Looking back at the pandemic’s past effects and the uncertainty of the future, for many, a feeling of exhaustion, combined with stress, starts to set in. Understandably so. The new surge in infections and tighter lockdown restrictions has played a significant impact on our daily lives. Most of us still experience an overload of stress. With little to no time for recovery, the likelihood of burnout occurring is relatively high. The sheer length of the pandemic and everything attached to it will certainly add on to exhaustion faced by so many.
A healthy mental state thrives on clarity, certainty and structure. And in the event of extended periods of grief or in the case of uncertainty, the body gets exhausted. All of which has some physical symptoms which we will cover below. The combination of balancing work obligations, homeschooling children or caring for sick relatives increases our anxiety and stress starts manifesting in our bodies.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that is difficult to successfully manage” and it is characterized by three traits namely: feeling exhausted, depleted of energy and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout usually occurs when people’s needs are not being met and in particular the psychological need for clarity and structure.
Burnout is a rational response which you can prevent from happening to you by adopting a few simple techniques and coping mechanisms which will protect your mental health during the ongoing pandemic.
The phenomenon of burnout plaguing our South African society in the workplace, schools, and homes can be defined as chronic stress. It stems from constant anxiety and it leaves you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. It is so much more than general tiredness. Burnout is that feeling that you have absolutely nothing left to give either mentally, emotionally, or physically. And it could affect all areas of your life.
You can’t work when you’re falling sick all the time. You can’t consume knowledge when you’re not resting your mind or following a nutritious diet. You can’t be a good, present parent when you’re depressed and anxious all the time. And this is why it’s so important to be aware of the warning signals of burnout, so that you can put on the brakes before it’s too late.
The tell-tale signs of burnout include a lack of concentration, forgetfulness and chronic fatigue.
However, other symptoms relating to burnout might consist of:
- Trouble sleeping
- Chest pain
- Feelings of anger and irritability
- Feelings of isolation
- No longer finding enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities
- Detachment from people and things
Various stages of burnout
It is important to note that burnout can occur in anyone at any time. However, burnout is more frequently seen in the age groups of 25 to 44 in both males and females. The symptoms of burnout affect each individual differently, but there are 5 collective stages that are commonly observed that can be linked to burnout. They include the following:
Stage 1: The honeymoon phase
With the start of lockdown, many of us decided to take up a new skill or hobby. This is met with high job/self-satisfaction, commitment and loads of energy. In the honeymoon phase, you may experience predicted stress therefore it is necessary to adopt coping strategies early on. Some theorize that if you could find solid coping mechanisms early on, the honeymoon phase never fades.
Symptoms of the honeymoon phase include:
- Commitment towards the task at hand
- A compulsion to prove oneself
- Loads of creative ideas or creativity in general
- High productivity levels
Stage 2: Onset of stress
In the second phase of burnout, you will become aware that some day’s get more and more difficult. It is common for one’s optimism to start fading and you will become aware of common stress symptoms which may affect you physically, mentally and emotionally.
Symptoms of onset stress include:
- Change in appetite
- Lower productivity
- Heart palpitations
- Higher blood pressure
Stage 3: Chronic stress
The third stage leads to chronic stress. You will notice a definite increase in your stress levels and on a frequent basis.
Symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Cynical attitude
- Denial (problems at work or at home)
- Lack of interest
- Missing meetings/deadlines at work
- Physical illness
Stage 4: Burnout
Entering stage 4 is where things become much more serious. At this point continuing as if nothing is wrong with you is often close to impossible. If you ever find yourself in stage 4 of burnout we suggest you seek medical intervention.
Symptoms can include:
- Noticeable behavioural changes
- Chronic headaches
- Feelings of wanting to escape
- An Empty feeling
- Development of a pessimistic outlook on life or work
Stage 5: Habitual burnout
This stage of burnout means that stress and anxiety are so embedded in your life that is likely that you will experience a significant physical or emotional problem.
When you reach this stage the symptoms include the following:
- Chronic stress and frequent headaches
- Depression or anxiety
- Mental fatigue
- Physical fatigue
- Burnout syndrome
Luckily there are some appropriate measures we can take to prevent burnout from occurring during 2021. Below is a list of options available for you to try. Everyone will have different ways that support recovery but even the smallest of steps will go a long way in restoring your balance, energy and love for life.
Create a healthy routine
Because we aren’t used to COVID routines it is crucial to create a routine that comes close to your pre-lockdown routine. Ensuring that you go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time goes a long way in establishing a routine that works best for you. Experts also suggest that you create time for pleasurable activities as well as time for educational activities. This has been known to alleviate some of the depression symptoms that go along with the current situation at hand.
Get to know yourself a little better
For many, this is the first encounter with a global pandemic or lockdown which means that everyone will have a different response to what is currently going on. Cultivate a strong relationship with yourself by “checking in” on yourself every now and again, which simply helps to create a little self-awareness. Pay attention to your stress triggers and establish where your limits are.
Self-compassion goes a long way
Compulsively being hard on yourself will add a greater deal of stress, so give yourself some space for extra thoughts or emotions. Mistakes are inevitable, showing yourself some kindness during this time is a necessity. Carve time out for yourself, like taking a warm bath or a phone call with a good friend.
Prioritize mindfulness and rest
Getting enough rest is crucial to prevent burnout. Taking frequent breaks in your day builds strong resilience and they can be short and sweet. When you start feeling overwhelmed, take some deep breaths to calm the central nervous system. Studies have shown that practising mindfulness can create profoundly relaxing environments. It reduces stress and anxiety, lifts your mood and increases your well-being significantly.
Get some exercise
When you engage in physical activities your body releases natural feel-good endorphins that help to manage stress levels and fatigue. Make some time during your day for exercise, you don’t need an overly excessive gym schedule to reap the benefits of these physical activities. Take a walk, do some yoga or whatever physical activity you prefer.
Connect or disconnect from others
As humans, we live for a human to human connection. These days we utilize every available tool to remain in touch with family and friends. Although virtual social encounters are not the same, they still help in managing stress or burnout. If you happen to have friends or family that tend to drain your energy, it’s OK for you to protect yourself by setting some boundaries or disconnecting from them for a while.
Mindfulness exercises to try when you are overstressed
One of the easiest ways of practising to be mindful is to simply start focusing on your breathing. This will feed your brain with some much-needed oxygen and keep your mind focused on one activity.
Some techniques include:
- Find a quiet space in your home where you can sit for a few minutes and close your eyes to prevent distractions
- Relax your body as much as possible, releasing tension in your shoulders. Focus on your breathing, breathing in and out mindfully
- If you find your mind wandering off you can bring yourself back by repeating “I breathe in, I breathe out” focusing on finding your calm space when you breathe in and letting go of your stress when you breathe out
- If your thoughts distract you, simply observe them and return your attention on your breathing exercise
The world is a scary and stressful place right now. Some days feel more difficult than others. However, there are certain actions you could take to prevent burnout. Hopefully, after reading this you will have some more insight on how to prevent burnout and the signs and symptoms thereof. If you feel that you need professional help, contact us today. Zwavelstream clinic will give you the power to preserve your mental health in the long run. Here you will be met by our warm and friendly team of professionals. We offer you patient & family-centred support where we are fully committed to helping you on your path to restoration.