Burnout – the new normal?

“Burnout” is a hot topic, both in the workplace and at the dinner table. Whatever our daily roles look like, whether we are office workers, medical professionals, parents, teachers, hospitality workers or small business owners, all report suffering from exhaustion and depletion to the point where it is worth asking: “Am I at risk of ‘burnout’ or even, am I already there?”

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental and often emotional exhaustion that is persistent and ongoing. The tiredness or exhaustion doesn’t seem to abate. It can be masked, and often is, with food and drink laden with caffeine, sugar or fat, but nevertheless it is still there waiting to reappear as soon as the ‘high’ wears off.

Many people wonder “why do I have a ‘dip’ or ‘low’ in the afternoon?” A typical response is to have another coffee, chocolate or something to “pick you up”. What if there is a different way of looking at the 3 o’clock blues? What if the tiredness or exhaustion you feel in the afternoon was already there at the start of the day?

Another question is: why am I tired every morning, despite having slept soundly, and what can I do to change this, to feel truly healthy and vital in my body again?

The 2010 Australian Nielsen Top 100 Brands report advises Cadbury and Coca-Cola were the number 1 and 2 top selling brands in Australian supermarkets. Both of these brands promote products that have caffeine and sugar as key ingredients. What does this tell us in relation to burnout and exhaustion? Could it signify that as a society we want and need stimulants to override tiredness and exhaustion?

But it gets worse! For many on the path to, or already at ‘burnout’, not only is there tiredness when they wake each day . . . but even after a weekend off, they seem even more tired on Monday. How can that be possible after two days off? It continues week after week or even month after month. This cycle of feeling exhausted, overriding it with food or drink as a ‘pep up’, and then feeling exhausted again, is common.

We could call this the ‘burnout cycle’, for the consequence of treating the body in this way is burnout. Many who are in the burnout cycle don’t realise it. The overriding of the exhaustion with food and drink can convince us that it is ‘not that bad’. Also many of us are used to feeling tired or exhausted to the point it has become the ‘new normal’.

Is it normal to be tired or even exhausted on a regular basis?

When we look around it seems everyone feels this way. We are all busy with work, family and friends. If you aren’t tired or stressed, it seems you aren’t working hard enough!

One of the best ways to know if you are at risk of, or experiencing burnout is to self-reflect and review how you actually feel:

  • Are you exhausted at the end of the day to a point where you drive home as fast as you can so you can collapse on the couch?
  • Are you even more exhausted at the end of the week where you literally need to do nothing all weekend so you can recover and prepare for the next week?
  • Do you wake still feeling tired even if you have had a full night’s sleep?
  • Do you need coffee or some other caffeine-fuelled drink just to get going in the morning? Do you need more during the day to be able to do what you need to?
  • Do you often skip lunch or eat at your desk or workplace – or even forget to eat because you are so busy?
  • Is your diet loaded with stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to fight off feelings of exhaustion?

If these questions resonate with you, it may be time to consider if burnout has begun to impact your daily life and your health and wellbeing. The nature of burnout is it tends to creep up on you, and before you know it you have very little energy or enthusiasm for anything. Burnout won’t happen overnight, or even over a week, but is the result of protracted disregard for yourself – whether that be eating or drinking poorly, working too hard or not taking time to exercise, to name but a few contributors.

Recognising that there is a recurring exhaustion in your life is the first step to turning it around, and so being honest with yourself is essential. Introducing self-care into your life supports breaking the cycle of burnout and offers a new way of living and working. It’s not about changing jobs, but about changing how you work, how you are when you work, and caring for yourself while you work.

Getting started with your own self-care will slowly but surely break the patterns of stress and burnout, and not only will it assist you to recover, it will also create a way of living that has an ongoing vibrancy and vitality that only care of self can bring.

Filed under

SleepGentle breathMeditationExhaustionStillnessVitalityWell-beingBurnout

  • By Heather Pope, Corporate Executive