How to combat stress and burnout without going over the deep end
You’re determined. You get to work early, you work hard and you’re always available by email. Maybe you’re an employee of the month, maybe you work through your lunches to accomplish your goal—and maybe, you’re exhausted.
From hectic commutes to carefully balancing work and a social life, we all have a lot on our plates. But if you’re going home drained and noticing changes in your mental state, your daily stress may be snowballing into something much more serious: burnout.
“When you’re approaching burnout, you’re more likely to feel constantly exhausted (mentally or physically or both) and detached,” said neuro-ophthalmologist Mithu Storoni. “You might start questioning the point of why you’re doing what you’re doing and you might start to wonder if you’re really cut out for your job.”
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. A whopping 57 per cent of all working days lost to ill health in the UK were lost due to stress, depression or anxiety, according to a government report.
Burnout can cause both physical and emotional exhaustion, and have real physiological effects on the body if left unchecked. For instance, cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone controlled by multiple glands in the brain.
In times of stress, those glands release cortisol, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose, among others. But, when you’re consistently stressed—and thus consistently releasing cortisol—your libido, metabolism, salt balance and menstrual cycle can all be thrown off.
As stress affects the body both in short and long-term ways, it’s not something that should be ignored.
“Chronic stress increases the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease, and has been linked to conditions such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” Storoni said. “It is also a risk factor for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. Chronic stress can affect cognitive flexibility, compromise emotion regulation, working memory and the ability to concentrate.”
According to psychologist Suzy Ready, if you’re approaching burnout, it’s extremely important to look at your routine and schedule in times to rest.
“When we are feeling fed up, full up, depleted and reactive it is time to take a look at our self-care routine,” said Ready. “Often we turn to compensatory behaviour during these times–compulsive scrolling, caffeine to lift energy and alcohol to relax, overeating, overexercising.
“These may appear to help us cope in the short term but will further deplete our system in the long run, exacerbating symptoms.”
If you’re feeling burned-out, pay a visit to your GP to check that there isn’t an underlying medical issue causing your exhaustion. Then, book some time off work.
While celebrities often go to lavish retreats to treat their burnout, Ready said that a better option is to take an affordable week-long break, look at your daily choices and think about what you want to change.
“When you’re in a state of extreme exhaustion, your body and mind are crying out for sleep and rest, but at the same time, we can feel wired, making it difficult to relax,” Ready said. “Reclaiming the ability to release physical tension, to give ourselves permission to take a mental break, to breathe well are key.”
If you can’t take a leave of absence, speak with your supervisor about instead lessening your workload for a few weeks, reducing your hours, or even working from home. Rest is an important part of combating burnout and breaking the “stress cycle.”
In the short term, meditation and endorphin-boosting exercise are also beneficial practices to work into your routine.
Remember that stress is temporary and work to prioritise healthy meals, restful sleep and mindful activities in your day. Burnout isn’t permanent, but treating it should become your number one priority.