How to combat burnout syndrome

Energy depletion – tick, mental fatigue – tick, and reduced efficacy – tick.
Unhappy girl waking up sad

We’ve all been there. It’s been a long week. The kids have been especially testing. Your ‘to-do’ list is out of control and you’ve been burning the candle at both ends. The result? You’re completely burnt out.

Experts now agree this is a ‘thing’.

Just recently, the World Health Organisation added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases list which guides medical practitioners in diagnosing health issues.

While this listing relates to the workplace, the burnout criteria can be transferred to all areas of our lives. Energy depletion – tick, mental fatigue – tick, and reduced efficacy – tick.

Burnout has many other symptoms too. Hello crankiness, negative attitude and low confidence. And that longing for a holiday, decent sleep or night without a buzzing brain? It may just be the spark to ignite the flame.

Rachel Evans, founder and director of the RE.connection Project works with women to help them overcome burnout. She believes we feel the heat more than men.

“As women, we’re fed the idea that we can have it all and juggle it all without any help,” she says.

“We’re trying to prove ourselves in all areas while simultaneously keeping up appearances on social media.

“We’re also working in a time where we’re being told to do more with less and pushing ourselves to achieve goals. We’re not listening to our bodies when we need to take a break or slow down.”

Unsurprisingly, the impacts from this can be huge. Our relationships start to suffer, we’re more susceptible to mental and physical illness, and our healthy habits go up in smoke.

So how can we avoid this? How can we ensure we put out the fire before the flames start to take hold?

(Credit: Getty Images)

Prioritise exercise

We don’t prioritise exercise when we’re headed for burnout.

Putting one foot in front of the other feels hard enough and studies have proven this is true. But exercise really helps alleviate stress and anxiety. A stroll outside is enough to snuff out that flame.

“Do regular exercise that you enjoy,” recommends Rachel.

“Book it into your calendar and treat it like a meeting. Reschedule if you need to, but don’t ever cancel. Exercise with a friend to stay accountable. It’s easy to cancel on yourself, but harder to cancel on them.”

Cut down your decision making

Burnout puts us into survival mode.

Our responses are reactive not proactive and even simple decisions feel huge. Subsequently, healthy habits slide. Eighth scoop of Nutella anyone?

“Make a grocery list and stick to it or shop online to avoid the overwhelm of choice and temptation,” says health and wellbeing psychologist Marny Lishman.

“Make a meal plan and repeat it weekly. Schedule daily downtime, whether it be rest or exercise, and commit to it so your brain can recharge. Avoid making big or long-term decisions.”

Make meal times easy

(Credit: Getty Images)

Burnout means that eating becomes about convenience, comfort and pick-me-ups. Sugary snacks replace healthier options and the drive-thru becomes a regular haunt. Would you like that double-shot coffee? You betcha.

“Keep easy staples in your fridge and pantry for quick meals and freeze leftovers when you cook for ‘takeaway’ at home,” says accredited practising dietician Natasha Murray.

“Consider home-delivered meal plans or reach out to family or friends for help.”

Natasha also suggests practicing mindful eating. Sit down to eat without the TV on, enjoy your meal and stop eating when you’re full.

Don’t rely on alcohol to relax at the end of the day

That extra glass of wine may temporarily numb your burnout, but it won’t put out the flame.

Alcohol contains no beneficial vitamins and minerals and mixers are often high in sugar. Plus, how much more tempting are chips and dips after a drink or two?

“Everyone responds differently to alcohol, but it’s recommended that daily consumption shouldn’t exceed two standard drinks,” says Natasha.

Choose non-alcoholic drinks such as mocktails or talk to a counsellor about alternative methods of coping such as meditation or gentle exercise.”

Keep communicating with your partner

Burnout goes hand in hand with irritability and avoidance, so relationships can become too hard.

Stress becomes your focus and it’s so hard to avoid.

“Communication is key,” advises couples therapist Isiah McKimmie.

“Verbalise your mental and emotional struggles to your partner and let them know your needs so they can be sensitive to them.

“It may be helpful to have a small signal, such as a candle or lamp, to let your partner know when you’re open to intimacy or closeness and a signal that lets them know you need space or alone time.”

Isiah notes that loving physical touch, even just a hug, helps us release feel-good hormones that increase relaxation, and enhance mood and connectivity.

One cuddle a day is a good place to start and going to bed at the same time can also help you bond as you end the day together.

“Do things with your partner that are fun,” says Isiah.

“Playfulness and novelty are important to relationship happiness and longevity.”

A shared experience or activity that pushes you both out of your comfort zone can be a good way to reconnect and support each other in a different environment.

Similarly, practicing mindfulness can help you both stop and think about your reactions, meaning the difference between a positive and negative conversation.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Identify your burnout triggers

  • Identifying your stressors means that you can make a plan to address them. They won’t disappear overnight, but they can be better managed.

  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I have too much work on? Am I spreading myself too thin? Am I getting enough sleep? Is a certain relationship toxic?’

Things to remember when heading towards burnout

  • It’s okay to show vulnerability.

  • You don’t need to keep pushing and volunteering to take things on in order to be successful.

  • Don’t view saying no or working on self-care as bad.

  • Pushing yourself to the point of burnout isn’t good for your wellbeing.

  • Be aware of your tipping point and when you need to start pulling back.

Strategies to avoid burnout

Don’t respond to anything work-related (calls or emails) past a certain time every night.

  • Set time limits for scrolling through social media.

  • Make time to do something you enjoy in your downtime, whether it’s reading a book, cooking, playing with your kids or taking your dog to the beach.

  • Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Seven to nine hours is how much the adult body needs on a regular basis.

  • Practice the art of saying no.

When to seek help

“If you’re starting to feel any early symptoms of exhaustion, you’re pushing yourself too hard and need to practice some self-care,” advises Rachel.

She notes that symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, or a change in appetite.

“It all comes down to stress awareness. Avoiding burnout means listening to your body’s physical and mental signals and taking a step back where you can.”

Related stories