We’ve all been there. It’s been a long week, and 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”. In 2019, 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 going to bed without a buzzing brain? It may just be the spark to ignite the flame.
Rachel Evans, Founder and Director of the RE.connection Project in Australia, 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 of 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 what can do about this? How can we ensure we put out the fire before the flames start to take hold?
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.”
Burnout puts us into survival mode, our responses are reactive, not proactive, and even simple decisions feel huge. Subsequently, healthy habits slide. An eighth scoop of Haagen-Dazs anyone?
“Make a grocery list and stick to it or shop online to avoid overwhelming choice and temptation,” says health and well-being 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.”
Burnout means that eating becomes about convenience, comfort and pick-me-ups. Sugary snacks replace healthier options, and fast food becomes a regular haunt. Would you like that double-shot coffee? Definitely.
“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 practising mindful eating. Sit down to eat without the TV on, enjoy your meal and stop eating when you’re full.
That extra glass of wine may temporarily numb your burnout, but it won’t put out the flame. Alcohol has 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.”
Burnout goes hand in hand with irritability and avoidance, so relationships can become challenging. 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 a 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 if it’s 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 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, practising mindfulness can help you both stop and think about your reactions, meaning the difference between a positive and negative conversation.
"Verbalise your mental and emotional struggles to your partner so they can be sensitive to these"
"As women, we’re fed the idea that we can have it all and juggle it all without any help"
STRATEGIES TO AVOID BURNOUT
Practise the art of saying no.
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 for a walk.
Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Seven to nine hours is how much the adult body needs regularly.
Don’t respond to anything work-related (calls or emails) past a certain time every night.
TAKE A BREAK FROM ALCOHOL & GO FOR A DELICIOUS MOCKTAIL
Cranberry & Ginger Punch
Prep time 15 mins (+ refrigeration time) | Makes 1.5 litres (6 cups)
Combine 750 ml chilled ginger beer and 3 cups cranberry juice in a large jug. Squeeze 3 limes to make ¼ cup juice. Stir the juice into jug. Serve topped with 1 cup ice cubes, fresh raspberries, mint sprigs and thinly sliced pear.
Prep and cook 20 mins (+ refrigeration time) | Makes 2.25 litres (9 cups)
Stir ⅓ cup sparkling apple juice, ¾ cup caster sugar, 2 cups water, 1 cinnamon stick and 3 sprigs of fresh lemon thyme in a medium saucepan over medium heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil; simmer for 10 mins. Cool; then refrigerate until cold. Pour chilled syrup and 1 cup sparkling apple juice into a large jug. Add 1 thinly sliced green apple, two 750 ml bottles chilled non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider, 3 cups crushed ice and extra lemon thyme sprigs. Stir to combine.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
“If you’re starting to feel any early symptoms of exhaustion, you’re pushing yourself too hard and need to practise 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, then taking a step back where you can.”
TEXT: BAUERSYNDICATION.COM.AU / MOCKTAIL PHOTOS: JOHN PAUL URIZAR/BAUERSYNDICATION.COM.AU / PHOTOS: ENVATO