra responsibility you volunteered for during the PTA meeting, joining another club on top of your hundreds of extracurriculars and regular classwork, getting involved in a relationship that demands more of your time than you expected. Whatever it is, however many stressors there are, finding and naming them is the only way you can see what is truly behind your burnout and what your next steps should be.

  • After finding the root cause of your burnout, TAKE A BREAK. This is by far the most important step in burnout recovery, and yet it's the one I've found to be most often ignored. A major part of that is thanks to our always be busy, hustle culture that views breaks as laziness and if you're not constantly being productive then you're waisting your time. But I promise you, you're not. Taking a break from work and day-to-day stress is so freakin important to your mental health. It gives your mind and body the chance to recharge and rest. It lets you return to Ground 0 so you can start rebuilding your strength and energy again before jumping right back into busyness. I've talked about taking breaks before and why they matter, but especially for burnout, breaks separate you from your stressors and allows you to prep for the next step.

  • Refocus on what's important in your life. Oftentimes, the reason we feel so burned-out is because we've allowed unimportant things to take over our lives. Too many obligations at a job we don't really care about, saying yes as favors to "friends" who wouldn't do the same, or letting your dreams and hopes be thrown into a garbage can to make room for others' expectations are all sneaky creators of burnout. There comes a moment where you wake up on a day when burnout is at an all time high and realize this is not the life you want to be living. When setting off to pursue the life you want with the values you care about, it's easy to get lost along the way. Burnout is the necessary but painful shove we need to open our eyes and realize we have gotten way off track. And now, in this burnout recovery time, we can remember what we truly care about.

  • Which leads us to the final step: Make Necessary Changes. This is the hard part. But it's the most important part too. Go to your list of stressors and see what needs to be changed. Do boundaries with one stressor need to be implemented? Or do you need to say goodbye entirely? It might be scary to quit that toxic job, or you might feel like you're slacking for not joining that extra club or saying yes to that obligation, but it's worth it. You don't have to nearly kill your energy in order to make money or be productive or care for people. You're allowed to disappoint people and say no when the alternative is harming your mental health. You're allowed to put yourself first.

Burnout is exhausting. I know, I've been there. And these strategies for recovering are only the tip of the iceberg. If you need to do more research or speak to a therapist, then please go do that, I think it's a great idea!

You should never hold back on healing yourself.

You deserve to shine when you're at the top of your game. The people who truly care about you will do what they can to help and encourage you on your recovery (or maybe you know someone who has burnout that you can be a supportive presence for).

So take that first step in healing yourself. Put a pause on the burnout and let yourself rest. Because you absolutely deserve it.

Love y'all!

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